/ Modified jul 24, 2020 5:49 p.m.

Daily news roundup: Partisanship and COVID-19, stakeholders discuss coming school year

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, July 24.

Cases 156,301 | Deaths 3,142 | Diagnostic tests 836,817

On Friday, July 24, the state reported 3,349 new cases of COVID-19 and 79 additional deaths. In his Thursday press conference, Gov. Doug Ducey said that some pandemic metrics, like case rates, were declining. He also extended the closure of bars, gyms, night clubs, and water parks.

Back to school, one step at a time

The Buzz

Teachers across Arizona have said for weeks it's not safe to return to the classroom in August. Many have protested and asked state leaders for more guidance and funding to ensure safety for educators, students and staff. On Thursday, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that schools will have “data-driven benchmarks” to follow when determining how to reopen for traditional classroom learning.

But academic learning is only part of what classrooms offer students. This week, The Buzz talks with teachers and administrators about what they think is the best path forward and how to balance the needs of students with safety.

To hear this week's episode of The Buzz, click here.

New police budget, Summerhaven closed, mask materials

Arizona 360

This week the Tucson City Council passed a new budget that includes $166 million for police. The 6-1 vote followed heated public comment from people for and against defunding the department. Lorraine Rivera hears from Councilman Steve Kozachik, who voted to pass the budget, and Councilwoman Lane Santa Cruz, who was the sole nay vote, about how they view police reform and next steps.

KJZZ Radio’s Katherine Davis-Young discusses the COVID-19 pandemic’s widespread effects on unemployment in Arizona and its impact on residents’ ability to pay rent, as well as resources available that are designed to offer landlords and tenants relief.

Tony Paniagua reports on struggling small businesses in Mount Lemmon’s Summerhaven that are desperate to recover from the effects of the Bighorn Fire and the pandemic.

While masks are an effective tool to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some are better than others, according to University of Arizona researcher Amanda Wilson.

For more and to see this week's episode, click here.

Arizona school year still on track, with promises of 'benchmarks' for classroom return


Gov. Doug Ducey is holding firm on a plan to reopen Arizona schools next month as COVID-19 continues to spread in the state, but offered more guidance Thursday on how that will look and grant money to pay for some of the costs.

There will be no statewide date for all schools to return to in-person classes. Ducey said there would be options and flexibility, saying distance learning must start on the first day of the academic year. He also said schools must provide on-site learning and services, promised "data-driven benchmarks" for the return to in-person classes. The decision on when to return to regular, physical classes is in the hands of local school leaders.

During the same conference, Ducey also extended the closure of bars, gyms, movie theaters, nightclubs, water parks and tubing, saying the decision was based directly on the recommendations from the CDC.

Learn more here.

Voting deadlines approaching in Pima County


Pima County voters who want to vote by mail must request their mail-in ballots no later than the close of business on Friday, July 24.

Voters can request the mail-in ballots by visiting the Pima County Recorder’s website.

Early voting for the election begins Monday, July 27 and lasts through the end of the month. The county has set up early voting sites at more than a dozen locations in the area.

Learn more here.

COVID-19 may distance voters from partisan behavior


There are only 12 days left before Arizonans go to the polls in the state’s primary election. The general election is just over three months away. University of Arizona political scientist Samara Klar has been studying partisan political behavior ahead of the vote.

She spoke about some unexpected findings, including evidence that party lines might not be very divisive when it comes to fighting the pandemic.

Listen to an interview with Klar here.

'A worst-case scenario': Leaks, dust, water pumping and drought plague Quitobaquito


Wildlife and Indigenous communities have long relied on the rare spring system of Quitobaquito for freshwater in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.

The spring flows into a pond just a few paces from the U.S.-Mexico border at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Hia C-ed O'odham and the Tohono O'odham tribal members lived and passed through here long before the park or the border existed.

But the site is in peril. The water level in the pond has been noticeably low this summer. The rest of the landscape is also changing. Contractors hired by the Department of Homeland Security are building a 30-foot tall border wall across almost 30 miles of the park. That involves digging trenches, widening roads and pumping groundwater to mix cement.

Learn more here.

Monsoon helps quench Bighorn Fire


It took nearly seven weeks of work and a monsoon thunderstorm, but the Bighorn Fire is finally contained. The Coronado National Forest says the 119,978-acre fire reached 100% containment Thursday as a storm dropped 1-3 inches of rain across the region.

