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With COVID-19 Cases Continuing To Fall, No Sonoran Cities Now At Maximum Risk

Published: Tuesday, February 23, 2021 - 8:27am
Updated: Tuesday, February 23, 2021 - 12:43pm
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The pandemic in neighboring Sonora continues to head in the right direction.

As of this week, no Sonoran cities are considered to be at maximum risk for coronavirus spread.

The southern city Navojoa fell from maximum to high risk over the weekend, joining eight other cities, including Hermosillo. All but one of them showed improvement from the previous week.

State officials urged Sonorans to continue to follow safety protocols, including mask wearing and social distancing. They have previously expressed concern about a possible third wave brought on by travel during Holy Week.

Data tracked by the University of Sonora show steady declines in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations over the last several weeks.

For more about the decline, The Show spoke with KJZZ's Murphy Woodhouse.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: After an extremely grim January, Sonora, Arizona's neighbor to the south, is coming down from its second coronavirus wave. The vaccination effort there is also well underway, as it is across Mexico. That is all welcome good news. And to get a better sense of where things stand, we have KJZZ's Murphy Woodhouse on the line from our Fronteras Desk in the Sonoran capital Hermosillo. Murphy, good morning.

MURPHY WOODHOUSE: Good morning, Steve.

GOLDSTEIN: So what does COVID look like in Sonora right now? Get us up to speed.

WOODHOUSE: Well, it certainly looks a lot better than it did last month where we had record setting deaths — more than 1,100 confirmed new deaths, though the actual toll is likely significantly higher with excess mortality. Also roughly 11,400 new cases, though that, of course, needs to be qualified by the fact that there's just a lot less testing going on down here. But by any measure, very much the worst month to date so far in the pandemic here in Sonora. But since then, steady declines in new cases, deaths and hospitalizations — the same sorts of positive trends that we're seeing in Arizona and across much of the United States.

GOLDSTEIN: And one would hope that momentum will continue as vaccinations have begun. How is that looking so far?

WOODHOUSE: So needles are going into arms, but it hasn't necessarily been the smoothest start. Frontline health personnel in Sonora and across the country, they received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-January. But then unexpected delays led to the second dose arriving after the recommended 21-day period. But while late, those workers have now gotten their second dose. And then last week, roughly 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived. And about 90% of those doses have since been administered to older residents, largely in rural, low population communities around Sonora. So right now, we're somewhere between 30- and 40,000 people in the state having received their first dose. And I just want to, for comparison sake, that same figure for Arizona is well over 1 million people.

GOLDSTEIN: And now we understand that Sonora and other states around Mexico are hoping to purchase vaccines of their own. What do we know about that? What would that look like?

WOODHOUSE: So we don't have a lot of specifics at this point. Sonora's governor, Claudia Pavlovitch, is the head of the National Governor's Conference, and she recently announced that an agreement of some sort had been reached between that organization and the federal government to allow individual states to purchase vaccines on their own. She said she'd like to use them for health personnel that weren't necessarily included in that first wave as well as older residents in some of the state's major cities. But I haven't heard of any purchases being made by Sonora. But I guess, given the relatively slow rollout so far, you can you can certainly understand why governors would be champing at the bit to get vaccines to their states.

GOLDSTEIN: And as you made clear in the last couple of minutes, recent numbers are seeming to point in the right direction. But health officials obviously have to be cautious. What are they worried about in the near term?

WOODHOUSE: So what they've specifically warned about is the prospect of a third wave brought on by travel during Holy Week, which, which falls in late March and early April this year. That's typically a very, very popular time to travel in Mexico. But then obviously, many Arizonans also like to visit Sonora during their spring breaks. And I mentioned it above, but I really do think it bears repeating here. There, there is now and almost certainly will be next month, a yawning vaccine disparity between Arizona and Sonora. The vast, vast majority of Sonorans likely will not have received even a single dose and likely won't for some time to come. And that, of course, leaves the state vulnerable to a disease that has already brought so much tragedy and economic harm here. And I just think that that risk should be front of mind for any Arizonans considering travel here.

GOLDSTEIN: Indeed. Murphy Woodhouse from KJZZ's Fronteras Desk in the Sonoran capital Hermosillo. Murphy, thanks for your work and stay safe.

WOODHOUSE: Thank you so much, Steve. You too.

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