SAFFORD — The Graham County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted for a countywide requirement for residents to wear face coverings while in public.
The board held the vote during a special meeting Wednesday morning. The requirement goes into effect at midnight Thursday, Nov. 26, and runs through Jan. 5, 2021, at which point the board will review COVID-19 data from the county’s Health Department and vote whether to extend the requirement or allow it to expire.
“We’ve got to keep our businesses open and operating. And if doing this makes only an incremental difference that allows that to happen, it’s the responsible thing to do,” said Supervisor Jim Palmer, R-Dist. 2.
The face covering requirement applies to all residents age 6 and older — with parents of children ages 2-5 asked to do their best to have their children wear a face covering — as well as any business in which staff interacts with the public.
“The most important thing for me is us just being able to take care of our community members. And if our hospital is full, we can’t do that.”
– Thatcher Town Councilman Randy Bryce.
People are not required to wear face coverings in homes, in personal offices or in vehicles. And persons may remove their face coverings when eating at a dining establishment.
Those willfully violating the requirement will receive a warning on a first offense, and subsequent offenses could be subject to a $50 civil penalty.
Two of the three municipal governments in Graham County have passed resolutions of support of the board’s action. On Monday the Pima Town Council unanimously supported the resolution, as did the Thatcher Town Council on Tuesday.
“The most important thing for me is us just being able to take care of our community members. And if our hospital is full, we can’t do that,” said Thatcher Town Councilman Randy Bryce. “So we watch the numbers, we watch how many beds we have available, how many beds are available in the state, and when that gets to capacity, there’s no more room. That puts us in a bind and we won’t be able to take care of our own community members and that’s the number one concern for me.”
Roland Knox, CEO of Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center, gave a short presentation to the Thatcher Town Council Tuesday.
He explained that the hospital is licensed for 25 beds but can expand to 40 beds in an emergency, plus another 16 beds in the Emergency Room. However, serving patients in those beds is dependent on staffing levels and, as of Tuesday, more than 20 employees were unable to work due to illness or quarantine.
Over the past two weeks, the hospital has seen more than 100 positive cases of COVID-19 and, as of Tuesday, there were only four beds available in the Intensive Care Unit.
Knox said the hospital was requesting a mask mandate “to not only flatten the curve, but to make it go down.”
Despite Vice Mayor Richard Ortega’s request Monday for a special meeting to consider a resolution in support of a mask mandate, the Safford City Council had, as of Wednesday, not yet scheduled a meeting.