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Ignore COVID zip code numbers, says Pima Co. Health Director

Says risk is everywhere not just hot zip codes
Posted at 6:20 PM, Apr 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-13 21:58:07-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - Now you can find Arizona’s COVID hotspots by zip code- --and some of the hottest are in Pima County---but health experts say that data’s not as useful as you may think and it may give you a false sense of security.

It’s only natural to want to know where the COVID hotspots are and now there’s a way to do that---but health experts say whether you’re in a hotspot or a cool zone nothing in that information should crank up your anxiety or be a green light to drop your guard.

Now that Arizona’s released an interactive map that lets you count cases by zip code people rushed to find the hottest of the hot spots. 85714, just southwest of Davis-Monthan showed 67 cases but a large share were in one spot--Sapphire of Tucson Nursing and Rehabilitation. In Late March Sapphire reported 24 patients and three staff members as positive for COVID. It’s not clear if staffers are part of that zip code’s total because the count is based on where COVID cases live.

Just south of there 85706 showed 49 cases.

Other zip codes report numbers as low as between one and five but Pima County’s acting Health Department Director says none of those numbers will help keep you safe.

Doctor Bob England says public clamor for the location data led to the release of numbers that don’t paint an accurate picture of risk.

He says the zip code numbers are a reflection of where people were able to get tested---and they say nothing about where you might catch the virus.

“It really doesn't mean much. Where people live, and are getting lit up in these zip codes has nothing to do with where they go shopping or where they work, or where they might have gotten infected out in the community.”

The doctor says the zip code information is misleading in another way: it does not show a rate of infection, just the raw numbers for a zip code. That means a zip code with a larger population is more likely to show higher numbers, but the figure will not show whether the number infected is a large or small percentage of the total population.

Doctor England's advice is ignore the zip codes and treat COVID like it’s everywhere---because it is.

He says, “Do you wonder whether somebody has been in your grocery store with this yet or not. Yeah, they have almost for sure. There are probably 50, or more positive or infected
individuals out there for every one of these tests that we have positive results on.