August 26, 2020 / Modified aug 26, 2020 5:11 p.m.

News roundup: Unemployment, ASU coronavirus cases, UCSIS averts furloughs

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Aug. 26.

Arizona COVID-19 one-week snapshot, Oct. 21

Since last week, Arizona reported 6,277 new cases (3% increase), 82 more deaths (1% increase) and a statewide positive test rate of 8.4%. The state reported a daily average of 897 cases and 12 deaths. Choose a Layerlayer and click on a county to learn more.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: ADHS, county health departments, Census 2018 Quick Facts. *Test numbers are totals including diagnostic and serology tests. Positive test rate is calculated using reported case and test totals. Daily reports may not reflect recent data, the state says.

COVID-19 Cases: 199,459 | Deaths: 4,896 | PCR tests: 1,165,295

The state reported 187 more cases and 104 deaths on Aug. 26. By Tuesday, Tucson's biggest school district had closed two schools out following positive COVID-19 tests, while some counties in the state expected to be given the go-ahead to open more businesses.

Citizenship and Immigration Services averts mass staff furloughs


A series of agency-wide staff furloughs slated to start Aug. 30 at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will no longer take place as planned.

In a press release this week, the agency said it had averted furloughs for over 13,000 employees — almost two-thirds of its staff — with aggressive spending cutbacks.

Unlike other federal agencies, USCIS is largely supported by the fees it charges for various immigration procedures. The furloughs were in response to what the agency says is a $1.2 billion funding shortfall caused by a drastic slowdown of those procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the release, USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow said furloughs were offset through the end of the agency's fiscal year on September 30, but it still needed additional support.

Learn more here.

Arizona unemployment continues to grow


Last week, 88,793 Arizona residents filed first-time unemployment claims. That is an increase of nearly 40,000 over the previous week.

It was the second week in a row the number of first-time claims has increased in Arizona.

The biggest increase in first-time claims came from the self-employed. However, the number of first-time claims for regular unemployment increased. Nearly 1.3 million Arizona residents received unemployment benefits last week.

The state unemployment rate is 10.6% while the national average is 10.2% The state rate increased in July as the national average fell almost a full point.

State officials are hoping the number of unemployed will start to drop in the coming weeks as counties qualify to allow more businesses like gyms and theaters to reopen.

Rio Nuevo considering financial boost to keep some Tucson events afloat


With the prospect of public gatherings not resuming until next year, some of Tucson's annual events are in dire financial straits — and may be getting help.

The Rio Nuevo board voted Tuesday to explore providing up to $250,000 in aid to events that draw thousands to Tucson, including the Dusk Music Festival, El Tour de Tucson, the Arizona Bowl, 2nd Saturdays Downtown and the Tucson Jazz Festival. All have had to cancel or postpone to spring 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Events that literally live from event-to-event are at real risk," said Rio Nuevo board chair Fletcher McCusker. "What put Tucson on the map was its arts and cultural scene. And it’s gone. And some of these organizations might very well not survive."

Learn more here.

Only Native American on federal death row executed


TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The only Native American on federal death row has been executed in Indiana.

Lezmond Mitchell’s execution Wednesday at the federal prison in Terre Haute came despite objections from many Navajo leaders who had urged President Donald Trump to halt the lethal injection on the grounds it would violate tribal culture and sovereignty. Mitchell was condemned for the grisly slayings of 9-year-old Tiffany Lee and her 63-year-old grandmother, Alyce Slim, in 2001.

The federal government under the pro-death penalty president has now carried out more executions in 2020 than it had in the previous 56 years combined.

Learn more here.

UA slowing its plan to return to campus


University of Arizona Provost Liesl Folks sent an email to the campus community Tuesday announcing the continuation of phase one of the university's reentry plan.

Phase one only allows what were deemed “essential” classes to meet in person. That phase was supposed to end after one week but has now been extended until at least Sept. 4.

Phase two will allow small classes to be held in person. Like the first phase, it is supposed to last for one week before all classes, regardless of size, will be allowed to be held in person.

UA officials said they made the decision to delay the start of phase two so they have time to gather more COVID-19 data.

So far, university officials have confirmed 31 positive COVID-19 tests out of the more than 9,000 students, faculty and staff who have been tested so far.

ASU has 161 virus cases, but president says it was expected


PHOENIX — Arizona State University is reporting 161 current coronavirus cases among students and staff across the university’s four campuses, but President Michael Crow said they were expected because of broad testing.

Crow issued a statement Tuesday evening that said the university has collected samples from more than 32,000 students and staff since Aug. 1. The nation’s largest public university opened its fall semester last week and currently has about 100,000 students and employees coming to its four metro Phoenix campuses on staggered days.

Crow also announced tough penalties for students that ignore social distancing guidance.

Learn more here.

Phoenix OKs payout after police point guns over stolen doll


PHOENIX — The Phoenix City Council will pay a settlement to a Black couple who had police officers point guns at them last year after their young daughter took a doll from a store without their knowledge.

Iesha Harper said at a news conference Wednesday that she and Dravon Ames will receive $475,000. The settlement stems from a $10 million claim claiming excessive force. Video of police pointing guns and cursing at the couple in front of their young children got widespread attention. It comes during a national reckoning over racism and police brutality.

Learn more here.

Cold case units focus on missing, murdered Indigenous women


ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The federal government has opened a cold case office in Anchorage, Alaska, to focus on missing Alaska Native and American Indian women. It's sixth such office to open in the country since last month, with the final office set to open later in Nashville.

The government says there are 1,500 open cold cases of missing or murdered women, and about 300 of those are in Alaska. That number leads the nation. The second-highest case count is in Arizona, where an office just opened outside Phoenix. Other offices are in Bloomington, Minnesota; Rapid City, South Dakota; Billings, Montana; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Learn more here.

Officials change virus testing advice, bewildering experts


NEW YORK — U.S. health officials have sparked a wave of confusion after posting guidelines that coronavirus testing is not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people.

The new guidance was posted earlier this week on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency formerly advised testing for close contacts. But on Monday that was changed to say that testing is no longer recommended for symptom-less people who were within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

CDC officials have referred all questions to the agency’s parent organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.

Learn more here.

Homeless essential workers face greater risk of COVID-19


Many homeless people work low-wage essential jobs on the front lines of the pandemic, putting them at higher risk of catching and possibly transmitting the virus.

Many who work with these communities are reluctant to speak about this risk for fear of further stigmatizing homeless people, even though they do the front-line jobs others can avoid. Experts say between 25% to 50% of homeless people work.

The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found that in the era of COVID-19 that means many homeless employees are working low-wage essential jobs under conditions that put them at risk of catching the coronavirus.

Find the investigation and analysis here.

US crackdown on nonessential border travel causes long waits


SAN DIEGO — A Trump administration crackdown on nonessential travel coming from Mexico amid the coronavirus pandemic has created massive bottlenecks at the border.

Drivers have reported waits of up to 10 hours to get into the United States. U.S. citizens and legal residents cannot be denied entry under a partial travel ban the government introduced in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But Customs and Border Protection is shifting resources to create longer waits on weekends, when nonessential travel is heavy.

Going to work, school and medical appointments are deemed essential travel, but going to shop, dine or socialize is not.

Learn more here.

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