Pima County health director tests positive for COVID-19 amid outbreak within department

Dr. Theresa Cullen (Pima County Health Department)

Dr. Theresa Cullen, the director of the Pima County Health Department, has tested positive for COVID-19 amid an apparent outbreak within the department.

According to a news release on Dec. 16, Pima County said testing is being offered to all employees who worked at the building on East Ajo Way in Tucson. The staff is also being moved to alternative locations or they will work from home.

Pima County investigators and contact tracers are working to determine the cause of the outbreak, however, officials say a protest that was held at the building on Dec. 10 may make contact tracing difficult.

“The effects of this outbreak at the health department will be a significant challenge but it is one we are able to handle,” County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said. “We have redundant capacity in staffing and facilities, and this will not affect our ability to continue to our mission protecting public health or the Health Department’s vital role in the struggle to control and end the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County.”

According to Pima County testing data, there are more than 8,000 people in the county who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past seven days, and nearly 15,000 have tested positive since Dec. 1.

The state department of health services on Dec. 16 reported 4,848 new COVID-19 cases and 108 additional deaths. Arizona has now reported a total of 429,219 cases and 7,350 deaths.

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily

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Arizona COVID-19 resources, FAQ: azdhs.gov/coronavirus

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Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

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