Graham County has ‘community spread’ of COVID-19

Government leaders to meet Thursday to discuss possible new mitigation efforts

By Jon Johnson

GRAHAM COUNTY – The increase of positive tests for COVID-19, recent deaths attributed to the virus, and the number of patients admitted to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center due to it has spurred leaders from Graham County and various municipalities to seek action.

Government leaders from Graham County, the town of Pima, the town of Thatcher, and the city of Safford will meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday to discuss possible mitigation efforts.

All three municipalities and the county have met regularly with Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas, who recently advised that the county now has “community spread.” As of Tuesday, the MGRMC listed eight patients were at the hospital due to COVID-19.

“The county is hosting a meeting with our city and town leaders tomorrow,” Douglas told the Gila Herald. “We are discussing our next steps to implement additional mitigation efforts in our communities.”

Several options on how to help curb the spread of the virus will be on the table, including a possible mask mandate while in public, or just simply a media/marketing push to remind people of the situation and how to help avoid making it worse.

Graham County Supervisor Danny Smith told the Gila Herald that while Maricopa County has had a mask mandate for months its percentage of new cases and deaths is roughly the same as Graham County’s, which has no such mandate.

Maricopa has a rate of about 4,100 cases per 100,000 people, with 87 deaths per 100,000 and a percent positivity rate of 10.6. Graham County had had a rate of 4,500 cases per 100,000 people, with 85 deaths per 100,000 and a percent positivity rate of 12.

“Statistically, we’re the same,” Smith said. “It’s statistically indeterminable whether you are using a mask (mandate).”

He added that a mask mandate is tough to implement and that a number of the population would still not wear a mask and others could likely revolt against doing so.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: A young girl secures her mask with loops over her ears. Greenlee County has had a mask mandate for months. Will Graham County follow in its footsteps?

With that, Smith said from his standpoint he wants to launch an ad blitz to remind people to wear a mask, physical distance, wash your hands, and keep gatherings to a minimum where possible.

“I think that’s the kind of thing that could make a difference,” Smith said.   

As of Wednesday, Graham County had 718 active cases, 994 recovered cases, and 33 deaths from a total of 1,745 positive tests for COVID since March.

According to data from the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services, Graham County has had 511 new positive tests for COVID-19 reported in the first 18 days of November.

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