/ Modified aug 6, 2020 5:13 p.m.

News roundup: Fraud in Arizona unemployment claims, benchmarks released for school return

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Aug. 6.

Arizona COVID-19 one-week snapshot, Dec. 1

Since last week, Arizona reported 30,271 new cases (10% increase), 172 more deaths (3% increase) and a statewide positive test rate of 21.7%. The state reported a daily average of 4,324 cases and 25 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 (official rates may differ based on reporting lags). Daily reports may not reflect the most recent data, the state says.

Cases: 183,647 | Deaths: 4,002 | Diagnostic tests: 994,625

On Thursday, Aug. 6, Arizona reported 1,444 cases and 70 deaths. Less than two weeks remain until the official start date for schools around the state, and the director of the state health agency said no counties are currently fully meeting benchmarks to return to in-person learning.

Benchmarks released for school return


Arizona on Thursday outlined its promised benchmarks intended to help guide schools' decisions in returning to classrooms during the pandemic, focusing on county-level COVID-19 targets.

In a briefing, State Superintendent of Public Schools Kathy Hoffman and Health Department Director Cara Christ said counties should meet three benchmarks before schools resume all in-person instruction:

1) A two-week decline in weekly average cases or two weeks below 100 cases per 100,000 people

2) Two weeks with diagnostic test percent positivity below 7%

3) Two weeks with less than 10% of hospital visits due to COVID-like illness Hoffman and Christ said these are not requirements, but recommendations.

Learn more here.

Death toll from COVID-19 in Arizona tops 4,000


PHOENIX — Health officials say the number of known coronavirus-related deaths in Arizona has now surpassed 4,000.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported Thursday another 1,444 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 70 more deaths. This brings the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 183,647 and the death toll to 4,002.

Some of the fatalities were likely counted after health officials reviewed death certificates going back weeks. Still, the news comes a day after Maricopa County public health officials confirmed 22 bodies were moved to portable storage coolers. Officials say the action was taken after the medical examiner’s office in metro Phoenix became 86% full.

Agency: Anti-fraud measures lead to drop in Arizona unemployment numbers


Anti-fraud measures put in place by the Arizona Department of Economic Security have driven unemployment claims down by hundreds of thousands.

First-time claims last week dropped from 285,000 the week before to 70,000. Continuing claims dropped from 2.8 million to 700,000 over the same time period.

A statement from the Arizona Department of Economic Security said the one-week drop was due to “a change DES initiated with in the PUA portal to defer fraudulent activity.”

PUA is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program approved by Congress earlier this year. It allows those who are not normally eligible for unemployment, like the self-employed, to get benefits through the end of the year. Arizona instituted the PUA in mid-May.

DES says it is investigating hundreds of thousands of fraudulent claims

Bad drought conditions reported across New Mexico, Arizona


PHOENIX — Large stretches of New Mexico and much of neighboring Arizona face severe or extreme drought conditions.

The latest weekly Drought Monitor map shows areas of extreme drought in northern New Mexico and in the state's southeastern corner. Meanwhile, areas of severe drought are seen in other parts of those regions as well as across much of southern and south-central Arizona.

The Drought Monitor said the West has seen temperatures well above normal in the past week and that much of the region has been dry “with only spotty precipitation in places” though the monsoon provided some relief to eastern New Mexico.

UA President Robbins says doesn’t oppose a faculty union


A threat of unionization on a university campus is often met with hostility by administrators, but University of Arizona President Robert Robbins said he has no problem with the idea.

“I’ve been accused of hating the faculty. I love the faculty. The faculty are why our students come here, for the programs and the knowledge that they impart to our students. Yeah, I’m all for it. Whatever the faculty thinks is best for them, I’m for it,” said Robbins.

His comments came after being asked about a proposal by the Coalition of Academic Justice at UArizona (CAJUA), which said it plans on forming a union at the university.

Family of man who died in Tucson police custody seeking $19M in damages


The family of a man who died in Tucson Police Department custody in April filed a wrongful death notice of claim Tuesday against the city and other claims against the three former officers who were dispatched to the scene.

A lawyer for the family of Carlos Adrian Ingram-Lopez said the family is seeking $19 million in damages from the city and the officers involved.

Learn more here.

'My worst nightmare': Laid-off workers endure loss of $600 aid


Around the country, across industries and occupations, millions of jobless Americans are straining to afford the basics now that an extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits has expired.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are struggling to work out an agreement that would provide some federal jobless aid. Even if they do reach a deal, the amount is likely to be less than $600. By the time the money starts flowing, it could be too late for many Americans who are already in dire straits.

Says Liz Ness, a laid-off worker in New Orleans: “My worst nightmare is coming.”

Learn more here.

Biosphere 2 to allow visitors in for nighttime driving tours


The Biosphere 2 complex in Southern Arizona will reopen for tourists but only if they are in their cars.

The University of Arizona announced Biosphere 2 will allow self-guided, nighttime driving tours beginning Friday. Visitors will use a mobile app to help them navigate the marked route. Guided tours inside the facility were suspended once the coronavirus pandemic hit Arizona.

Officials say the driving tour will be offered for the next two months. It takes between 20 and 25 minutes. The cost of admission will be $20 per vehicle with up to six occupants. The glass terrarium in the Sonoran Desert is about 30 miles northeast of Tucson.

Joe Arpaio clings to relevancy in what’s likely his last run


PHOENIX — Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio is locked in a tight Republican primary to win back the job he held in metro Phoenix for 24 years before being trounced in 2016.

Even as Arizona has grown more politically moderate, Republican primary voters haven’t entirely abandoned Arpaio after his legal troubles and his headline-grabbing tactics. Arpaio based much of his campaign around his support for President Donald Trump, who pardoned his contempt of court conviction for disobeying a court order to stop his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.

Arpaio was trailing his former top aide by 541 votes as the vote count continued Wednesday.

Learn more here.

Sonoran marriage equality measure has now languished for a year

Fronteras Desk

It has been a year since a marriage equality reform measure was introduced in the Sonoran Legislature.

That initiative, introduced in early August last year, would reform the state’s civil code, which currently defines marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman. It also holds that same-sex marriages are “legally impossible.” That’s despite a 2015 Mexican Supreme Court ruling that declared such statutes unconstitutional.

“In Congress, there’s no political will to resolve this issue,” said Daniel del Sol, head of Visible Sonora, one of a number of groups working to expand LGBTQ rights in the state.

That’s despite the fact that Sonorans are quite accepting of marriage equality, according to del Sol and national polling.

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