The number of COVID-19 cases statewide and in Graham and Greenlee counties continue to rise, and those numbers are causing some people to get over their vaccine hesitancy, but health officials would like to see the vaccine numbers rise even higher.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 176 Graham County residents were diagnosed with the virus Aug. 25-Aug. 30 and 40 Greenlee County residents caught the bug Aug. 23-Aug. 29.

“We just have high community spread right now and it all correlates to the schools opening. It’s spreading through our student population and their families,” Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas said Monday morning. “I’d definitely like to see our vaccination rate increase. Hopefully with the appointment of Dr. Herrington and Dr. Carmona it’ll help revitalize the vaccination campaign.”

Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Don Herrington, a 21-year veteran of the Arizona Department of Health Services, to succeed Dr. Cara Christ as the head of ADHS. Both Ducey and Herrington then named Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, to serve as the senior advisor on public health emergency preparedness and lead a statewide effort to boost vaccine and public health awareness in Arizona.

As of Monday morning, 47% of Graham County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine compared to 46.1% a week ago. In Greenlee County, the percentage of vaccinated people jumped from 33.5% to 36.1%.

The number of people 20 and under that have been vaccinated has also increased in both counties, from 12.4% in Graham County to 13% and from 6.9% to 7.4% in Greenlee County.

Dr. Fred Fox, Greenlee County Health Department medical director, and Douglas attribute the rise in vaccinations to the FDA fully approving the Pfizer vaccine, the rising number of sick people and the financial incentives being offered by Freeport-McMoRan and the Town of Clifton.

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The more transmissible Delta variant is causing this third surge, but the fact fewer people are wearing masks and socially distancing isn’t helping, Fox said.

“In July and August we saw relatively more numbers than we did early on,” Fox said.

Last week, Greenlee County lost more two residents to COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 13 since March 2020.

The residents lived in the Duncan area and were in their 70s and 90s, according to the Greenlee County Health Department.

Clifton Town Manager Rudy Perez said he closed down the town’s visitor’s center Aug. 25 at the request of the center’s manager and volunteers, who said they didn’t feel safe working given the increase in cases county-wide. They’ll consider opening in a couple of weeks if the numbers decline, he said.

Clifton Town Clerk Espie Castaneda said that as of Aug. 26, eight people had registered for the town’s $50 COVID-19 vaccination incentive.

Arizona has now exceeded 1 million COVID-19 cases and 18,787 people have died of the virus.

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