Marcy Flanagan

Marcy Flanagan, executive director of Maricopa County Department of Public Health, urges caution and social distancing for Thanksgiving gatherings. Officials in Glendale and Peoria seconded the message.

With COVID-19 cases on an “extreme” upward trajectory, local and state officials are urging people to take great caution at Thanksgiving gatherings.

“I know this pandemic has made 2020 tough on everyone. With the COVID-19 numbers increasing and the holiday season upon us, I would ask that everyone do their best with social distancing, wearing a mask and do what you can to keep you, your family and friends safe and healthy,” said Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers.

The mayor of Glendale’s neighbor seconded that.

“Our residents have made tremendous sacrifices over the last several months as they’ve adhered to the guidelines set forth by our public health experts,” said Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat. “I have no doubt this will continue, and I hope residents safely enjoy this day of gratitude among those they love most.”

In a virtual presentation, Marcy Flanagan, executive director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, spoke to reporters about the danger of Thanksgiving gatherings.

“As we move into the holiday season we know all yearning to be with family and friends,” she said. “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is by not getting together in person with people outside your household.”

Flanagan provided specific guidelines for Thanksgiving gatherings.

“If you do get together with people outside your household please take as many precautions as you can. Eat outdoors and keep people from different households at least 6 feet apart. Have each household bring their own food or have one person serve food for everyone to reduce the number of people touching shared utensils. Wear masks when you are not actively eating or drinking and limit the number of guests,” she said.

She stressed that while people will be tempted to get together with friends and extended family members, “We’re still in a pandemic. We need to make tough decisions in order to stay safe.”

Flanagan said the county was alarmed over the trend in COVID-19.

“The increase we have seen from new cases has been extreme,” she said Nov. 19. “The seven-day average is now over 1,500 new cases per day in Maricopa County.

“Just one month ago it was under 500 cases a day. This increase is concerning.”

And it continued to go in the wrong direction: From Nov. 17-21, the average of new COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County was nearly 2,500.

“We are asking everyone to do what they can to help slow the spread,” Flanagan urged. “There are many things we can’t control, but we can control our behaviors.”

 

Serosurvey, vaccine

and ‘herd immunity’

Flanagan also discussed results from a “serosurvey” conducted across Maricopa County that show an estimated 10.7% of residents have detectable antibodies for COVID-19. 

The serosurvey selected at random ZIP codes across the county, with several West Valley communities, including Glendale 85304, Peoria 85382, Avondale 85323 and Tolleson 85037. 

The 11-day study, conducted in mid-September by MCDPH, ASU and the Mayo Clinic, collected  specimens from 260 participants in 169 households to test for antibodies for the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Flanagan stressed the percentage of Maricopa County population with antibodies is far less than is needed to reach so-called “herd immunity,” which is the point at which the virus cannot spread effectively.  

“Eleven percent is not even close to reaching natural herd immunity,” she said. 

She said more than half (“50 to 80%”) of the population would need to have antibodies for herd immunity to be reached. “Trying to reach natural herd immunity without a vaccine will result in a strain on our health care system and many more deaths,” Flanagan warned.

Until a vaccine is widely available, she urges people to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart and avoid crowds.

Flanagan made it a point to call out youth sports club activities.

“Several outbreaks have been associated with club sports,” she said. “We know 800 youth sports teams are coming to Maricopa County for sports events. … Having these events (where people) aren’t social distancing and not wearing masks is how we see these increases.”

She added there has been a significant increase in cases among high-school age children, with a suspected link to “after-school activities.”

Flanagan’s bottom line: “Think very hard about situations where you will be around other people. 

“Do what you can to reduce your risk and make the right decision for people who love and trust you to keep them safe. The decisions we make affect our hospital system capacity and our schools being able to stay open.”

Flanagan added that the county is struggling with contact tracing: “Individuals are not wanting to share who their close contacts are.”

Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman tweeted Nov. 18 that, while she understands schools are safe zones for children, “More aggressive action from the state is needed.

“Without statewide action and enforcement by public health agencies, our school leaders are making difficult decisions like returning to distance learning to protect their teachers and students from the increased community spread of COVID-19.”

Indeed, most West Valley public school districts have closed classrooms and returned to distance learning.