/ Modified oct 29, 2020 4:21 p.m.

News roundup: Border wall and wildlife corridors, COVID-19 mouth rinse sampling

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Oct. 29.

Cases 242,480 | Deaths 5,918

On Thursday, Oct. 29, the state reported 1,315 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 additional deaths. Data analyzed by the Associated Press confirms that Arizona’s average daily case count has increased in the past two weeks.

DHS marks milestone as wall construction severs wildlife corridors


On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security commemorated the 400th mile of wall built under the Trump administration. In a recent interview with AZPM, Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan touted the speed with which crews have continued building, even during the pandemic.

Last May, the Trump administration announced it was planning to build 63 miles of new border wall system in Arizona, mostly across federally protected lands. Despite lawsuits, protests and opposition from members of Congress, the walls keep going up. Now, nearly all 63 miles have been completed.

Much of that construction is severing critical cross-border migration corridors and access to water sources. One of those is the San Pedro River.

Learn more here.

New COVID sampling method as easy as gargling mouthwash


University of Arizona epidemiologist Michael Worobey is studying a new kind of sampling in which the specimen comes from a mouth rinse that is gargled and spit into a cup for analysis. He says the method collects material from the back of the throat, the same place where a nasal swab would capture cells.

“I thought you really had to go through all the pain and discomfort of a swab deep inside your head to really get at this virus," said Worobey. "It turns out you can get at it in a much easier and more painless way.”

Worobey tested the sampling on UA students and found that it was more sensitive than a test based on saliva samples alone.

Tool helps voters locate polling sites in tribal lands


Arizona State University's Indian Legal Clinic has created an online tool to connect Indigenous voters living in tribal lands to nearby voting sites.

By dropping a pin on the map, anyone can identify that location's county and precinct. The poll locator tool also displays the locations of ballot drop boxes, early voting and emergency voting sites in the county, and it shows a voter their polling place on Election Day.

Torey Dolan, a Native Vote fellow with the Indian Legal Clinic, said there are 20 reservations in Arizona and that half of those cover multiple counties, which can lead to confusion when it comes to casting ballots.

Learn more here.

Despite Setbacks, Advocates Press On For Marriage Equality In Sonora, Mexico

Fronteras Desk

In a 2015 ruling, Mexico’s Supreme Court determined that state codes like Sonora’s, which defines marriage as the “legitimate union between a man and a woman,” are unconstitutional.

But the measure to reform Sonoara’s code faced stiff opposition, with a few deputies sharing anxieties about the prospect of same-sex couples adopting children.

Advocates forcefully rejected claims about potential harm to such adopted children, with one saying there is no serious, scientific proof to back them up.

During the hearing, other opponents said there isn’t popular support for the measure, though national polling shows widespread acceptance in Sonora.

Learn more here.

Arizona reports 1,315 additional COVID cases, 13 more deaths


PHOENIX — Arizona health officials on Thursday reported over 1,300 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases as seven-day rolling averages for new cases, new deaths and testing positivity in the state all rose over the past two weeks. The state reported 1,315 additional cases and 13 additional deaths.

According to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press, Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases rose from 728 per day on Oct. 14 to 1,036 on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the average for daily deaths increased from 6 to 7.3 and the positivity average went from 7.2% to 9.8%.

Learn more here.

Arizona sees massive turnout, smooth process in early voting


PHOENIX — Despite massive turnout, early voting is going smoothly in the battleground state of Arizona.

Maricopa County, the nation’s second-largest voting jurisdiction, where a majority of the state’s population lives, has processed over 1.2 million ballots, surpassing the 2016 general election total of early votes cast. Most of the votes come via mail ballots, which can be mailed or dropped off at secure drop boxes and voting locations around the county. The county recorder's office began tabulation last week.

A big turnout will test the county's elections department, which was revamped with more staff and new machines last year.

Learn more here.

Asteroid samples tucked into capsule for return to Earth


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A NASA spacecraft more than 200 million miles away has tucked asteroid samples into a capsule for return to Earth, after losing some of its precious loot. Flight controllers moved up the crucial operation after some of the collected rubble spilled into space.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft gathered pebbles and other pieces of asteroid Bennu last week, briefly touching the surface with its robot arm and sucking up whatever was there. So much was collected that rocks got wedged in the rim of the container and jammed it open, allowing some samples to escape. Whatever is left won't arrive at Earth until 2023.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation seeks more paper applications for virus funds


FARMINGTON, N.M. — The Navajo Nation says it's working to release more paper applications for a tribal hardship assistance program after application shortages caused challenges for chapters and tribal members.

The Navajo Nation Office of the Controller made applications available Monday to enrolled members of the tribe who are 65 and older or who have disabilities. The Navajo Nation CARES Fund Hardship Assistance Program applications are open to all other enrolled tribal members starting Nov. 2.

However, the department said only 3,000 applications were printed over the weekend and distributed to the Navajo Nation’s 110 chapters. Controller Pearline Kirk said 200,000 more applications will be made available to the chapters.

Learn more here.

Gender gap among Latino voters seen in some families


PHOENIX — President Donald Trump is putting up a fight for Latino voters in key swing states with Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Polls show Biden with a commanding overall lead with Hispanic voters, a diverse group that defies neat political categories. Still, about 3 in 10 registered Latino voters nationwide back Trump, roughly consistent with how Latinos voted in 2018 congressional elections and in 2016.

Latino men, like men of other races, support Trump more than Hispanic women, and in some cases, in contrast to members of their own families. The nagging divide highlights the defining role that gender, maybe even more than race could have in the election.

Learn more here.

Report: US knew of problems family separation would cause


HOUSTON — A new report says that months before the Trump administration separated thousands of families at the U.S.-Mexico border, a “pilot program” in Texas left child-welfare officials scrambling to find empty beds for babies taken from their parents.

Documents in the report released Thursday by congressional Democrats days before the election suggest Health and Human Services officials weren’t told why shelters were receiving more children taken from their parents in late 2017. The problems in the pilot program previewed what would happen months later: government employees caring for young children and many parents being deported without their kids.

Lawyers working to reunite families say they still can’t reach the deported parents of 545 children.

Learn more here.

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