/ Modified jan 22, 2021 2:35 p.m.

Expanding vaccinations, education priorities, political unity

Plus, hearing from new Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz.

Since the first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Arizona last month, more than 300,000 shots have gone into the arms of residents. Counties are gradually making the vaccine available to more people as they expand access to additional groups. Tony Paniagua reported on those efforts, including delays some people have experienced when trying to sign up because of high demand.

This week the Arizona Department of Health Services opened its second COVID-19 vaccine distribution site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The first site at Glendale’s State Farm Stadium is also located in Maricopa County. ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ discussed the state’s role in getting people vaccinated, beginning with an update on current trends.

“One of the things that we are starting to see that’s a little bit of a glimmer of hope is we had significant increases after Thanksgiving, after Christmas and after New Year. What we are starting to see is a plateau,” Christ said. “We hope this plateau will translate into decreased cases but we continue to monitor the data.”

Christ also addressed why the department has not opened mass vaccination sites outside of Maricopa County.

“We knew that Maricopa needed some assistance with getting mass vaccination off the ground,” Christ said. “Our preference would be that the county health departments take charge and administer the vaccine in their counties. They know their counties. They know their partners the best.”

She also shared her hopes for ramping up vaccinations in the coming months.

“I would like to see more vaccines being given out more efficiently. We do know that we could speed up that process,” Christ said.

Arizona’s public schools have about 65,000 fewer students enrolled than the state’s Department of Education would expect and schools cannot account for their whereabouts, according to State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman.

“We do not know where they are,” Hoffman said. “They could have moved out of state. They may be engaged in homeschooling. So there’s a lot of questions around that.”

Hoffman said her office is working with the Arizona Department of Child Safety and the Governor’s Office to help districts identify and reach out to students no longer enrolled in their schools.

“But I think the challenge is at the state level, trying to identify and locate 65,000 students is a really large task,” Hoffman said. “We’re in the process of reaching out to school counselors to ask what they’re finding, ‘What trends are you seeing, where are these children going, how are they being served at home?’”

After Gov. Ducey’s State of the State address where he said the state would not fund “empty seats” or allow schools to remain in a “perpetual state of closure,” Hoffman issued a statement that said the governor “ignored the reality of the worsening spread of COVID-19” and its impact on students and teachers. Hoffman said she agrees with the governor’s assertion that students are better served in person, but said community spread of the disease makes it dangerous to return anytime soon.

“Teachers are worried about returning back to the classroom knowing that if they are exposed or they get sick, they worry about will they even have the ability to get the care they need,” Hoffman said.

This week marked the beginning of the Biden Administration. With increased security, events on Inauguration Day remained peaceful in stark contrast to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that put the nation on edge. After taking his oath of office, President Biden called on Americans to unite and acknowledged the partisan divides that still exist. For analysis on how that message resonates with the political landscape in Arizona, we spoke to University of Arizona political scientist Samara Klar.

Pima County’s longtime administrator will have another four years on the job. This week the board of supervisors voted to extend the contract of Chuck Huckelberry. However, they also approved a pay reduction of several thousand dollars to $292,000 annually, denying Huckelberry’s initial request for a raise earlier this month. The vote came down on party lines, with lone Republican Steve Christy the only supervisor to object. Three of the five supervisors were elected to their seats in November, including Dr. Matt Heinz, who represents District 2. Heinz explained his vote.

“I had some concerns about the length of the contract but the reason I thought it made sense to move ahead was I believe we were hearing the county employees and the public and doing what they asked us to in acknowledging that right now is not a really good time for example to give the highest paid county employee a raise,” Heinz said.

Huckelberry has served as Pima County’s administrator since 1993. For a deeper understanding of the influence the position can amass, we turned to former Tucson Mayor and University of Arizona political science professor Tom Volgy.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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