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The number of COVID-19 patients being diagnosed in Graham County is declining and that decrease is also being reflected at Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center.

However, the number of cases in Greenlee County appears to be holding steady.

“Over the last three weeks we’ve seen a gradual decline in cases,” said Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas. “Three weeks ago we were running at approximately 35 new cases a day and then it dropped to 25. Now we’re right around 19 to 20 cases a day so we’re heading in the right direction.”

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center has also dropped for a third week in a row.

According to Shaylee Richards, a hospital spokeswoman, the daily average of hospitalized virus patients over the last 14-days has been nine. Last week it was 11, the week before 13 and the week before that 14.

Since the beginning of the month, the percentage of hospitalized COVID-19 patients who are unvaccinated against the virus is 94.64% and last week that number was 93.2%, Richards said.

Over the last two weeks, 23.75% of all COVID-19 tests have come back positive, Richards said. Three weeks ago the two-week average was 35.41%.

The decrease in Graham County cases can be attributed to several factors, Douglas said.

In August, the county saw an uptick in the number of people getting vaccinated against the virus as a result of Freeport-McMoRan’s incentive program, people’s fear of the Delta variant and various churches urging their members to get vaccinated, he said.

In addition, children 12 and older became eligible for the vaccination.

“In addition, the Delta variant ran its course through the vulnerable population, the unvaccinated,” Douglas said.

That being said, Douglas said he is still encouraging people to get vaccinated and to continue wearing masks when social distancing isn’t possible.

“We’re preparing ourselves for the next wave, the next variant,” Douglas said. “We don’t know at this point what the next dominant variant will be.”

Maricopa County Superior Circuit Court Judge Katherine Cooper invalidated legislation on Monday that keeps schools and other institutions from requiring masks to combat the spread of the vaccine. Douglas said area school superintendents have not asked for his opinion on reimplementing masks mandates, but if he were asked he would recommend doing so.

“We’ve been following CDC guidelines from the beginning and they do encourage masks,” Douglas said.

Thatcher Unified School Superintendent Matt Petersen said the district is not discussing changing course at this time. Morenci Unified School District Superintendent David Woodall said he is hoping the current increase in COVID-19 cases in Greenlee County will dissipate over their upcoming two-week fall break, but they’ll “continue to monitor and evaluate.”

The other local superintendents did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The number of cases in Greenlee County is holding relatively steady. According to the Greenlee County Health Department, the cases surged from 44 the week of Sept. 1-Sept. 7 to 66 the following week. Fifty-seven patients were diagnosed Sept. 15-Sept. 21 and 62 were diagnosed Sept. 22-Sept. 28.

As for booster shots, Douglas said the FDA has approved a Pfizer booster for those people 18-64 who are immunosuppressed and for folks 65 and older. They can get the booster six months after their last COVID-19 shot.

The FDA has not yet approved a Moderna booster and most people in Graham County received a Moderna vaccination, Douglas said. Doctors don’t recommend people “mix and match” their vaccinations.

“The good news is the efficacy of the Moderna vaccine is holding strong and while the booster will be approved in the future, as of now it’s not needed,” Douglas said.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 49.6% of Graham County residents have received at least one vaccine shot and that number is 38.5% in Greenlee County. The statewide number is 57.3%.

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