Covid 19 spreads while Flagstaff watches and waits: Updated

By Naima Schuller

3/15/2020. Governor Ducey announces, All schools to close until March 30.

Harkins Theatres via an email on the evening of Friday, March 13th announced they will be offering two weeks of paid time off for any employees who are ill. In stark contrast, Whole Foods, who had 11 billion in profits last year and paid no taxes, asked their employees to give their own accrued paid sick days to their co-workers.
The US will suspend travel from the UK and Ireland.The US is 32nd out of forty countries when arranged for number of hospital beds.

Flagstaff’s Sams Club can not comment on current item availability over the phone. The only way to do so is the visit the store. But here is what it looked like the evening of Friday, March 13th: (Pictures by Sandy Quintanilla)

Empty shelves greeted customers Friday night

The United States dealt with its last pandemic over one hundred years ago. A much larger population, and our ability to travel quickly to anywhere on the globe, is making it difficult to stop this novel coronavirus that is spreading world wide. Flagstaff is being impacted by the closing of NAU, reduced tourism numbers, and locals staying home wondering what comes next.

Even with the breaking news that The U.S. Labor Department is giving states the ability to amend their unemployment benefit laws in the effort to minimize the economic damage from this pandemic, there are many other issues that will need to be dealt with.

As of Friday morning, Arizona has tested 143 people with 40 tests pending. All seven of the identified “self-monitoring” people in Coconino County have tested negative. One Coconino County Supervisor, Jim Parks, has self quarantined due to possible interaction with a person who was positive with coronavirus. While these local current statistics are encouraging, this viral spread is nowhere near over.

On the front lines are health and emergency care workers assigned to deal with this pandemic. In a ProPublica story, distributed by The Meteor, the fire chief of a northern California fire department had gathered his crew in mid February to discuss the virus coming to their community. “In hindsight, Hack said, he realizes his department’s response came too late, but he believes that they had the operational measures and protective equipment in place. “You don’t want to jump the gun too soon because there’s a cost to it,” he said, both in equipment and creating panic. They had expected the virus to pop up first somewhere else in the state, he said. “Little did we know we’d be the first agency to have this happen to.” It is becoming clear that quick and early response and testing is the best way to go forward.

In Flagstaff the feedback from nurses on the frontlines indicated varied levels of response. 
One said, “I can tell you that the administration at the hospital is taking it very seriously, they are providing daily updates and are meeting frequently to address the issue.”

Another told us, “I’m sure FMC has been planning extensively but [this workplace] hasn’t even mentioned (as of March 9th) the virus, which I think it really not cool. We could easily get a patient with the virus and we have not been made aware of any plan.” Then this person wrote back to indicate their workplace had instituted a Covid-19 screening form which essentially involves screening all new admissions for complaints of cough or sore throat within the previous fourteen days, also requesting any visitors with a cough leave.

Mark Gykenjoiner, RN for Guardian Air  said,

“I care for patients in either the helicopters or airplane setting. Most of the patients are being transferred from small facilities to larger hospitals, some are picked up directly from the community or local EMS. I expect we will learn of large numbers of cases of “Corona” in PHX before we see any in Flagstaff, though I could be wrong considering the number of international visitors the Grand Canyon attracts.  I do believe we will see it eventually. I also think it is likely I will transport patients with corona.
I have heard of no pandemic plan but assume we will be transporting patients from northern Arizona first to Flagstaff Med Center. If beds become unavailable there we will be taking them to Phoenix, Albuquerque or Las Vegas. NAH has provided us with appropriate precautions and has ensured that we are properly fit tested for the N95 type mask.
Personally, I am not too concerned as I am generally very healthy. I am more concerned about the possibility of bringing home the virus to my infant son with his immature immune system. As anyone concerned should, I plan to be vigilant about hand washing. Avoid crowded space as able. Avoid touching my own face as able.
In my position, patients may not have results or testing before I see them so it will be important for me to pay attention to symptoms of cough and fever especially if they have been traveling or in contact with someone who has.”

The area may face an economic impact as well. Now that President Trump has stopped air travel to the US from Europe, except for the UK, Flagstaff’ may see reduced income from tourism.

