Morrissey head shot with Payson logo

Payson’s Mayor Tom Morrissey announced he has known he was positive for COVID-19 for the last week on a Dec. 1 KMOG radio show.

On Tuesday, Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 and has completed his quarantine period.

“I did not run a fever but had a deep cough,” he told the Roundup in an email.

He said the cough required a course of antibiotics and steroids because there was “a good possibility I would have developed pneumonia” without those medications.

“I was going under the assumption that the only treatment for COVID-related symptoms were therapies other than antibiotics,” he said.

Against the backdrop of Morrissey’s announcement, Gila County Health reported 53 new COVID-19 cases on Dec. 1, of which 25 were in Payson.

By Dec. 2, the total of confirmed Gila County cases rose to 1,401. Of those cases, 61 people have died and 1,084 have recovered. The rest are actively battling the virus.

That puts Payson in the “substantial spread” category, said Fire Chief David Staub, who also serves as the town’s COVID-19 incident commander.

The Incident Management Team has “treated (Morrissey’s) positive test exactly the way we are handling all employees who test positive,” said Staub.

The town works with Gila County Health to assist with contact tracing and “providing the affected employees all the benefits they are due,” said Staub.

Town Manager Troy Smith further explained those deemed to have had a close exposure to a positive case are “requested to quarantine for 14 days” and wait to take a test for five days.

A close contact is defined as 15 minutes in an enclosed space without a mask standing less than six feet away from an infected person.

The Health Department recommends waiting for five days after a suspected exposure before getting a test because the viral load has to be high enough to register.

“If you get tested too soon after exposure, you may receive a false negative result (because) the virus needs time to incubate and replicate in your system for it to show up positive on a test,” said Stella Gore, Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator for the Gila County Health Department.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates it takes on average 5.5 days after infection for a person to test positive — but it can take up to 14 days.

Yet “this is a rapidly changing landscape,” said Smith, so the CDC might reduce the recommended quarantine to fewer days.

To mitigate the spread, the town has a plan that reduces employee and customer exposure to the virus as much as possible, said Smith. If possible, departments have shut down lobbies and moved contacts onto the phone or online. The town has also improved its cleaning procedures.

Protocols are in place for anyone who has symptoms or a confirmed positive case.

“There’s a bunch of strategies we have put into play to ensure our ability to provide services to the community,” said Smith.

The town has even launched a partnership with a company that will offer testing at Rumsey Park, said Staub.

Details are still emerging, but look for information soon.

Regular testing, especially for those essential workers, would help to identify outbreaks and aid containment.

Contact the reporter at mnelson@payson.com

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