Greenlee ‘Stand up, Mask up” program key in fighting COVID-19

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci administrator Ilsa Castillo takes a size request prior to giving the information to a runner who filled the order.

Gila Health provides strong support for program

By Walt Mares

Some people only talk the talk. Others walk the walk. Such as those involved with “Greenlee County, Stand Up and Mask Up.”  They are the folks distributing masks in Greenlee to help deal with the deadly coronavirus COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.

To date, they have provided hundreds and hundreds of masks, at no charge, in Duncan, Loma Linda, and Morenci. The most recent distribution sites were in Morenci and Loma Linda, this past Saturday and Sunday.  All told there have been six such events, two have been held at each site.

As of Monday morning, the Arizona Department of Health Services is reporting a total of 5,064 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Arizona to date, with 187 deaths. Maricopa County leads the way with 2,636 cases, followed by Pima County with 941, Navajo County – 473, Coconino County – 337, Pinal County – 256, Apache County – 202, Yavapai County – 72, Mohave County – 56, Cochise County – 28, Yuma County – 27, Santa Cruz County – 20, Gila County – 8, La Paz County – 5, Greenlee County – 2, and Graham County – 2. 

Graham County hasn’t had a positive test in more than a month, and Greenlee County has gone more than a week without a positive test. As of Sunday night, the Greenlee County Health Department reported 71 tests had been taken and there are no pending tests. All four patients in Graham and Greenlee counties have recovered without hospitalization and are no longer contagious. 

Contributed Photo By Susan Breen: A long line of vehicles showed up to receive the masks.

From the World Health Organization to state and local governments, there are critical messages to be followed to hopefully avoid contracting the virus. Foremost, wear protective face masks when in public. Stay home as much as possible and avoid being in crowds. For a situation such as being in a grocery store stay at least six feet away from others. Thoroughly wash your hands and do it regularly.

Although Greenlee, located in southeastern Arizona, is very remote medical experts such as Dr. Matt Bollinger, the county’s epidemiologist, stress that although Greenlee has a small population (9,400) everyone should be alert and cautious about contracting and spreading the virus. He said the virus “knows no borders like state and county lines.” It can hit anywhere.

It was Bollinger’s idea to begin the mask distribution program.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Volunteer Patricia Avila hands masks through vehicle windows.

Amanda Gray, chief quality officer for Gila Health Resources, said Bollinger sent out a March 30 notice saying, “We want everybody to mask up.” Gray has taken it from there. She sent out information and pleas over Facebook for volunteers to pitch in and begin making cloth masks. The response has been “tremendous,” she said.

The masks are all homemade and come in a variety of designs and colors. Bright yellow, paisley pink, dark blue, black and you name it.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Local American Legion member and spokesperson Larry Avila hands a brown paper bagged fabric mask to individuals.

On Saturday, masks were handed out via a drive-through system at Morenci High School. Volunteers wearing masks and blue latex gloves hand out masks in small brown paper bags as each vehicle approached. Recipients greeted volunteers with a smile and a word of thanks.

Among the volunteers at the Saturday afternoon site were Duncan businesswoman Dusty Robinette and Larry Avila, representing American Legion Post 28. He sported a cowboy hat with a large Legion sticker on front. As did other volunteers they work masks and blue gloves.

Avila said he thinks it is important for the Legion to be involved in some way and offer support for the mask program. He pointed to the fact elderly folks over 65 are said to be among the most vulnerable to contracting the virus. Avila, who is a Vietnam War veteran, said a majority of Post 28 members are older than 65. Many of those are Vietnam vets who are in the late 60s or in their mid-70s.

“There is not only a scarcity of masks but some Viet vets are disabled and it’s hard for them to get around. This will help out a lot in getting some to them,” Avila said. “So, from a veteran’s point of view, this is really important and we all say thanks for this program and all of the volunteers.”

Walt Mares Photo/Gila Herald: Kelly Baker hands a bag of homemade cloth face masks to Amanda Gray during a drive-through mask distribution program at Morenci High School on April 18. It is part of the “Greenlee, Stand Up, Mask Up” program. The masks were given to anyone who wanted one in an effort to help halt the spread of the global pandemic COVID-19. Gray is the chief quality officer with Gila Health Resources. Baker is a longtime member of the Morenci Unified School District board of education.

Gray said the mask program speaks volumes about the Greenlee community “coming together  and people being so willing to help others.”  She said that after masks are completed at homes they are taken to the Gila Health Resources medical facility in Morenci. There they are washed in GHR’s machines and there is great caution in storing them as well as in washing. GHR has a special room where the masks are stored prior to their distribution.