At its peak, it sent smoke billowing over the Santa Catalina Mountains and endangered the town of Summerhaven as well as broadcast facilities on Mount Bigelow. The scarred landscape will still pose a threat of flash flooding for months, especially in the Catalina Foothills and in Sabino Canyon.

The burned area remains under a closure order that may continue through Nov. 1. Pima County will decide when to reopen the Mount Lemmon Highway, and the state parks department will decide when to reopen Catalina State Park.

Tumamoc Hill may close if more walkers don't wear masks


Tumamoc Hill may close down, if more walkers don't wear face coverings while exercising.

The University of Arizona will evaluate if it's safe to keep the popular 800-foot exercise location open over the next two weeks starting Friday, and it's doing that by counting how many exercisers wear masks.

According to a press release from the university, 30% to 40% of people follow the mandatory face covering policy on the hill to help stop the spread of COVID-19. At least 60% of people need to wear masks in order for the hill to remain open.

Learn more here.

Fire destroys part of Arizona Democratic Party headquarters


PHOENIX — An overnight fire destroyed part of the Arizona and Maricopa County Democratic Party headquarters. State Democratic Chair Felecia Rotellini says nobody was inside but the fire early Friday destroyed the portion of the building that houses the county Democratic offices.

She's says “there's literally nothing left” in that portion of the building. She declined to speculate on whether the blaze could be caused by arson but she says fire investigators are on the scene. She says employees have been working remotely since March and no critical documents or digital files were lost.

Learn more here.

Navajo See Farming Renaissance Five Years After Mine Spill

Fronteras Desk

Five years ago an EPA crew investigating a mine in Colorado accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of metal-contaminated waste into the southwest river system. Navajo researcher Brandon Francis remembers the photos of the yellow river that went viral and “shocked” the public.

Since the accident Francis has tested the amount of metals that might remain in irrigation ditch water, soil and crops.

“Even though some of the levels were high you would have to consume at least 40 servings a day over an extended period of time for the heavy metal contamination to actually affect you,” Francis said.

Still many people refused to farm until recently. Over the last four months the Navajo Nation has gone from having the highest coronavirus infection rate in the country to a steady decline in cases. Now tribal leaders don’t want members to travel to surrounding states where numbers are spiking. So Francis says more people are staying home and farming.

Learn more here.

Yaqui Indigenous communities in Sonora protest over water rights

Fronteras Desk

Members of Yaqui Indigenous communities in southern Sonora, Mexico, are blocking Mexico's federal Highway 15 and the railway in a renewed battle over land and water rights. The blockade gained attention this week after stopping the movement of goods headed for the United States.

The Yaqui protesters set up blockades to oppose a proposed water project in the capital Hermosillo they worry will further dip into the Yaqui water supply. Officials have contested that claim. But protests are really a continuation of long-standing conflict between Mexico and the Yaqui people, said Guadalupe Flores Maldonado, a tribal member and advisor in the community Loma de Bácum.

"It's the same story that never ends of protecting our Yaqui communities," he said. "The defense continues for this territory, the ways and customs of our race, our people."

Learn more here.

Border wildlife study needs virtual volunteers to help identify species

Fronteras Desk

An Arizona nonprofit is calling for virtual volunteers to contribute to a binational wildlife study documenting the animals crisscrossing the Arizona-Sonora border in areas where new sections of border wall are being built.

The project started to collect data about the species that live and move through the Arizona-Sonora borderlands in areas where new border wall construction is planned, or has already started.

Now, project leaders are asking for the public’s help with the identification process as photos continue to roll in from the study’s more than 60 cameras on both sides of the border.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation reports 50 more COVID-19 cases, 1 more death


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation officials are reporting 50 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one additional death as the tribe prepares for another weekend lockdown. The total of infected tribal members on the reservation stood at 8,734 with 432 known deaths as of Thursday. Health officials said 75,775 people have undergone testing and 6,481 have recovered from the virus.

The weekend lockdown, which includes the closing of businesses, will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and last until 5 a.m. Monday. Residents of the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have also been under a mandate to wear masks when out in public.

Learn more here.

Lawsuit seeks education reform at Native American schools


FLAGSTAFF — A lawsuit that accuses the U.S. government of failing to adequately provide for students on a small Arizona reservation is set to go to trial in November. The lawsuit filed in 2017 seeks systematic reforms of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education. The agency oversees more than 180 schools in nearly two dozen states but operates less than one-third of them.

The case centers on Havasupai Elementary School deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon, one of the most remote in the continental U.S. and among the lowest performing among the bureau-run schools.

Learn more here.

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