Graham County COVID-19 positive test rate too high to open to in-person learning

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Students began their school year in the Pima School District with distance learning this week. According to benchmarks from the state, it doesn’t appear that schools will be allowed to return to in-person learning as early as hoped.

New death brings county’s total to 13 due to COVID-19

By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com

PHOENIX – As some schools in Graham County began this week with distance learning, the positive test rate for the county is too high for schools to return to in-person learning on Aug. 17.

On Thursday, Governor Doug Ducey released benchmarks for safely returning to in-person instruction as provided by the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS). Those benchmarks include a two-week decline in weekly average cases or two weeks below 100 cases per 100,000 population; two weeks with positivity tests below 7 percent; and two weeks with less than 10 percent of hospital visits due to COVID-19.

With Graham County’s current test percentage at 11.4 percent and a rate of cases at 1,374 per 100,000 (according to ADHS numbers), it will not be possible for Graham County to meet two of the benchmarks by Aug. 17. The benchmarks are recommendations from ADHS and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman urged “all school leaders to use these benchmarks to make safe decisions about learning in this school year.” The benchmarks are on a county level and do not necessarily represent the situation in each individual school district in each county.

On Friday, the ADHS announced one additional death for Graham County attributed to COVID-19. The victim was a Safford resident over the age of 65. The additional death makes eight in just over a week and brings the county’s total to 13.  

Along with the new death, the county announced 11 new positive tests to bring the total to 529 cases, according to the Graham County Department of Health and Human Services (GCDHHS). As of Friday, there are six patients at Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center due to COVID-19.

With the additional positive test numbers and new death, the county’s death rate of those known to be infected raised to 2.45 percent. However, a number of people who get infected show little to no symptoms and do not end up getting tested, so the death rate is likely lower than the one that can be calculated.      

According to the state’s database, Graham County’s positive test cases include 90 who are under 20 years of age, 220 between 20-44, 60 between 45-54, 58 between 55-64, and 100 who are 65 years old or older.

To date, the county has administered tests to 2,956 people with a total of 529 positives. The county lists 354 currently active cases, with 163 recovered cases, and 13 deaths. According to GCDHHS criteria, a positive test is not considered a recovered patient until they have 30 days symptom-free. Graham County has about 39,000 residents.

Greenlee County

The Greenlee County Health Department announced one additional positive test Thursday to bring its current total to 58. As of Thursday, the department has administered tests to 930 people, with 804 being negative, 58 positives, and 68 results pending. The county lists 17 active cases, 39 recovered cases, and two deaths. Greenlee County has about 10,000 residents.

Greenlee County only has a positive test rate of 5.6 percent but its rate of cases is 559 per 100,000 population (according to ADHS numbers). However, it could still register a two-week decrease in weekly average cases and therefore could be eligible to re-open to in-person learning on Aug. 17.

The breakdown of the Greenlee cases includes three under the age of 20, 34 between 20-44, nine between 45-54, seven between 55-64, and five who are 65 years old or older.

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: The Class of 2020 ran through the halls on the first day of classes in July 2019, but did not on their last day in May last year. The Day One tradition was not followed on the first day of the 2020-21 school year classes. The school opened with a distance learning model on July 29, similar to what it used during the fourth quarter last spring.

San Carlos Apache Tribe

The San Carlos Apache Tribe stretches into both Graham and Gila counties and its cases add to the respective counties’ cases based on the geography of where the patients reside. On Thursday, the San Carlos Apache Tribe Department of Health & Human Services reported 10 new positive tests for the reservation.

To date, the Tribe has administered tests to 4,651 people with 3,843 negative, 542 positives, and 266 results pending.

The Tribe lists 152 currently active cases, with 387 recovered cases, and three deaths.

The area breakdown on the reservation includes Gilson Wash – 91 positive, 53 recovered, 37 active, one death; Peridot – 190 positive, 140 recovered, 48 active, two deaths; 7-Mile – 94  positive, 70 recovered, 24 active; Bylas – 127 positive, 92 recovered, 35 active; other areas – 40 positive, 32 recovered, eight active.   

Statewide

For the state, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,406 new cases Friday to bring the total to 185,053 for the state. It added 79 new deaths Friday to bring the total fatalities due to COVID-19 to 4,081 in Arizona. The state has about 7.3 million residents.

The deaths by age group for the entire state include 2,930 who were 65 years old or older, 618 who were between 55-64, 280 who were between 45-54, 242 who were between 20-44, and 11 who were less than 20 years old. The state currently lists that 84 percent of the intensive care unit (ICU) beds across the state are in use   

Reported positive cases in the various counties include Maricopa County with 124,924 Pima County – 17,497, Yuma County – 11,448, Pinal County – 8,327, Navajo County – 5,352, Apache County – 3,151, Mohave County – 3,147, Coconino County – 3,065, Santa Cruz County – 2,651, Yavapai County – 1,966, Cochise County – 1,573, Gila County – 887, Graham County – 529, La Paz County – 478, Greenlee County – 58.

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