HOLBROOK — The Navajo County Board of Supervisors this week declared a day of remembrance for the 525 county residents lost to the pandemic.

The declaration came as a new surge in infections made Navajo County the leading hot spot in the state, with a 121% increase in new cases as a daily average in the past two weeks.

Navajo County now has the second highest infection rate in the state — 12 cases per 100,000 population — just behind Pinal County’s 13 per 100,000.

That’s still far below the peak infection rates in January of the current infection rates above 100 per 100,000 in the hardest hit counties nationwide.

The Board of Supervisors declared Tuesday a “day of remembrance” for the victims of the pandemic. So far, the pandemic has killed one out of every 211 Navajo County residents, second in the state only to Apache County — which has lost 1 in every 169 residents.

“Today we sadly announce 525 deaths from coronavirus in Navajo County and as we have with each, offer our sympathy and unconditional support to loved ones of our lost neighbors. These 525 beautiful souls who passed were our parents, children, cousins, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends, and our cherished loved ones,” the proclamation reads.

The April 27 resolution also honored the “heroic efforts of our health care workers, first responders, the public health teams who have care for and treated the sick and kept our community informed throughout the pandemic.”

The proclamation comes as the pandemic hits new peaks world-wide, especially in poorly vaccinated countries like India and Brazil. Infection rates in the US have declined by 20% in the past two weeks — but cases have risen by 7% in Arizona.

Gov. Doug Ducey lifted almost all state restrictions on businesses, ordered schools to resume in-person classes several weeks ago and has now lifted the mask mandates for public schools. Most counties are still reporting declines in new cases, but hot spots have developed in places like Navajo County.

The fresh surge in Navajo County contrasts with the 52% decline in cases during the same period in neighboring Apache County. Nonetheless, hospitalizations have increased 43% in Apache County and 46% in Navajo County as a daily average in the past two weeks.

Both Navajo and Apache counties have beaten the state average when it comes to vaccinating the population. Statewide, 28% of residents have been fully vaccinated. In Navajo County 35% have been fully vaccinated and in Apache County 45% have had both their shots.

So far, 46% of Navajo County residents older than 18 have been vaccinated, including 62% of those over 65, who remain a far greater risk of serious illness and death than younger people.

Those county-wide statistics are somewhat skewed by the exceptionally high vaccination rates on the Navajo Reservation, which covers the portions of both counties. On the reservation, 88% of the population has received at least one shot and 39% have been fully vaccinated. The first shot of the Moderna vaccine confers about 80% protection and the second shot boosts protection to 95%. The Navajo Nation had among the highest infection rates and death tolls in the nation prior to the rollout of the vaccine.

Despite the recent increase in cases, Navajo County remains far below the January peak average of about 57 new cases per day. Currently, the county’s averaging about 13 cases per day.

The county has reported a total of about 16,151 cases since the start of the pandemic, which means roughly 14% of residents have recovered from an infection and presumable have substantial protection from contracting a new infection.

This means 60% of the population now has between 80% and 95% protection against infection and serious illness, which will likely prevent the kind of runaway infection rates seen in December and January. Nonetheless, the county remains well below the 80% vaccination rate needed to reach the safety of “herd immunity.”

The supervisors on Tuesday omitted the regular briefing on the status of the pandemic in the county and the ongoing vaccination effort. Anyone in the county can now make an appointment for a vaccination, but the number of shots given continues to decline.

The proclamation called on all county residents to “pause and remember the neighbors, family, and friends whose lives were lost.”

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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