The diminishing number of COVID-19 cases has prompted Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center to extend its visiting hours and the number of visitors allowed to see patients.

Shaylee Richards, director of marketing and community relations, announced Friday that patients in the med/surg and OB postpartum units can now see two visitors at a time and visiting hours have been extended to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Masks are still required and patients and visitors will still enter the main hospital through the Emergency Department or the front entrance, she said. Persons entering the main building or other outpatient buildings for service will still be screened by asking them the screening questions currently in place.

In addition, the hospital shut down its incident command center on Thursday, Richards said.

Melissa Lunt, a registered nurse with the Graham County Health Department, and Dr. Fred Fox, Greenlee County Health Department medical director both said they are “cautiously optimistic” about our chances for a relatively normal summer.

“There’s a very good chance we can knock it out, but we need to be careful with large gatherings and being on guard,” Lunt said Monday morning.

People need to continue wearing their masks, although she understands everyone is tired of them, Lunt said. In recent days many residents have been contracting the virus outside the county and they run the risk of unknowingly passing it on to others, she said.

Fox said the wearing of masks is especially important if you are around strangers because you don’t know how cautious they’ve been.

“If you have any symptoms, please stay home and that will go a long way,” to curbing the spread, Lunt said.

Overall, both county’s COVID-19 numbers continue to drop, but that could change depending upon what happened over the last weekend with Easter gatherings, Lunt and Fox said.

The two medical professionals also said vaccine hesitancy is also a concern. In order to reach herd immunity, the county needs to 70-90% vaccination rate, but only 19.3% of Graham County’s residents and roughly 40% of Greenlee County’s residents have gotten the vaccine.

Last week, roughly 100 residents were being vaccinated per day in Graham County and this week only 80-90 residents are scheduled per day, Lunt said.

Anyone 18 or older can now sign up on the county health department’s website to get the vaccine, even if they don’t live in Graham County, she said.

Graham County will be offering the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine on April 16 and April 24 and people interested in that vaccine can also sign up on the health department website, she said.

In Greenlee County, roughly 500 residents obtained the vaccine last week and only 150 are scheduled for shots this week, although residents can now walk in at anytime to receive their shots at the health department or Gila Health Resources, Fox said.

On the positive side, Fox said 79% of Greenlee residents 65 and older are now inoculated and 63% of those 45-64 have received their shot.

Lunt and Fox are also stressing vigilance because there are other strains of the virus still circulating, including a brand new Arizona-specific variant discovered late last week near Arizona State University.

Scientists are studying the variant to see its characteristics and how well the vaccine reacts to it, Lunt said.

Every positive COVID-19 test performed by the Graham County Health Department is now being genotyped, she said. Tests performed by private labs are not.

One Greenlee County residents was diagnosed with COVID-19 March 28-April 3 and nine residents remain ill out of the 568 who have caught the virus. Greenlee County has lost 10 residents to the virus.

Fifteen Graham County residents caught COVID-19 March 26-April 4 and one Safford resident over the age of 70 died during the same time period.

One hundred twenty-seven residents remain ill out of the 5,370 who have caught the virus since the start of the pandemic. Graham County’s death toll now stands at 77.

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