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Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas waits to speak to the Safford Unified School District governing board about the COVID-19 situation last year.

Editor's note: March 13 marks the one-year anniversary of Graham County's first COVID-19 diagnosis. We asked Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas for his thoughts. Below is his reply:

Graham County’s first COVID-19 case occurred on Friday the 13th. I believe many of our residents have felt every day since has been Friday the 13th. During this time, there were many unknowns and little information about the virus. We researched COVID as much as possible with conflicting results.

I remember being inundated with telephone calls from schools, restaurants, and businesses. I recollect every phone call I was on, I received 2-3 other calls.

My only solace was having stockpiled tens of thousands of facial masks and personal protective equipment for this particular situation. Most counties were not as prepared as we were.

Also, having a motivated and competent staff was vital.

Prior to receiving the vaccine, our implemented strategy was to slow the spread of the virus and not to overwhelm our healthcare capacity and we were successful.

COVID quickly became politically volatile! Personal opinions about mitigation efforts was extreme. Do we quarantine or let the virus run its course without mitigation measures?

Businesses being shut down and residents losing their jobs was heartbreaking.

Our staff has endured a long year. Due to long hours and unrelenting stress, I anticipated some staff members might quit. I’m proud to say that all have stayed to serve our community. I’m very proud of them!

In addition, we had full support from our supervisors and county manager to do everything possible to be successful.

When we received our first COVID-19 vaccine allotment on December 23, 2020, it seemed as if Christmas came early. Our focus immediately changed from testing to vaccinating. Because of the vaccine, we are no longer enduring the restrictiveness of COVID, but now have hope. Opinions on COVID have lightened and residents are now happy to see the health department and no longer view us as the enemy due to quarantine.

We have hired six nurses and several clerical staff members to help vaccinate county residents in addition to utilizing existing staff.

We are hoping that all county residents who want COVID-19 vaccine will have the opportunity by the end of April.

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