COVID-19 Issues In Cochise County And Fort Huachuca


Triage Tent at Northern Cochise Community Hospital in Willcox. [Photo courtesy NCCH)

The number of people confirmed as infected with COVID-19 in Cochise County includes someone who works at Fort Huachuca, but the overall number is misleading and could be putting residents at more risk, according to a retired doctor staying in the Benson area.

Dr. Samuel Johnson has been RV’ing the country ever since 2018 when he retired and sold his medical practice in New England. He was enroute from Scottsdale to Baton Rouge when he stopped in mid-March for a planned two-week excursion to explore Cochise County.

Johnson, 68, says he made it to Tombstone but then every place else he wanted to visit closed up. Now he is pretty much stuck in Benson because of Governor Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order and the limited services Johnson knows he would find between Arizona and Louisiana.

And while Johnson is disappointed at not seeing many of the attractions on his itinerary, he’s more concerned at what he calls a “detached, almost lackadaisical” public attitude that he blames on local government leaders and health officials.

“The messages I read on social media from your county health department is a rerun of your governor’s comments, about calling your doctor if you’re sick but stay home unless you require emergency medical care,” Johnson said. “Yet I’m hearing there are many residents in Cochise County without a regular doctor. Which means they are essentially riding this out on their own, treating themselves without any real direction from local public health experts.”

Read more by Terri Jo Neff >>

Which creates two problems in Cochise County, Johnson says. The first is that no one has any idea how many people in the county are probably COVID-19 infected or may have recovered from the virus.

And that brings Johnson to his second concern, what he calls “an apparent haphazard protocol” for who can get tested.

“I’ve spoken with a few doctors and medical professionals, in Benson and down in Sierra Vista,” he says. “And even those with the ability to refer a patient for testing, they seem hesitant unless the patient is in critical condition. But that can mean the golden hour for effective treatment -which in reality can be mere minutes for some patients- between feeling really sick and becoming critical could pass while you’re waiting for an ambulance or driving to a hospital.”

One development Johnson says impresses him is the decision by Northern Cochise Community Hospital in Willcox to set up a Triage Tent to screen patients before they are allowed inside the main facility.

“It may seem a little like a scene from the movie Outbreak or Contagion but it’s wonderful to see a small hospital that’s proactive,” he notes. “And it can protect the integrity of the facility and safety of the medical professionals working there. If you lose your frontline physicians and nurses then your patients’ options become severely limited.”

According to a NCCH spokesperson, the Triage Tent was set up outside the entrance to the emergency room on March 27. The main lobby entrance remains closed so all patients can be screened before entering the hospital, and anyone who meets the CDC criteria for COVID-19 can be tested.

On April 3, the U.S. Army announced on Fort Huachuca’s official Facebook page that someone who lives in Cochise County but works at Fort Huachuca tested positive for COVID-19. According to the posting, staff at Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center are working with Cochise County officials to identify people the infected person came into contact with.

A military spokeswoman was quoted in a news report as stating there will be no further announcements of additional positive tests. Instead, any positive test results will be reported by Cochise County’s health department as part of an overall county total.

The Fort serves as the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Center of Excellence, as component of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). A Fort spokesperson took to Facebook on April 3 to address several steps undertaken to comply with CDC recommendations and government restrictions on non-essential services.

“While we work to protect the health of the force, we must also maintain mission readiness in our obligations to the defense of our nation,” according to one posting. “TRADOC is the first stop in the road to readiness by training new Soldiers and providing continued training for current Soldiers so they are prepared to meet the needs of the nation.”

Among the changes implemented to address social distancing is new hours at the Fort’s commissary dedicated to active duty service members and their families.  The commissary previously set aside certain hours for commissary patrons 65 and older. Dining businesses have also been brought into compliance with Ducey’s various executive orders.

“All food establishments on Fort Huachuca are operating in compliance with the Governor’s Executive Order limitations for takeout or drive thru only,” another posting stated.

Fort Huachuca is also complying with the order to close public and charter schools. However, some childcare services are still open on the installation, although restricted to certain families based on priority and mission essential designation.

“Service members serving their nation during this time still need childcare to enable their service,” a posting stated. “Support services to our mission essential employees will continue while implementing preventive measures for health protection.”

The stay-at-home order has also impacted the number of vehicles coming onto Fort Huachuca, allowing for the closure of one entrance.

“The Buffalo Soldier Gate was closed on April 1 due to fewer numbers of individuals accessing the installation after non-mission essential employees were not reporting to work and increased telework was fully implemented,” according to the Fort’s Facebook page.