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An Arizona county turned down $1.9 million in Covid relief. This is why.

The $1.9 million in pandemic aid would have gone a long way in Cochise County, Ariz., a rural borderland where a winter of infections swamped hospitals. There was money for tracking cases. Testing in remote ranching towns. Funds fortifying the county’s strained health department.

But the county’s Republican-controlled board of supervisors stunned many residents and health care workers by voting to reject the federal money, becoming one of the rare places in America to turn down a Covid windfall from Washington.

“We’re done,” said Peggy Judd, one of two Republican supervisors who voted against accepting the money. “We’re treating it like the common cold.”

The vote transformed what would usually be a rote line on a government agenda into an emotional flash point in this county of 125,000 people where life is shaped by the Southern border, rhythms of ranching, and now, a virus that has killed 522 residents.

Doctors and hospital officials, generally reluctant to plunge into divisive debates in their largely conservative county, started speaking out after they saw news of the vote in the local newspaper. Some criticized the supervisors for reinforcing local vaccine resistance with a welter of anti-vaccine misinformation.

“It’s insanity,” said Dr. Cristian Laguillo, who has been treating a crush of Covid patients at Copper Queen Community Hospital in the old copper-mining town of Bisbee. “It was a decision made without thought, without care. That’s maddening.”

More than 200 small rural towns across the country have declined pandemic funds from the Biden administration, according to a survey from the National League of Cities. Some see it as a public repudiation of vaccine mandates, the $30 trillion national debt and a persistent pandemic that is killing 2,500 people each day even as new cases ebb and Democratic states lift pandemic restrictions like mask rules.

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