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Graham, Greenlee counties preparing for COVID-19

The Arizona Department of Health Services announced Monday afternoon that a Pima County resident has been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing to five the number of people in the state who have either tested positive or presumptively positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus.

With the virus getting closer to Graham and Greenlee counties, local health organizations and schools have begun implementing their plans to combat the spread of the virus within the community.

“We’ve been working with the Greenlee County Health Department and Gila Health Resources developing contingencies and doing some best practices within the schools,” Morenci Unified School District Superintendent David Woodall said.

“That’s training for our kids K through 12 on good hand washing practices, how to sneeze, and to cough. Also we’ve been training our custodians on going the extra mile when wiping down surfaces,” Woodall said.

Woodall also said thanks to a 1-to-1 technology ratio with students in the district that if it came down to school cancellations, the MUSD would be a position to continue educating students from home, although he noted that would be a final resort.

Graham County School Superintendent Donna McGaughey echoed the sentiment noting the districts had been following direction from the Graham County Health Department, CDC, and their trust insuring company.

While all the schools in the district have different capabilities, McGaughey she was confident that they were prepared to do what was necessary in case classes may need to be canceled or taught remotely.

McGaughey said districts were also being conservative and not looking to jump to any extremely disruptive education practices without due cause.

The Safford School District said they were following the direction of the State Superintendent, and that staff and students had been directed to remain home if they experience any flu-like symptoms.

The Willcox Unified School District, in written statement, promised to remain vigilant in their communication with health agencies.

“Please know that we are monitoring the spread of this infectious disease closely, alongside Cochise County Department of Public Health, and can report there are no current confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our district or Cochise County. In addition, officials assure us that the risk in our community, at this time, is low,” the district wrote.

Eastern Arizona College also released a statement.

In it, college officials discouraged students and staff from traveling through any CDC Warning Level 3 travel notice areas and wrote that anyone who does should self quarantine and follow local and CDC guidelines.

At this time the college is not canceling any of it’s currently scheduled events but are committed to doing so if the situation should require it. The college is also prepared to teach remotely if the situation arises.

“EAC’s executive team has worked through several potential scenarios to ensure the health and safety of our campuses,” officials wrote.

“At this point, no COVID-19 cases have been reported at EAC and all campuses are fully operational. However, should public health agencies recommended all classes utilize remote learning, EAC could use that protocol to protect our campus community. For classes involving labs or performances, other measures would have to be implemented,” EAC President Todd Haynie said.

The Greenlee County Health Department has similarly been spending the past few weeks planning for any arrival of the virus in the county, Health Deputy Matt Bolinger said.

In a release issued by the Greenlee County Health Department officials stated, “Delaying onset in the community and reducing the number of persons contracting COVID-19 is a primary goal. In addition to the obvious benefit of reducing the total number of ill people, fewer health care workers become sick and fewer health care facilities become overrun.”

The Graham County Department of Health Services has been working with local clinic, hospitals, and care facilities to prepare for the virus and has been distributing personal protective equipment to different health care professionals and adjacent staff.

In addition, the Department of Health Services has been taking special care to prepare retirement and care facilities in response the COVID-19’s severity in the elderly.

“The elderly is our vulnerable population and we need to be cognizant of that. So we have contacted our local care facilities and given them direction on what to do when there’s a sick employee and on visitors coming in or out,” Graham Health Director Brian Douglas said. “Again, just giving them basic ADHS guidance.”

The virus’ impact in Asia has left many markets with labor interruptions that’s led to certain products experiencing shortages which includes certain drugs, face masks, and more recently toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

International retail chain Walmart issued direction to workers to practice preventative measures and to stay home when sick.

In an operational update Freeport McMoran stated that they were not yet experiencing any great disruption in their operations.

“FCX also announced that there have been no significant disruptions to its supply chain or product shipments since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. The Company continues to monitor the situation closely and will carefully manage all costs, capital expenditures and production plans during this period of uncertainty. The Company has a strong liquidity position and no significant near-term debt maturities.” they wrote.

Calls to the Thatcher school district were not immediately returned Monday. Nor were calls to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center.

The Pima County patient is a resident of unincorporated Pima County. According to health officials, the patient is not severely ill and is currently recovering at home in isolation.

ADHS and PCHD are currently investigating any close contacts that may have been exposed while the person was infectious.

Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey said the state is taking the threat seriously.

“When it comes to our response and preparation here in Arizona, we have an outstanding team at the Arizona Department of Health Services, led by Dr. Cara Christ — and I believe there’s no one better in the country at this.”

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, empathized with families in Arizona, saying she understood the fears and anxiety they may be feeling surrounding the spread of the coronavirus and reassured them with regards to the state’s efforts to combat it. “I can assure you that the top priority of every data-driven and evidence-based action that we take is to keep our communities and families safe, while having as minimal an impact on Arizonans’ daily lives as is possible,” she said.

Covering the basics of the virus, Christ also discussed prevention methods and, in preparation to ease the burden on the state’s medical system, suggested Arizonans make use of telemedicine where possible.

Federal response to the virus outbreak in the United States has been mired in political infighting and indecisive measures. Initial federal funding to help combat the virus from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Arizona totaled only $500,000.

Updates on the virus in Arizona are available at https://www.azdhs.gov/.

I-10 crashes include six semis, two fatalities

COCHISE COUNTY — On Saturday, a car wreck resulted in two deaths and there were two semi truck wrecks.

According to an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper, the first wreck, a single-vehicle accident, took place at roughly 4:47 p.m. Saturday, on Interstate 10 near the San Simon point of entry. The vehicle was traveling in the eastbound lane when a tire failure occurred, sending the vehicle into a roll. The vehicle was carrying a family of five from Texas. The mother and 19-year-old daughter were ejected from the vehicle and passed away at the scene. When the daughter was ejected, she was thrown into oncoming traffic and hit by a semi truck traveling in the opposite direction.

Contributed Photo 

Contributed Photo: This is one of the semi truck accidents which occured on Saturday night during the I-10 road closure near the San Simon point of entry.

The names of the family involved in the wreck have not been released. However, the father and two sons were transported to Banner University Medical Center in Tucson. One of the minors is being held with non-life threatening injuries. The father and the other son have been released.

Due to the nature of the crash, both lanes were closed and a line of vehicles waited for the scene to be cleared. Eventually, I-10 traffic had to be rerouted through San Simon.

While traffic was waiting for the scene to be cleared, two semi truck wrecks occurred after multiple trucks plowed into each other. The first occurred at milepost 383 and included three trucks; the second, also involving three trucks, took place near milepost 382. The wrecks reportedly resulted in multiple minor injuries.

The scene of the accidents was cleared at roughly 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning, and the road was reopened. Willcox emergency medical services were called to the scene multiple times and transported multiple individuals to Northern Cochise Community Medical Center as well as Tucson.