Almost exactly a year ago, Pima County opened its Emergency Operations Center to provide planning and coordination of rapid response and mitigation efforts in case a deadly virus that had started in Asia a few months previous came to Tucson through international visitors to the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
No one got sick then, but a month later Pima County recorded its first positive case of COVID-19. What a year it’s been.
Since that first case, 1 in 10 Pima County residents have contracted COVID-19, and 1,700 of them have died. The virus, and the chaotic response to it from an inept federal government, has rocked our economy to its core, upended countless lives and livelihoods, wiped out the savings and financial security of many hundreds, if not thousands, of County residents, and caused the closure of dozens of beloved businesses and restaurants.
Our community has been altered forever by this virus.
Your County government has done all it can, at immense expense, to prevent or mitigate the effects of COVID-19. We’ve led the way on testing, contact tracing, business assistance, rent and utility assistance, education and awareness, and mitigation measures and regulatory actions to control or stop the rate of infection.
Despite these efforts, the virus still spreads its dark blanket of despair across our county. As of this writing, there are thousands of people with active COVID-19 infections in Pima County and hundreds of poor souls in county ICUs fighting for their lives. Thousands more are out of work or working diminished hours and struggling to make ends meet.
But amid all that gloom, there is a light shining in the dark that grows brighter every day.
The Pima County Health Department, through its partners at Banner University Medicine and Tucson Medical Center, began COVID-19 vaccinations on Dec. 14. Between Jan. 15 and Jan. 22, the County opened three more vaccination centers and, so far, we’ve vaccinated nearly 100,000 people out of the estimated 750,000 we need to vaccinate to put a stop to this virus.
Needless to say, vaccinating three quarters of a million people as quickly as possible is a massive and complicated undertaking. Not only have TMC and Banner been stalwart and vital partners in the effort, so too have nearly every government and health agency in the region, from the City of Tucson and the University of Arizona, to Marana Health Center, Sells Hospital, and the Veterans Health Administration.
Additionally, an army of selfless volunteers are staffing the vaccination centers, giving their time and energy to help protect their community and put an end to the suffering caused by this disease. They can’t be thanked enough.
The end of this terrible time is in sight.
But we need to go faster. At the current rate of vaccine distribution from the state, it will take until next year to get everyone vaccinated. That’s unacceptable to me and I expect it is to you, too.
Please reach out to your member of Congress, your legislators and our governor and tell them to get Pima County more vaccine (and the funds to pay for it) and we’ll get the job done. We have the capacity to get everyone vaccinated in less than three months.
One way or another, I believe the pandemic will subside and end in our county this year. If not by the summer, then by the fall. We are already working on restoring and reviving our economy and getting back to some semblance of normal.
Like you, I’m not sure what post-pandemic normal will be like, but I know there will be less suffering and death, and ultimately, that’s what matters the most.
In the meantime, please do your part to keep the virus under control: Wear a mask when you’re out, limit your contact with people outside your household, and keep washing your hands. And when your turn comes up, please get vaccinated.
We’re all counting on you.
Sharon Bronson (D-District 3) is the chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.