Chandler 85224 stands out for virus cases SanTan Sun News

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Chandler 85224 stands out for virus cases

Chandler 85224 stands out for virus cases
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

One of Chandler’s northern ZIP codes has recorded 13 deaths related to the COVID-19 virus and an infection rate that’s twice as large as others in the city.

ZIP code 85224, which stretches from Elliot to Pecos roads, reported at least 67 cases of the coronavirus by April 22 – the highest case count seen so far within Chandler’s city limits, state data show.

The area also home to an assisted-living facility that’s reported 13 virus-related deaths in recent weeks.

ZIP codes south of 85224 had reported no more than 30 cases by mid April while 85225 logged at least 41 cases.

The Arizona Department of Health Services released a geographical breakdown of COVID-19 cases earlier this month, but the numbers are not completely reflective of where infected residents are actually living.

If the state’s unaware of a patient’s home address, then their case is placed in the ZIP code where their infection was originally confirmed or detected.

This could explain why 85224 has a higher case count, since Chandler Regional Medical Center is positioned at the ZIP code’s southern edge.

The ZIP code additionally has more than 30 assisted-living homes for the elderly and disabled – places that have been especially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 450 residents and employees of these care facilities in the Valley have contracted the virus and 44 have died, according to the Maricopa County Public Health Department.

States like Minnesota and Oklahoma have begun naming care facilities that had COVID-19 cases, but Arizona is not releasing this information due to privacy concerns.

Maricopa County won’t disclose which of its 500 assisted-living and nursing homes have had cases, but one in Chandler’s northern region has reported multiple infections among its residents.

Pennington Gardens, a senior living facility located near Dobson and Pecos roads, has had 13 residents pass away from the virus and at least 28 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The facility first sent out letters on April 7, notifying families that five residents and one employee tested positive for the coronavirus and had begun implementing procedures to contain the contagion.

Pennington started requiring any outside visitors to wear masks while inside the facilities and discouraged residents from leaving their rooms.

Despite these new safety procedures, the virus continued to spread as more Pennington residents started testing positive.

Amira Fahoum, a spokesperson for Pennington Gardens, said the facility attempted to test every resident immediately after the first couple cases were confirmed but a scarcity of testing kits slowed down the process.

A majority of residents and staff have now been tested, she said, and at least 39 have been cleared of the virus.

The several residents who have already succumbed to the disease have been a tragedy for the whole Pennington community, Fahoum added.

“Our condolences and hearts go to the families of these residents,” she wrote in a statement, “We are grieving each one as we have cared for them.”

Marion Berry was reportedly one of the Pennington residents who contracted the virus and died from its symptoms on April 11.

Her obituary described the 90-year-old grandmother as a faithful woman who loved knitting blankets and clothes for her grandchildren.

“Marion had a deep enduring faith in God that carried her through life,” the obituary read. “We know with assurance that she is with our Lord and Savior in Heaven.”

Though the state’s health agencies have been routinely releasing data on new COVID-19 cases, some advocates think there should be more transparency regarding where the virus has been spreading.

And even state officials have warned people to consider the data with care.

Dana Kennedy, president of Arizona’s chapter of the AARP, penned a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey on April 13, encouraging him to release the names of assisted-living homes that have had confirmed cases of the virus.

Kennedy acknowledged how the Health Insurance Accountability Act protects the personal medical records of patients, but argued Arizona could still disclose which care facilities had been hit by the virus without violating the law.

“While it is understandable that we should be cautious regarding privacy concerns,” Kennedy wrote, “AARP suggests that HIPAA is specific to the privacy of the individual and does not apply to facilities.”

Public health experts think Arizona still has some data gaps to fill before an accurate picture of the pandemic can be realized.

Megan Jehn, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, said the state’s recent ZIP code can be confusing since areas with hospitals and doctor’s offices will understandably inflate case numbers.

It isn’t clear whether all of Arizona’s 15 counties are reporting data consistently, Jehn added, making it more challenging to count and authenticate numbers on a daily basis.

“Our state and local public health departments are being asked to take on the herculean task of managing the public health response to COVID-19,” Jehn stated, “while developing new systems for reporting timely and accurate data, all while being chronically understaffed and underfunded.”

Even state officials have warned against making too much out of ZIP code data.

State Health Director Cara Christ two weeks ago said, “While physical distancing is occurring, people do not always remain isolated within their own ZIP code when conducting essential business.”

“Finally, ZIP code counts include anyone in that zip code who has tested positive, whether their infection occurred two months ago and has resolved or two weeks ago and is still active,’’ Christ added, stressing:

“Thus, while ZIP code data is informative, it should not be used to determine whether or not residents of a particular zip code are or are not at risk of COVID-19.’’

County health officials also noted, “Most tests so far have only been done for those who are very sick, are known contacts of an already confirmed case, or are healthcare workers.’’

Since elderly residents have accounted for the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths in Arizona, some long-term care facilities have chosen to be readily transparent on how the pandemic impacted their communities.    

Koelsch Communities, which manages several care facilities in the East Valley area, has been posting daily online updates on how many of its residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

No one from Koelsch’s Chandler or Mesa facilities has reportedly caught the virus, but at least one resident from the company’s Surprise location died from the contagion.

“We continue to monitor all residents for any change of condition, including COVID-19 symptoms, as well as screen every person entering our community,” Koelsch wrote in its most recent update.

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