/ Modified feb 19, 2021 6:02 p.m.

News roundup: Pressure mounts to cleanup ‘forever chemicals’, vaccine FAQs answered

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Feb. 19.

Arizona COVID-19 cases: 7 days

Map shows COVID-19 cases and case rates over the week preceding the last update.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies, Census Bureau. Case reports do not correspond to day of test.

Cases 804,116 | Deaths 15,421

On Friday, Feb. 19, Arizona reported 1,918 new cases of COVID-19 and 145 additional deaths. Health officials postponed vaccinations in Pima County Friday due to delivery delays.

PFAS contamination draws local, national cleanup efforts

The Buzz

Some of Tucson's groundwater wells have been contaminated by man made chemicals common in many things, including special fire-fighting foam used at airports. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is launching a program to clean up the water.

This week, The Buzz discusses where the problem originated, how it will be treated, and the implications for Tucson's water supply.

Listen to the full episode here.

COVID-19 vaccine FAQ, Arizona National Guard, mobile vaccinations

Arizona 360

Arizona State University’s Dr. Joshua LaBaer answers some common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, the director of the Arizona Dept. of Emergency and Military Affairs, discusses the Arizona National Guard’s role in the state’s response to the pandemic. We also take you to one of the guard’s operations at a food bank in Sahuarita.

Tony Paniagua reports on how distribution of the vaccine has rolled out in rural parts of Southern Arizona and challenges with access.

University of Arizona College of Pharmacy instructor Nicole Henry discusses efforts to expand access to the vaccine, including through mobile units

Watch the full segment here.

COVID-19 vaccines postponed in Pima County


The City of Tucson announced that all vaccine appointments at the Tucson Convention Center scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19, were postponed due to a lack of vaccine.

City officials said the shortage is due to slower vaccine delivery caused by the deadly winter storm in the middle of the country.

Pima County officials are also warning about postponement or cancellation of appointments due to vaccine shortage. Officials said they will begin to focus on people who need second doses of the vaccine.

Learn more here.

County vaccine supply should recover next week


COVID-19 metrics continue to improve in Pima County, even as winter weather has led to temporary vaccine delays. The county's seven-day rolling average of new cases has been dropping steadily for the last couple weeks.

Earlier this week, Pima County anticipated having to cancel as many as 4,800 vaccine appointments due to reduced supply and weather delays, but that final number dropped by more than half.

In a press call Friday, Pima County Health Director Theresa Cullen said the county operates at "razor-thin" margins in terms of vaccine distribution, partly to ensure that it continues to receive a significant allotment from the state. But she said the good news is most of those canceled appointments have been rescheduled.

Learn more here.

State releases more COVID-19 testing funds to counties


One day after Pima County said it would end COVID-19 testing because it could no longer afford the cost, the state released more funding. In a Thursday memo, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the county would likely suspend free COVID-19 testing it has been conducting for months because the state was not reimbursing the county as promised.

Friday morning the Arizona Department of Health Services announced it was making $100 million “immediately available” for counties to help defray testing costs related to "staffing, laboratory testing, informatics, disease surveillance, and other activities critical to combating COVID-19."

The money may be available for everything the county wants.

Learn more here.

Arizona reacts as Biden's 'Remain in Mexico' rollback begins


In a letter to the US Department of Homeland Security this week, Governor Doug Ducey raises questions about how President Joe Biden’s new asylum processing protocols will impact Arizona.

On Friday, DHS began processing asylum seekers in San Diego who were part of the Migrant Protection Protocols, a controversial Trump administration policy that forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for immigration court dates in the US.

In his letter to DHS, Governor Ducey said Arizona border sheriffs and community leaders were concerned about how a possible influx of people would affect aid groups and resources — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more here.

Apache Stronghold files appeal in fight over Oak Flat


A nonprofit advocating for the protection of Oak Flat, an Apache religious site, is appealing a federal judge's decision to not temporarily block the project that will turn the land into a copper mine.

The nonprofit Apache Stronghold filed a lawsuit Jan. 12 aimed at stopping the congressionally mandated land transfer of Tonto National Forest land, including Oak Flat, to Resolution Copper. At that same time, two other groups filed lawsuits, and Apache Stronghold requested a preliminary injunction to pause activity on the project.

