/ Modified jul 2, 2020 10:06 a.m.

Daily News Roundup: New closures take effect, Pence in Phoenix, USMCA trade agreement

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, July 1.

COVID-19 in Arizona — Cases: 84,092 | Deaths: 1,720

Arizona hit highs in newly reported COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, emergency room visits and deaths. State health officials reported 4,878 new confirmed cases and 88 new deaths. Other alarming new highs included 2,876 hospitalizations and 1,289 ER visits for positive or suspected virus infections.

Pima County hospitals near capacity


Ninety-three percent of ICU beds in Pima County are in use as of June 27, according to the Pima County Department of Health. 25 ICU beds are available in the county.

Statewide, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported on Wednesday that 89% of ICU beds were in use.

Regular hospital beds in Pima County are also nearing capacity. The county website says 87% of regular and surgical hospital beds in Pima County are in use. Those numbers were consistent through the month of June.

The state is preparing to open St. Luke’s Hospital in the Phoenix area as a COVID-19 surge facility. State health officials have not said whether or not there are similar plans for a surge facility in Pima County.

Tucson Roman Catholic churches going back online due COVID-19 surge


Catholic Churches are joining many other locations in closing back down as the pandemic surges throughout the region. Tucson Bishop Edward Weisenburger announced that masses and other services will no longer be available in person, effective immediately.

"As of today, July 1st, our parishes will no longer be open to the public," he said. "My hope is this temporary suspension will be brief, but we owe it to our health care workers, along with the most vulnerable among us, to take this critical step."

Weisenburger says Catholics can still attend mass virtually and then receive communion outdoors. The bishop told followers to expect the shutdown to last four weeks, though it could be longer or shorter.

The bishop shut down gatherings in Catholic churches in mid-March as the pandemic was growing, then reopened the church doors in late May, around the same time Governor Doug Ducey allowed his stay-at-home order to lapse.

University of Arizona announces delay in staff furloughs


Wednesday was to have been the first day that many University of Arizona staff and faculty members would be expected to take unpaid days off, to help the university deal with a financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, UA President Robert Robbins has announced that the furlough will be delayed until August 10th. Robbins says pushing back the date will cost the university four million dollars. The delay comes after the UA's Faculty General Assembly voted to ask Robbins to delay it until mid-September.

The furlough program, announced two months ago, has already been scaled back to reduce the number of people affected, and the number of days of work they would lose. Robbins has been under pressure from faculty groups to make the plan more fair, especially to people at the lower end of the pay scale.

Vice President Pence visits Phoenix


Vice President Mike Pence flew to Phoenix this morning to meet with Governor Doug Ducey and state and local health leaders.

And while state officials continue to tout the state’s ability to treat COVID-19 patients, Ducey has routinely boasted of the state’s available hospital beds. Pence said there’s a need for health care workers.

Pence said Arizona officials have requested 500 additional health personnel from the federal government. He vowed to work with Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to fulfill that request.

"The secretary and I will be speaking on Air Force Two with the leadership at FEMA to identify the personnel that are available," he said. "But they’ll be packing up and moving out, because we want the incredible health care workers in Arizona to know that help is on the way."

The vice president said the Trump administration fully supports Ducey’s latest orders to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, Ducey ordered bars, gyms and water parks to close for at least 30 days.

Rio Nuevo feeling the economic pinch caused by the pandemic


As downtown Tucson sales tax revenue plummets, economic development district Rio Nuevo is tightening its belt and delaying projects.

The district is funded by sales tax generated downtown. And if the break-even budget adopted yesterday is any indication, businesses downtown are not doing so well.

Retail shops and restaurants are suffering a significant loss in revenue. Venues like the Rialto and Fox Theaters sit dark, eliminating the concerts and other events that normally draw patrons downtown.

The Rio Nuevo board is expecting a forty percent loss in income. It's postponing funding for two local restaurants: Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria and Lerua’s Mexican restaurant. Both were planning to reopen in a renovated plaza on Broadway Boulevard.

The district also won't be advertising for upcoming events like El Tour de Tucson or the Tucson Jazz Festival. Board chair Fletcher McCusker says he doesn't want to participate in events that draw a large crowd until the pandemic ends.

USMCA trade agreement officially replaces NAFTA

Fronteras Desk

After years of negotiations, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, has been officially replaced by the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement or USMCA. President Donald Trump has invited his Mexican counterpart to visit Washington next week to strengthen the commercial ties between both nations.

Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, says the meeting on July 8 and 9 will bring confidence to both countries.

Mexico’s economy has plummeted under the current administration, and Mexico's president Andrés Manuel López Obrador expects a lift from the agreement.

Ebrard says the meeting is relevant not only as North America copes with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as it faces an uncertain world.

Some analysts say the USMCA could favor Mexico as tensions between China and the U.S. grow. But others say Trump could eventually use the treaty to push Mexico on issues like immigration and security.

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