How to: COVID-19 testing in Pima County

Photo courtesy Peterson Air Force Base



The rate of recorded COVID-19 cases in Arizona has increased exponentially over the past month. When the Aztec Press released Issue 2 on March 12, there was one reported case in Maricopa County. Now, we have surpassed 1500 cases across the entire state, with 32 related deaths. These numbers do not include those with pending tests, nor do they account for those carrying the virus who lack access to testing. 


Pima County saw its first COVID-19 related death March 23. It was a woman in her 50s who likely had preexisting conditions that increased her susceptibility to the virus. The county had declared an emergency in unincorporated areas on March 19. 


“It’s here. You just need to act like it’s in our community,” Dr. Bob England, director of the Pima County Health Department, told KOLD. “We will have people die at home. We will have people die at the hospital. 


Pima County has the second highest recorded presence of COVID-19 in Arizona with 237, following Maricopa County’s whopping 961. 


“We will have people die who had their tests beforehand and those who didn’t. This thing is going to increase,” England said. “We’re trying to keep the relative level down, and it’s going to be bad.”


Medical experts warn, however, that community spread is already underway. The numbers will continue to increase as testing becomes more accessible. 


The recently signed stimulus package aims to supplement costs for medical facilities and replenish dwindling medical supplies, among other things. However, the cost for COVID-19 tests remain ambiguously unregulated around the United States. Privatized testing facilities have worked to level out the cost of testing, while insurers and Medicaid officials cannot seem to come to an agreement. 


In Arizona, however, testing is free through state and local health departments, according to TucsonWeekly. Prospective testees must meet with a physician and apply to a set of specific criteria in order to be eligible for free testing. 


This criteria includes those experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive within 14 days, even if they do not require hospitalization. It also includes individuals experiencing symptoms that do not require hospitalization but have no other explanation for the source of the symptoms. 


Individuals experiencing a fever and SARS-like symptoms that require hospitalization, with radiographic confirmation of bilateral pulmonary infiltrates, and without alternative explanatory diagnosis, are eligible to be tested in a public setting. 


Amanda Shea Falzone is a recent graduate of UArizona and a Tucson local. She was eligible for free testing through the University Medical Center after being informed that one of her close friends had tested positive for the coronavirus. 


“I went to the drive-thru testing station at UMC around 10 a.m.,” Falzone said. “There were only a few people in line ahead of me so I only had to wait about 10 minutes. I went through three different stations. The first one asked if I had symptoms and took my temperature, the next one took down all my information, the third one they stuck a Q-tip up my nostril and that was it. 


“The test was free, fast and simple. I got a call three days later telling me that my test came back negative.”


There are private commercial laboratories that offer testing to those who do not meet the criteria. A physician’s recommendation is still required, however. 


Sonora Quest, the Southern Arizona division of Quest Diagnostics, is one of them. With numerous locations around Pima County, they offer tests for $199, sending swab materials to a laboratory in California for analysis. Results take three to five days. 


“When I found out one of my friends tested positive, it all became very real for me,” Falzone said. “She has asthma, so it hit her hard. It’s been two weeks since her symptoms started, and she is recovering now. I have hope that everything will be OK as long as we practice social distancing until we get this all under control. 


“We need to keep our loved ones safe and protected, and remember to be kind and generous as much as possible during this time.”

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