According to a press release from Apache Stronghold, it'll be challenging the judge's ruling that the nonprofit did not have standing in the case, that the federal government does not have trust responsibilities to the Apache people, and that Apache people will not experience a "substantial burden" if the site is demolished because the government hasn't denied a government-given benefit or penalized anyone yet.

Learn more here.

Research looks for links between COVID-19 and 'forever chemicals'


The University of Arizona is involved with three studies that may shed light on the connection between COVID-19 and chemicals known as PFAS.

Two of the studies, one national in scope and one just in Arizona, are both looking at the incidence of COVID-19 in healthcare workers, first responders, and other front-line workers. Those studies, funded by the CDC, conduct regular COVID-19 diagnostic and antibody testing of volunteers over time. PFAS exposure isn't their primary focus but will be something researchers can look at in relation to someone's experience with COVID-19.

PFAS are a group of chemicals that are very persistent in the environment and have been used for decades in many products.

Learn more here.

Vail area gets Pima County public library branch


The greater Vail area got its first Pima County public library branch Tuesday.

The W. Anne Gibson-Esmond Station Library is near Empire High School and connects to the trailhead at Esmond Station Regional Park.

Karyn Prechtel-Altman is the deputy director of public services and community engagement for the Pima County Public libraries. She said the new library was designed to bring in a sense of community and sports detailed cut-steel scenes of Vail's history.

Learn more here.

ACLU AZ files records request for Trump-era DHS agreement made with Arizona


The ACLU in Arizona filed a public records request with Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office this week for all documents related to an agreement Arizona made with the Department of Homeland Security just before Donald Trump left office.

The Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment agreements, or SAFE give Arizona and other states who signed privileges such as a waiting period for considering immigration policy changes and provide feedback.

ACLU staff attorney Yvette Borja said that gives them unprecedented power to influence national policies. Borja said getting a clearer picture is the first step in mounting a legal fight.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation reports 43 new COVID-19 cases, 13 more deaths


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation officials reported 43 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday with 13 additional deaths.

The latest numbers bring the total number of cases on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 29,386 since the pandemic began. There have been 1,127 reported deaths that were related to COVID-19.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez said the Navajo Area Indian Health Service has administered 101,332 vaccines doses on the Navajo Nation as of Thursday. That surpasses the goal of administering at least 100,000 doses by the end of this month. Nez says that even those who have been fully vaccinated need to continue taking precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

Learn more here.

Report: Arizona on track for 11% jobs increase over 2 years


PHOENIX — State researchers say Arizona’s economy appears to be on a two-year track for significant employment growth through early next year, with a projected jobs increase of about 11% from the second quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2022.

A report released Thursday by the Office of Economic Opportunity projects employment will increase by over 325,000 jobs during the two-year period now approaching the halfway point.

The report said Arizona’s economy lost 155,000 jobs during the two years that ended in the second quarter of 2020, with nearly all of the job losses attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more here.

Regents select new president of Northern Arizona University


FLAGSTAFF — The Arizona Board of Regents plans to appoint Jose Luis Cruz, executive vice chancellor and university provost of The City University of New York, as the next president of Northern Arizona University.

The board announced Thursday night that Cruz had “accepted the opportunity to be the next president of NAU” and that the regents would approve contract terms and formally appoint Cruz at a subsequent meeting.

The regents previously announced interview invitations to Cruz and Bret Danilowicz, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Florida Atlantic University. The NAU presidency opened up last fall when current President Rita Cheng announced she would not seek a contract extension.

Learn more here.

Legislature tries to give AG right to sue over tuition


PHOENIX — A proposal in the Arizona House would revive a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Mark Brnovich against the board that oversees state universities over what he calls overly high tuition.

The measure is needed because the Arizona Supreme Court ruled last year that Brnovich had no right to sue. He is backing the proposal from Republican Rep. Jacqueline Parker that was approved by a House committee Thursday with no Democratic support.

Brnovich sued the Arizona Board of Regents in 2017, saying they were violating a state constitutional provision that tuition be “as nearly free as possible.”

Learn more here.

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