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The Graham County Chamber of Commerce board voted Saturday afternoon to send a letter to the Graham County Board of Supervisors requesting a county-wide mask mandate.

Virtually all who spoke during the meeting voiced support for the mandate only because they fear Gov. Doug Ducey will shut down the state again if efforts aren't taken to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis said county health and hospital officials believe a mask mandate of six weeks will help mitigate the current surge the county is experiencing.

Lewis attended a meeting Thursday with Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas and Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center CEO Roland Knox. During that meeting he learned that for the first time since the pandemic began, more than 50 percent of the hospital's patients have COVID-19. The hospital is being forced to recruit staff from all over the state because so many staff members are currently home sick.

Graham County is fast approaching a 30 percent positivity rate and the state recommends shutting down at 10 percent, Lewis said. With Thanksgiving coming up, the county could see another huge spike in cases in mid-December, he said.

"My biggest fear is that if we don't do something, I believe he'll shut us down," Lewis said of the governor.

If the county imposes a mask mandate, Lewis said he believes it will help empower businesses that have been shying away from enforcing their own rules on masking.

Chamber President Kasie Titus said it's clear that something has to be done because even more businesses will struggle if the state is shut down again.

Cakes with TLC founder/owner Torey Cranford said she has 47 families depending upon her company for their livelihoods so if given the choice between shutting down and wearing a mask, she'll wear a mask.

Lewis cautioned people that it would take a few weeks after the implementation of a mask mandate before COVID-19 numbers begin to fall, but also pointed out that vaccinations will be arriving the week after Thanksgiving. He anticipates hospital workers will receive the vaccine first, followed by first responders and nursing home patients.

Although he didn't give specific numbers, he said a "drastic amount" of Graham County's COVID-19 deaths were among nursing home patients.

"I think we'll be able to give a sigh of relief in about eight weeks," Lewis said.

Graham County added 58 people to the list of COVID-19 patients Saturday, bringing to 806 the total number of residents who are actively fighting the virus. since the start of the pandemic, 1,873 people have gotten the virus and 33 have died.

Twenty-seven of the new patients live in Safford, 15 live in Thatcher and 12 are San Carlos Apache tribal members. Three live in Pima and one lives in Fort Thomas.

People 20-44 years of age make up the vast majority of patients. Of the 1,873 total patients, 801 are in that age range. The next highest number of patients are children (407). People 65 and older make up the next largest segment (251).

Four additional Greenlee County residents have contracted the virus. As of Friday night, 78 of the county's total 171 patients are actively sick.

The State of Arizona reported another 3,638 cases Saturday and 30 deaths.

The United States has documented nearly 12 million COVID-19 cases and 253,600 deaths.

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