Health Department, hospital call for adherence to mask mandate

- David Bell Graph/Gila Valley Central

SAFFORD — With December on a pace to see more COVID-19 cases than November, the Graham County Health Department and Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center are calling for residents to follow the county’s mandate on face coverings in public.

“MGRMC continues to experience unprecedented numbers as a result of the ongoing pandemic and its current spike. The county also is seeing numbers that are cause for great concern in the coming weeks. Today, Graham County’s 100 positive cases per 100,000 residents is five times greater than the state’s cautionary threshold and, for the projected future, our percent positivity rate will be over 25 percent, which is twice that of the state average. Hospital admissions continue to place our hospital consistently at or near capacity,” the two agencies said in a joint press release issued Thursday.

With 25 new cases reported Thursday, Graham County has experienced 66 cases through the first three days of December, five more than the 61 cases through the first three days of November, the worst month of the pandemic thus far in the Gila Valley.

“Of greatest concern to both the county and the hospital is the likelihood of a continued spike due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Hospital staff continues to be stretched thin and options for additional staff from outside of our area to help with the surge are not proving readily available. As the COVID-like illness rate’s trajectory continues to increase expeditiously in our region, staffing and capacity at the hospital continues to be the greatest concern our county faces,” the prepared statement reads.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ county level school benchmarks dashboard, as of the week of Nov. 15 (the most recent week available), Graham County has 746 cases per 100,000 population, the positivity rate is 25.2 percent and the hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses in the region is 7.4 percent.

Recommended to keep children in the classroom are no more than 10 cases per 100,000 population, a positivity rate of no more than 5 percent and 5 percent of hospital visits with COVID-like symptoms.

On Nov. 25, the Graham County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved requiring residents to wear face coverings when out in public. The action was unanimously endorsed by the Pima and Thatcher town councils, as well as the Graham County Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

The Safford City Council voted against a resolution of support of the mask mandate at a Nov. 30 meeting.

Greenlee County

Greenlee County’s case count also continues to climb.

The Greenlee County Health Department reported 14 new cases Wednesday evening. That brings Greenlee’s total to 276, with 156 cases considered active and three deaths.