Restauranteurs and retailers are bracing for the impact. They say impacts on business could include reduced customers coming in the doors, delayed deliveries of supplies, employee layoffs or slowdowns on hours although most added they were not scheduling reduced staffs at this time. The impact could last the 30 days of the travel ban and and beyond. Of concern is the potential job loss from hotels, restaurants, theaters, and tour companies in the area. 

From staff reports:

Cheng asked students to consider staying in Flagstaff or on campus for spring break

NAU, and CCC announces closures and redesigning most classes for online access. Thursday Mayor Coral Evans declared City Council chambers are no longer open to public, meetings will all be live streamed until further notice. And Lowell Observatory is closing it’s doors to the public as of today.

Currently there are no confirmed cases in Coconino County says county epidemiologist Matt Maurer. Some people have been tested but so far all samples submitted for testing at the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory were found to be negative for the virus. Maurer said there is one sample still awaiting results from a commercial tester

All Flagstaff’s City Council and Commission meetings will be livestreamed on the city’s website, but will not have a public audience, the city announced Thursday evening. Public comments can be submitted via email to and a staff member will read them at the meeting. Don’t forget to include your name, the agenda item, indicate if you wish the comment to be read aloud. Comments are limited to three minutes.

Currently, staff is cleaning public access areas including doors, handrails, countertops and restrooms multiple times a day, said Jessica Drum city spokesperson. In the evening, janitors have added an additional process for virus protection, including sanitizing all surfaces.

At CCC students will not attend class in person for the week of March 23-27. Online options are being developed over the next week. For now staff will work but have been asked to practice social distancing.

CCC events for the week are being canceled, and decisions on future events will be made Monday, March 23.

The CCC District Governing Board will meet as scheduled that day at 4 p.m. with an abbreviated agenda.

March 23, after spring break NAU will transition to online instruction for two weeks. The campus will remain open and operational, life will go on as usual. University housing, food services, and health services will operate as usual. Employees will report to work as usual. Events and public scheduling will be determined as things progress.

Wednesday, NAU President Rita Cheng asked students to consider staying in Flagstaff or on campus for spring break. All NAU students and faculty in programs in other countries have been asked to immediately return to the United States. Non-essential university-sponsored travel outside of Arizona and all faculty-led study abroad programs through May have been canceled. Instructions for faculty, staff and students will be released in the coming days.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 is fluid and continues to warrant the attention and flexibility of each of us as we work together to keep our students, faculty, staff, and communities safe and healthy,” Cheng said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “As students prepare for spring break, we are implementing a number of measures to ensure we continue to deliver the high-quality education our students need to keep them on track for graduation, as well as focus on the health and safety of our NAU community.”

CCC students will not attend class in person for the week of March 23-27, but participate in “alternative learning methods” that are currently being developed by faculty. All college staff will report to work and have been asked to practice social distancing.

Events for the week are being canceled and additional decisions on future events will be made Monday, March 23. The CCC District Governing Board will meet as scheduled that day at 4 p.m. with an abbreviated agenda.

Flagstaff Unified School District remains on a normal schedule, except two student trips planned for spring break were canceled for next week: Flagstaff High School band trip to Chicago and a Sinagua Middle School trip to Washington, D.C. Future event decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis and information on districtwide schedules for the following week will be shared during the break.

A message from the district, sent to families Thursday said,  “FUSD is aware that other educational entities in the community and nationally are changing their schedules based on their particular circumstances. We do not have any changes to our current schedule at this time and look forward to our scheduled Spring Break next week – March 16 through March 20.”

The  message to families from FUSD said “If FUSD is alerted that any type of community spread of COVID-19 is occurring in Coconino County, we will immediately follow all protocols set forth by the Coconino County Health and Human Services Department. In an abundance of caution, our administrative team is developing contingency plans for students and staff in case we need to alter our services in the future.”

FUSD encouraged students and staff to stay home if they are ill and not return to school until they have been free of fever — without taking a fever-reducing medication — for 72 hours. Anyone with a positive COVID-19 test must wait seven days after receiving a healthy test result before returning to school.

Lowell Observatory says in a statement released Thursday, “We are an institution of science, and we would be doing a disservice to our mission, our staff, our guests and our community to do less than what the data are clearly telling us,”

Lowell Observatory will be increasing their online presence and experience including sharing images of celestial objects that would normally be seen during telescope viewings, virtual tours of popular sites such as the Pluto Discovery Telescope or live streamed interviews with astronomers.

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