Graham County mask mandate to end Friday, February 5

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: On Monday, the Graham County Board of Supervisors did not have an agenda item involving its mask regulation, effectively ending it upon its expiration date later this week.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – The mask regulation for Graham County requiring the use of face-coverings while inside the enclosed area of any place of public accommodation will expire at 12 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 5.

The regulation was not on the BOS’s agenda Monday morning, which effectively will have it end after its last extension period is complete.

The Graham County Board of Supervisors initially passed its mask regulation on Nov. 25, 2020, with a unanimous vote and then extended the regulation for an additional 30 days at its Jan. 4 meeting by a vote of 2-1. Newly instated Supervisor John Howard (R-District 2) cast the lone dissenting vote at that meeting. At that time, Howard extolled the virtues of wearing a face-covering when appropriate but didn’t feel the government should require it.

The mask regulation was instated to assist with lowering COVID-19 transmission to reduce the occupancy of the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center. However, January was the deadliest month for COVID-19 in Graham County, with 14 deaths attributed to the virus. The county has recorded 65 deaths since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

While new cases appear to continue to increase, that has been due, in part, to an outbreak at the state prisons in the Safford area. Numbers outside of the prisons have decreased recently, and so have hospitalizations. On Monday, only nine new positive tests for COVID-19 were reported for Graham County.

Graham County has the second-lowest total number of deaths due to COVID-19 (65) out of Arizona’s 15 counties, just higher than La Paz County (60), which has roughly half the population. Greenlee County has the fewest deaths by far (6) but has only about a quarter of the population of Graham County.

Graham County BOS Chairman Danny Smith (R-District 3) said he felt a renewal of the mask regulation was not necessary due to the amount of vaccine being distributed, those who have already tested positive, and overall lowering of cases.

“The measurement we have used to determine a mask regulation and/or any other means of trying to mitigate COVID has been the impact on the MGRMC hospital,” Smith said. “In as much as cases indicate the number of sick people walking into the hospital needing care, cases are on the decline in the general population. (More than) 1,400 of our recent Graham County cases have been at ADOC and FCI Safford. By the end of this week, nearly 7,000 people will have received a vaccine in Graham County with at least half that number of eligible people declining a vaccine. Five thousand will have tested positive gaining some level of immunity to further sickness in the short term, (and) I believe another 5,000+ have been positive but never tested. So, now we have 20,500 of 38,000 people in Graham with some immunity or decision not to have any. By the end of February, there should be 7,000+ more vaccinated people, provided the federal government provides vaccines. So then we are at 27,500 of 38,000 with some immunity or declining with the most vulnerable population protected.  Indications are the number of sick people arriving at the hospital should decline.”