Arizona's First Coronavirus Death: A Sky Harbor Employee in His 50s

The 2019 novel coronavirus.
The 2019 novel coronavirus. The Digital Artist / Pixabay
(Update— 9:45 a.m. March 21: Arizona's first COVID-19 death was an employee at Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said on Twitter Saturday morning. The mayor provided no additional details, and officials did not explain why it was not made public earlier that an airport employee had tested positive for the virus.

A statement later from the city manager said the victim, a city of Phoenix Aviation department employee, worked in a "remote office" at the airport and "had minimal interaction within any of the terminals and related airport facilities.

A Maricopa County man in his 50s has become the first person to die of the new coronavirus in Arizona, county and state health officials said Friday night.

The man had underlying health conditions, according to a joint news release from the state and county health departments. The Maricopa County Health Department is in the process of notifying his contacts, it said.

Officials did not release more details.

"We express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends grieving their loved one during this difficult time,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said in a statement.

“COVID-19 is a serious disease that can be fatal in anyone, especially our elderly population and people with underlying health conditions. We expect to see more cases of COVID-19 in Arizona, and there could be more deaths," she added. "It is imperative that everyone takes precautions to protect you and your family from this disease.”

As of Friday afternoon, 34 people in Maricopa County had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a tally by the county's Department of Public Health. Ten of them had been hospitalized.

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Maricopa County Department of Public Health

Statewide, 78 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The first case of the new coronavirus in Arizona was made public in late January — an Arizona State University student who has since fully recovered.

As of Friday, the state laboratory had tested just 343 people in Arizona, which is home to 7.2 million people. The number of cases tested in private labs is unclear, but given that commercial testing has only recently become narrowly available to people, the number is likely small.

Overall, far too few people have been tested to ascertain the true number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona and to flatten the curve of infection, experts say.

One hundred and one tests are still pending.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency on March 11 over COVID-19; on Thursday, he issued executive orders closing all restaurants in counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases to switch to takeout only and closing all bars, movie theaters, and gyms in those counties — nine of the state's 15, to date.

All schools in Arizona were initially closed until March 27; on Friday, the state extended that through April 10.

As of Friday, the U.S. has more than 15,000 cases and just over 200 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.