/ Modified jul 30, 2020 6:29 p.m.

Daily news roundup: State single-day record for COVID-19 deaths, Pima County ups contact tracing

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, July 30.

Cases 170,798 | Deaths 3,626 | Diagnostic Tests 913,266

On Thursday, July 30, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 2,525 new cases of novel coronavirus. Arizona also reported 172 new deaths attributed to COVID-19, a new single-day record for the state. According to the Associated Press, the high death count was partially due to the review of death certificates.

Ducey: State not responsible for covering loss of federal unemployment help


As part of federal coronavirus relief funds, the government has been adding $600 a week in unemployment benefits. If Congress doesn't renew that aid by Friday, Arizonans' checks would drop to $240, the cap on Arizona's unemployment benefit. It's the second-lowest rate in the country.

Economists say a loss of that benefit could mean dire consequences for state's economy, including a significant economic slowdown in the third and fourth quarters.

Gov. Doug Ducey says it's not up to Arizona to address the impending drop in unemployment benefits that will come if Congress doesn't renew that aid.

For more on Ducey's Thursday COVID-19 update, click here.

A record 172 additional virus deaths reported in Arizona


PHOENIX — Officials have reported a record 172 additional coronavirus deaths in Arizona on Thursday, though nearly half of those were the result of reviews of death certificates. The Arizona Department of Health Services also reported another 2,525 cases reported across the state.

Seventy-eight of the 172 additional deaths were reported as a result of death certificate matching. In all, nearly 171,000 cases and 3,626 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported since the pandemic began.

In-patient hospitalizations, ventilators in use and intensive care unit occupancy continued to trend downward slightly.

Learn more here.

COVID-19 contact tracing ramps up in Pima County


If your phone rings, and the caller ID says it's from Pima County Health, it may be a call from one of the more than 100 people who've been hired to get in touch with those who've tested positive for COVID-19, or people they've been in contact with.

Epidemiologist Matt Christenberry manages the program. He said it's all about keeping yourself, and other people, safe.

"If somebody's exposed, without public health intervention they may not ever be aware of that exposure. So we want to make sure that they're aware of exposure, they can look out for specific symptoms that COVID-19 can cause, and also try to get them in touch with testing, so they can get tested for COVID-19," Christenberry said.

Learn more here.

Pandemic, economic downturn have yet to stop downtown Tucson development


Despite the transition to working from home, social distancing and the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, commercial developers are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into projects that will bring new housing and office space to downtown and remake Tucson's skyline.

The most prominent project is a 12-story office tower at 75 E. Broadway Blvd., across the street from the Tucson Electric Power headquarters. The $100 million tower would replace a vacant lot with office space that sits atop a parking garage and street-level retail.

The project was nearly scuttled last year when an out-of-town developer backed out, but now local developer Marcel Dabdoub told the Rio Nuevo board Tuesday that the developers are close to securing financing for the project and, as an assurance the project is still happening, are spending money on utility work in the meantime.

Learn more here.

UA to have full-size classes after Labor Day


The first day of class at the University of Arizona is Aug. 24. All classes, except labs and some performing arts, will be online at that time.

The following week, in-person classes with 30 or fewer students can begin meeting, and on Sept. 8 all classes, no matter the size, can meet in person.

UA President Robert Robbins said during his weekly briefing that he feels that is the best plan.

“We discussed this idea of going slowly to move the campus forward. I’ve chosen to go faster than because I think we’ve hit a lot of the things that the experts have told us that we needed to do,” Robbins said.

Learn more here.

Arizona universities preparing to reopen amid pandemic


Arizona's three public universities are preparing to reopen their campuses next month amid coronavirus concerns.

Arizona Board of Regents Chair Larry Penley says the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University will require masks and promote effective social distancing. He notes all three schools are determined to make learning as safe and effective as possible.

"No place is completely safe until we get a vaccine," said Penley.

Penley added the universities are prepared to cope with COVID-19's spread. All three campuses have designated spaces, residence halls or contracts with hotels where they can isolate individuals who are infected.

Tohono O'odham Nation hopes COVID-19 curve is flattening following spike


The Tohono O'odham government reported Wednesday it has five times the number of tribal members testing positive for COVID-19 than it did in early June, but the number of weekly new cases is decreasing.

According to a report from the tribal government, 363 members have tested positive for the disease and 12 Tohono O'odham members had died as of Wednesday. Tribal leadership also reported 74 positive cases among people of other tribes or groups living in and out of the nation.

Tohono O'odham Nation Health Care has performed 2,975 tests on patients, employees, first responders and front-line workers, of which 302 have been positive. It is unclear how many tests were performed on Tohono O'odham members versus people of other tribes or groups.

Learn more here.

Scientists: Border wall construction wreaking havoc at Quitobaquito Springs


A coalition of scientists says the Trump administration's border wall project in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is wreaking havoc at Quitobaquito Springs.

