/ Modified jul 23, 2020 12:08 p.m.

Daily news roundup: Tucson approves budget, police funding, state sets unemployment record

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, July 22.

Cases 150,609 | Deaths 2,974 | Diagnostic tests 813,981

On Wednesday, July 22, the state reported 1,926 new cases of COVID-19 and 56 additional deaths. As of The day before, intensive care unit beds in the state were at 86% capacity and ventilators were at 51% total capacity.

Tucson mayor and City Council approve city budget, leaving police funding nearly flat


Tuesday the Tucson Mayor and City Council approved the budget for the next fiscal year, allocating about $166 million for the Tucson Police Department's general fund.

The 6-1 vote in favor of approval was conducted after hearing from the public. The majority asked the council to defund the police and use the money elsewhere, most asking for them to be reallocated to mental health or other social services.

The general fund budget for TPD is about $2 million more than last year. This year's budget also has funding for some social resources, such as affordable housing, that were brought up by members of the public.

The total budget for the new fiscal year is over $1.7 billion dollars. The lone vote against the budget came from new board member Lane Santa Cruz from Ward 1.

Learn more here.

Weekly Arizona unemployment numbers set another record


Last week, 273,000 Arizona residents filed first-time unemployment claims in Arizona, setting another record. The claims eclipsed the previous week’s number by nearly 16,000.

The number of regular unemployment claims, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, is slowly falling, but the number of first-time claims from the self-employed continues to rise. Last week, 249,000 new claims from the self-employed were filed. Continuing claims in the state passed the 3 million mark for the first time.

Economists say that early in the pandemic the layoffs associated with the business slowdown were temporary. They now say those layoffs are becoming permanent.

Arizona’s unemployment rate is 10%, that is lower than the 11.1% national rate.

See an interactive graph of unemployment claims here.

Border wall construction begins at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge


Construction is underway on a new segment of the Trump administration’s border wall, this time slated for the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Arizona.

Environmental advocates like Dan Millis with the Sierra Club say the project will cut into rugged canyons and mountain ranges along the borderlands between Nogales and Sasabe, likely causing irreparable damage.

Millis said the wall could impact prized wilderness spots like Sycamore Canyon and other areas of the Pajarita Wilderness.

In one of the most expensive border wall contracts to date, the Department of Defense awarded Montana-based construction firm Fisher Sand and Gravel an almost $1.3 billion contract to complete the project in May.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this brief incorrectly referenced Northern Arizona's red rock Sycamore Canyon rather than the Sycamore Canyon along the border.

Epidemiologist: The goal for COVID-19 testing is speed and access, not absolute numbers


Arizona has topped headlines and lists in recent weeks for its surging case and hospitalization numbers and a percent positive test rate that showed the spread of the novel coronavirus was well beyond the state's capacity to test and track.

Certain metrics show signs of leveling or ticking down, for now, but Dr. Kacey Ernst, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, says there is a lot of work to do to put Arizona on track to contain the disease. In a July 14 interview, Ernst discussed testing, contact tracing and why people might take risks.

Find an interview with Ernst here

Official: Arizona schools need virus data to reopen campuses


PHOENIX — Arizona's top education official says the state's school districts should be empowered to reopen campuses for the new school year based on public health data instead of committing now to specific reopening dates. Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said Tuesday that she outlined her priorities to Gov. Doug Ducey. He is expected to announce the next steps for school reopenings this week.

Ducey previously announced that schools would not reopen until Aug. 17, weeks after they normally do so. Hoffman says schools need guarantees of full funding for distance learning. She is a Democrat and Ducey is a Republican.

Learn more here.

Lawsuit: Keep Arizona pot initiative off ballot


GLENDALE — A group opposed to legalized marijuana says it is suing to block an initiative that would allow adults in Arizona to possess up to an ounce of pot.

The lawsuit announced Tuesday challenges the 100-word summary of the Smart and Safe Arizona Act. It says the summary misleads voters about key provisions of the initiative. Voters see the summary when they sign petitions to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

Now, all four initiatives whose backers filed enough signatures to make the November ballot face court challenges to the summary.

Learn more here.

Trump's census order faces hurdles beyond the courtroom

Fronteras Desk

Roughly 275,000 undocumented people live in Arizona, and President Trump has signed an order that aims to bar them from being counted toward the reallotment of congressional seats that will be based on the 2020 census. Trump’s order was met with promises of lawsuits to block it.

The pandemic has delayed the census schedule beyond the presidential inauguration in January. Should challenges fail, Trump could still be out of office months before officials finish the population count that sets the number of Arizona seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A Phoenix official says the city is seeking more information about the order from the Census. The executive director of Arizona’s committee that encourages Census participation directed questions to the Governor’s Office, which did not comment.

Sonoran students to start school year online; no timeline for return to classrooms

Fronteras Desk

While schools in Arizona and across the U.S. are grappling with how and if to send students back to classrooms, officials in neighboring Sonora, Mexico, have decided against a return to in-person schooling for now.

Sonoran officials announced Monday that there is no indication that it will be safe to reopen classrooms this fall. Instead, students across the state will attend school virtually starting in August.

Sonora’s Director of Preventative Health, Gerardo Álvarez, during a virtual press conference Monday said that there are still high numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the state, and sending children back to school can only be done safely once spread of the virus is better controlled.

Education authorities also laid out a three-phase plan Monday to prepare school leaders and teachers for virtual learning this fall. There is currently no timeline for a return to in-person classes. But questions remain about access to online schooling for many Sonoran students.

Navajo Nation reports 22 more COVID-19 cases, 3 more deaths


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation health officials report 22 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three additional known deaths. The total of infected tribal members on the vast reservation now stands at 8,639 with 425 known deaths as of Tuesday.

Health officials also say 74,045 people have been tested and 6,437 have recovered from the coronavirus.

Residents of the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been under a mandate to wear masks when out in public. The tribe also has daily, nighttime curfews and weekend lockdowns that include the closure of businesses.

Learn more here.

Judge declines to order release of detained migrant families


HOUSTON — A federal judge has declined to order the release of roughly 300 migrant parents and children held in U.S. family detention centers. U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg made that decision Wednesday despite what he called immigration authorities’ “shortcomings” in controlling the coronavirus.

Lawyers for the families had asked U.S. Boasberg to issue a preliminary injunction forcing the release of the families because they fear being infected by the coronavirus.

More than 3,700 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. Boasberg said ICE had shown it's adopting guidance to provide masks, disinfect surfaces, and isolate people if necessary.

Learn more here.

Migrant kids held in US hotels, then expelled


HOUSTON — The Trump administration is detaining immigrant children as young as 1 in hotels before deporting them to their home countries. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show a private contractor hired by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is taking children to three Hampton Inns in Arizona and Texas under restrictive border policies implemented during the coronavirus pandemic.

The hotels have been used nearly 200 times, while more than 10,000 beds for children sit empty at government shelters.

Lawyers and advocates say the practice exposes children to the risk of trauma. Federal immigration authorities say the contractors caring for the kids are “non-law enforcement staff members trained to work with minors.”

Learn more here.

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