State and federal prisons adding to an increase in Safford COVID-19 cases

A number of Safford’s new positive tests for COVID-19 have come from the area’s prisons, including ASPC-Safford.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – COVID-19 is on the rise in Graham County, however, a quantity of new positive tests for the Safford zip code include prisoners from both the state and federal prisons.

According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry COVID-19 data dashboard, the Arizona State Prison Complex – Safford has 288 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 22 inmates recovered as of Monday. Additionally, the Federal Corrections Institute – Safford lists 298 currently active COVID-19 prisoners, with 308 recovered. FCI -Safford also lists 17 staff members as actively positive and two recovered, as of Monday.

Data released by the Arizona Department of Health Services on Thursday for the week of Dec. 13 shows Graham County leading the state in percent positive COVID-19 testing rate at a whopping 37 percent. 

That could indicate a variety of things, however, what it basically states is that 37 percent of all those from Graham County who were tested for COVID-19 during the week of Dec. 13 tested positive for the virus. Those numbers do not include the recent outbreak at the Federal Corrections Institute-Safford or Arizona State Prison Complex – Safford as that occurred after this data week.  

The more telling statistic is the rate of infection per capita. In that area, Graham County ranked third out of Arizona’s 15 counties for the week of Dec. 13, with a rate of 839 cases per 100,000 people. Only Santa Cruz County (884 per 100,00) and Yuma County (920 per 100,000) ranked higher than Graham County for the week.

That data set is, again, from the week of Dec. 13 and does not necessarily reflect the current rate of spread as other counties have seen significant increases in the past few days.   

On Monday, the Graham County Department of Health and Human Services (GCDHHS) announced that 2,270 cases of COVID-19 out of a total of 3,472 cases are now listed as recovered. That leaves a current number of 1,151 active cases for Graham County, and 51 deaths. 

According to the GCDHHS, the county saw an increase of 58 new positive tests on Monday to increase the total for the pandemic to 3,472. Out of those, there have been 51 deaths attributed to COVID-19, most being those over the age of 65.

Out of the new cases reported Thursday, 54 came from Safford, and four from Thatcher. The increased numbers for the Safford zip code have been aided by an outbreak at FCI-Safford and Arizona State Prison Complex-Safford.  

To date, the ages of those who have been infected in Graham County include 594 under the age of 20, 1,562 between the ages of 20-44, 490 between the ages of 45-54, 387 between the ages of 55-64, 430 who are 65 or older, and nine unknown.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ metrics, both Graham County and the entire state of Arizona is in the “substantial transmission” spread for the virus on both the business and school dashboards. Despite that, Governor Doug Ducey has replied that tactics have changed and believes most of the spread has come from other areas than from businesses, so he has declined to shutter businesses due to the metrics. Additionally, schools are recommended to go to distance-only learning, but that is at their own discretion.

An outbreak of positive COVID-19 tests at FCI-Safford is partly responsible for a recent increase in the Safford area.

Greenlee County continues increase of cases

Greenlee County added four new COVID-19 cases on Sunday to increase its total to 424, however, it still has the least out of any county in Arizona and has the least amount of spread per capita as well. 

As of Sunday, the Greenlee County Health Department has administered 3,776 tests, with 3,352 negative results, and 424 positives.

The county currently lists 153 active cases, with 268 recovered cases, and three deaths.

The ADHS (which shows 417 cases) currently lists the age breakdown for Greenlee County’s positive tests to be 60 under the age of 20, 200 between the ages of 20-44, 62 between the ages of 45-54, 54 between the ages of 55-64, and 41 who are 65 years old or older.

For the week of Dec. 13, Greenlee County statistically had the lowest rate of spread with 183 cases per 100,000 people and was the only county in single digits for percent test positivity with a rate of 8.3 percent.  


On Monday, the ADHS listed 5,158 new cases to bring its total for the pandemic to 561,542 in Arizona. The department also listed three new deaths on Monday, to bring the total for Arizona to 9,064 dead attributed to COVID-19.

The breakdown of total cases by county includes Maricopa with 346,183, Pima – 74,963, Pinal – 29,354, Yuma – 29,109, Mohave – 13,858, Yavapai – 12,160, Navajo – 11,922, Coconino – 11,753, Cochise – 7,951, Apache – 7,785, Santa Cruz – 6,279, Gila – 4,696, Graham – 3,472, La Paz – 1,621, and Greenlee – 414 (county lists it at 424).