Located a few paces from the U.S.-Mexico border, the spring system is the only source of freshwater for miles and has existed for some 10,000 years. It feeds into a pond that used to be home to Hia-Ced O'odham and Tohono O'odham tribal communities.

Contractors have been building a 30-foot border wall across Organ Pipe since last year. As it inches closer to Quitobaquito, University of Arizona agricultural ecologist Gary Nabhan has been visiting every chance he gets.

"This went from the most biodiverse and culturally rich habitat complex in the Sonoran Desert to being the last oasis that had any of those elements because we've dried up so many other ones with groundwater pumping elsewhere," he said.

Nabhan is one of over 25 hydrologists and ecologists who co-signed a letter asking the U.S. government to halt construction within 10 miles of the desert oasis. Learn more here.

Delays, some spectators possible as UA plans for fall sports


The University of Arizona is building plans for athletic competition this fall.

Athletic director Dave Heeke says it's likely football, women's volleyball and women's soccer will be delayed by a few weeks to put protocols in place to deal with the ongoing pandemic. Plans may allow some spectators at the games.

"We've planned for everything from no fans to about a 50% capacity. We don't see anything larger than that at this point." Heeke said. "As we're trending today it would be considerably less than 50% capacity if we were to bring fans into the stadiums and arenas."

The University brought back 85 student-athletes during the summer for conditioning and strength training. Heeke says further announcements on the fall sports schedule can be expected in the next few weeks.

Tucson Has A New Mexican Consul After Controversies

Fronteras Desk

During the current Mexican president’s administration of less than two years, Tucson has had three Mexican consuls. The third one was appointed after a controversial removal of his predecessor.

Earlier this year, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard announced the demotion of Guillermo Rivera as consul in Tucson after just a few months and an investigation for attacking the press and promoting the Mexican president’s party.

The newly appointed consul is Rafael Barceló, who was a staff member for the embassies of Mexico in Brazil and Costa Rica. Barceló is a lawyer and has also worked in diplomatic affairs related to human rights.

Learn more here.

Investigation, cleanup to begin in Arizona train derailment


TEMPE — The leak of a flammable liquid from a derailed freight car in Tempe has been stopped and authorities say crews are getting ready to begin a long cleanup process. Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir says “there is nothing to suggest” that the derailment was a criminal act.

A 102-car Union Pacific Railroad freight train traveling from Tucson to Phoenix derailed early Wednesday as it traveled on a century-old bridge that spans the man-made Tempe Town Lake, setting the bridge ablaze and partially collapsing the structure. A Union Pacific spokesman says up to 10 train cars derailed and the south side of the bridge collapsed and caught fire. Two of the tank cars were carrying an oily liquid that is toxic and flammable and one car was leaking.

Learn more here.

GOP Arizona Rep. Schweikert pays fine to settle ethics case


GLENDALE — Republican Arizona Rep. David Schweikert has agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and admit to 11 violations to settle a long-running investigation by the U.S. House Ethics Committee. The agreement with Schweikert was announced Thursday. He has been under investigation for two years for a series of campaign finance violations and other allegations.

Schweikert is seeking reelection in the Republican-leaning 6th Congressional District that covers much of north Phoenix, Scottsdale, Fountain Hills and Paradise Valley. Four Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination in next week’s primary election as their party targets the longtime GOP stronghold as a possible pickup in November.

Learn more here.

Arizona monsoon arrival means end of most fire restrictions


PHOENIX — Fire restrictions within some state land are being lifted because of recent monsoon rain across the northern and southern sections of Arizona.

Officials with the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management say restrictions will be lifted by Friday on state lands in Apache, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Navajo, Pima, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties, as well as Coconino south of the Grand Canyon. On Saturday, forestry officials will also lift restrictions on state land in Yavapai County.

Restrictions remain in place on state lands within Gila, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave and Yuma counties along with Coconino north of the Grand Canyon.

Learn more.

Execution set for sole Native American on federal death row


FLAGSTAFF — The U.S. government has set an execution date for the only Native American on federal death row. Lezmond Mitchell is scheduled to be put to death in late August.

The Navajo man was among the first of a handful of inmates set to be executed after the Trump administration ended an informal 17-year moratorium. Mitchell temporarily was spared by a federal appeals court as his attorneys argued to interview jurors for potential racial bias. The court sided against Mitchell in late April.

Mitchell was convicted of the 2001 murder of a Navajo woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter.

Learn more here.

TUSD finalizes back-to-school plan

Arizona Daily Star

The Tucson Unified School District has a plan for physically reopening schools, however when that plan will be implemented remains in question. The district plans to ask the Arizona Department of Education for permission to delay opening onsite learning spaces when it submits the plan for approval. An executive order by Gov. Doug Ducey requires schools to operate onsite facilities for students in order to receive full funding.

Learn more here.

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