Jon Johnson File Photo: The Safford City Council chose to follow the guideline of the Graham County Department of Health Services and recommend the use of masks in public but not mandate it.
By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – With the rise of COVID-19 cases throughout the state, many counties and municipalities have mandated the public to wear face masks while out in the public. In Safford, however, that is still an individual’s choice.
At its Monday night meeting, the Safford City Council chose to copy the stance of the Graham County Board of Supervisors and follow the advice of the Graham County Department of Health Services by only recommending the use of masks and not mandating them.
Graham County Health Director Brian Douglas spoke at the Safford City Council’s Monday night meeting and advised that Graham County has the second-lowest number of cases and the second-lowest rate of transmission behind only Greenlee County for the entire state. He said the health department’s contact tracing has indicated that the cases have been transmitted by prolonged close contact and none by short-term casual contact.
“At this time, we’re not finding that this virus has been transmitted through casual contact,” Douglas said. “And by casual contact, I mean by shopping locally in stores, (and) to restaurants where contact is limited.”
Douglas said the health department’s definition of close contact is anyone who is within six feet of a positive known case for 10 minutes or more.
“So, if you casually speak to a someone (who) is a positive case or stand next to them by two feet for two or three minutes, we do not consider you a close contact, we consider you a casual contact,” Douglas said. We’re just not finding through our contact tracing that people have acquired this virus just through casual contact.”
Even so, Douglas and the health department strongly recommends wearing a face mask while in the public and said that recommendation could change if a sudden increase in cases come about.
“Wearing a mask or a face covering does work,” Douglas said. “I know that there’s a lot of personal opinions out there, but I’ve seen it first-hand that these masks do work.”
During the meeting, Safford Councilor Michael Andazola Sr. asked Douglas what the efficacy of the PCR (nasal swab) tests are and Douglas said while those tests were the most effective they only have an accuracy rate of 63 percent. Due to the low accuracy rate, the health department also looks toward outward signs and symptoms before requesting those who test positive before issuing a quarantine.
Mayor Jason Kouts advised the city to maintain the direction of the health department and recommend mask usage while not mandating them, but if a private business requires the wearing of a mask then a patron should honor that or shop elsewhere.
“I personally think that I have to almost echo what the Apache Junction mayor said,” Kouts said. “Don’t let your safety be in the hands of the mayor, council, or governor.”
Vice-Mayor Richard Ortega said he believed it was only a matter of time until the virus spreads more thoroughly through the area.
“It’s bad in Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Tucson, and everybody is traveling back and forth,” Ortega said. “I strongly recommend wearing a mask. You better get used to it. I applaud the businesses here on Main
Street that require a mask.”
“We just gotta use our heads, not be afraid, (and) pray that we get this thing taken care of.”
As of Tuesday, Graham County has reported 71 total cases with 18 hospitalizations and two deaths since the start of the pandemic and Greenlee has reported 16 with one death.
Those who feel they may be positive for the virus can be tested for free at Canyonlands Healthcare (928-428-0110) and Copper Mountain Clinic (928-348-1600).
“Be wise, be smart, respect businesses that require the PPE, and if you feel that you’re going to be compromising or compromised, please do the due diligence and mask up. And once again, do not leave your safety in my hands . . . If you feel that you’re going to be compromised, please, by all means, do what you need to do.”