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Arizona 'snowbirds' faced with tough decision as number of coronavirus cases continue to rise: Leave or stay

One Valley couple says flight cancellations to Canada due to the coronavirus forced them to leave Arizona earlier than they had planned.

MESA, Ariz. — As the coronavirus outbreak continues across the country, many of Arizona’s winter visitors are being faced with a tough decision: Should they wait here in hopes that the disease passes or head back home in the middle of the pandemic?

Raymond Green and his wife are so-called "snowbirds" from Canada. They had plans to stay longer, but the coronavirus is derailing them.

“Air Canada, which we are flying on, have given us the warning that they’ll probably end flying at the end of this month, so we had to change our booking and leave this weekend," Green said.

The Greens are like a lot of other people who enjoy Arizona’s mild winters every year.

“I feel a lot safer here," Green said. "You can go outdoors, the weather is nice. You can walk around and stay a little bit healthy. What I’m going back to is not so nice.”

But now with the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, they’re faced with a difficult decision: Should they head back home or try to wait out the virus in Arizona?

Valleywise Health ER Dr. Frank LoVecchio said the short answer is it depends.

“If you’re going to a city like New York City, where it’s like the epicenter of the COVID-19 virus right now, I think you probably should not go if you have the means to stay in the Valley," Dr. LoVecchio said.

LoVecchio added that there could be benefits to staying in the Valley. So far, Arizona has not gotten hit as hard by the coronavirus as other states.

“The reason for that is unclear," he said. 

"Some of that has to do with our testing. We aren’t as aggressively testing as other states. We don’t have as many tests available."

But risks with leaving Arizona include possibly coming into contact with the coronavirus during travel.

“An airplane is high risk," LoVecchio said. "But also (is) walking around in the airport is high risk at this time because so many people walk through there.”

“200 people at 50,000 feet, doesn’t seem like a good prospect but, we’re out of choices," Green said.

Lovecchio said your best bet is to try to stay in Arizona if you can, and practice social distancing as long as you can.

And if you have to leave, take every safety precaution possible, whether it’s on the ground or in the air.

COVID-19 is believed to be primarily spread through coughs or sneezes. 

It may be possible for the virus to spread by touching a surface or object with the virus and then a person touching their mouth, nose or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main method of spread, the CDC says. 

You should consult your doctor if you traveled to an area currently affected by COVID-19 and feel sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing. 

There is no vaccine for the coronavirus, so the best way to prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases is to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

You can text FACTS to 602-444-1212 to receive more information on the coronavirus and to ask questions.