There are now 18 people in Graham County recovering from COVID-19, bringing to 20 the total number of cases diagnosed in the county since March.

Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas said all 18 people are part of the same cluster, as are another 14 people who are awaiting test results.

The latest to test positive live in Fort Thomas and Pima; the earlier cases in the cluster live in Safford, Thatcher and Pima.

“The good news is there isn’t a lone wolf out there; we can trace everyone back as of now,” Douglas said on Saturday.

Earlier this week, Douglas said officials have discovered that everyone who has become ill came within six feet of someone within the virus for more than 10 minutes.

“We’ve been finding that it’s been spread through close contact, not through casual contact,” Douglas said.

Most of the patients were asymptomatic and didn’t know they were exposing others to the virus, he said. Experts have discovered that people shed the virus more three days before they become symptomatic.

“All known close contacts to the new positives have been notified and have been placed on quarantine until cleared by the health department. All positive COVID-19 patients are recovering at home or have recovered,” Douglas said.

Five of the victims are under 20, the rest are over 35 years of age.

The 18 patients are all quarantined now, Douglas said. Some are asymptomatic, others are sick enough to seek medical attention, but not be hospitalized.

Although health officials originally believed a specific person from New Mexico spread the virus to the first victims of the cluster, Douglas said they now believe the virus could have entered the valley through several different sources.

In fact, it’s entirely possible someone in the Gila Valley infected the New Mexico resident, he said.

It’s also possible the virus was spread by people associated with the Pima Unified School District, Douglas said. The first two cases of COVID-19 in Graham County were associated with the school district and while several people were tested in the days following, at that time, the county was unable to test people who didn’t have symptoms, he said.

“It’s possible this could have been brewing since March, but we just weren’t capturing it,” Douglas said.

When the pandemic is over, Douglas said the plan is to go back and look for antibodies to determine just how widespread the virus actually was.

Despite the number of active cases, Douglas said the county is still able to conduct all of the contact tracing it needs to; some counties aren’t so lucky.

“Our numbers are still manageable,” he said. “We have ramped it up and we have a full-time crew, whereas before there were just a few of us doing it part-time.”

General things that everyone should do to prevent the spread of all respiratory illnesses include:

● Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

● Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

● Stay home when you are sick.

● Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

● Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular EPA registered

household cleaning spray or wipes.

● Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not

readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

● Wear a facemask when in public.

● When shopping, limit the number of people who you take with you. If possible, pick one

person from your household to do the shopping.

● Find up to date information at azhealth.gov/COVID-19 and at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

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