Graham County continues mask regulation for 30 days

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: On Monday, the Graham County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 to extend its mask regulation through Feb. 4.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – Citing a need for continued diligence to assist with keeping the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center from being overwhelmed, the Graham County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 on Monday to extend its mask regulation for an additional 30 days through Feb. 4. Newly instated Supervisor John Howard cast the dissenting vote.

“I believe we are still in crisis mode,” Chairman Paul David (D-District 1) said. “Even though masks are controversial and some people don’t believe they are effective, I believe that they are effective – I don’t know how effective – and I think it’s important that we go ahead as a board to continue to hold the line and ask the citizens of Graham County to continue to support the wearing of masks and to wear them.”

The BOS initially passed its mask regulation requiring the wearing of a “face covering” while inside the enclosed area of any place of public accommodation on Nov. 25, 2020. The regulation was set to expire on Jan. 5 if the board had not voted for its continuance.

According to the regulation, adults accompanying children ages 2-5 shall use reasonable efforts to cause those children to wear face coverings. The regulation is effective for all areas of Graham County, incorporated and unincorporated, and includes all municipalities. All places of public accommodation shall require staff members to wear face coverings while working in areas open to the general public, and areas in which interactions with other staff members are likely.

Exemptions include children under 2 years old, restaurant patrons while they are dining, people who are exercising in communal outdoor spaces, or those walking or exercising with other people from the same household. Face coverings are required for those meeting in outdoor spaces where physical distancing is not maintained.

Other exemptions include settings where it is not feasible to wear a face covering, such as at a dental appointment, people in personal vehicles, first responders, or people complying with directions from first responders.

People who decline to wear a face-covering due to a medical condition shall not be required to produce documentation verifying the condition. Those violating the regulation shall have a warning as a first offense and then be subject to a fine of not more than $50 for any further offense, according to the regulation.

Supervisor Danny Smith (R-District 3) said the board’s decision is based on information from the Graham County Department of Health and Human Services and is in an effort to reduce the number of patients needing hospitalization.

“Right now, we are right about double the amount of people (who) would otherwise be in the hospital this time of year and that is affecting a lot of things. It’s affecting people – the care that they get.”

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Supervisor Danny Smith (R-District-3) explains his reasoning for extending the mask regulation.

“I got a letter from a guy the other day that said if it were this bad then sound the alarm – we are,” Smith said. “It’s not any worse than it but it’s difficult. It’s really difficult on our hospital and our healthcare providers right now. I don’t know that masks are going to make much of a difference, but we’ve been asked to do anything that could make a 1 percent difference and being the gatekeeper and reducing the number of sick people going into the hospital. So, from that standpoint, I’m willing to do it a little bit longer.”

Supervisor John Howard (R-District 2) – thrown into the fire in his first meeting as a supervisor – said he believes stores are doing their best to enforce the mask regulation and that people should wear one when appropriate.

“People (who) are responsible are wearing masks and not complaining about it,” Howard said. “You’re always going to have the naysayers not wearing masks. Is it doing any good? We say yes, we say no. We don’t have an answer to that and I don’t think we ever will.”

Howard said he supports the health department and wears a mask as an individual and that people should respect the wishes of business owners and government. However, he did not support mask regulation.

“With that being said, I would have to say I would strongly go back and recommend mask use before we do the mandate.”

Howard then cast the lone dissenting vote against the regulation, which passed 2-1.

Health Department to receive more refrigeration for vaccine storage; new vaccine on the horizon

In other related news, the BOS unanimously approved a request from Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas to purchase additional refrigeration and a freezer to hold COVID-19 vaccines.

“We would like to replace our residential chest freezer with a medical-grade freezer for vaccine that requires sub-freezing temperatures,” Douglas said. “Also, we’re in need of additional refrigerator space for vaccine that requires normal refrigeration temperatures.”

The county currently is receiving the Moderna vaccine, which requires freezing but not the extreme low temperature required with the Pfzier vaccine.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas requests to purchase a medical-grade freezer and additional refrigeration to store vaccines.

In addition to the Moderna vaccine, Douglas advised that the county would receive the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine in a couple of months. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is seeking emergency-use authorization. It requires only one shot and does not require ultra-cold storage like the Pfizer shots. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations require two shots spaced weeks apart for full effect.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that use messenger RNA, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine produces an antigen that causes an immune response to protect against COVID-19, which is the same technology previously used to develop an Ebola vaccine. Johnson and Johnson reports it plans to manufacture more than a billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2021 if approved by the FDA. Preliminary results showing the vaccine’s safety and efficacy are expected to be released by the end of January.

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