/ Modified mar 1, 2021 3:57 p.m.

News roundup: UA pushes for rural vaccines, USDA disrupts Oak Flat land transfer

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, March 1.

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 817,821 | Deaths 15,979

On Monday, March 1, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,039 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths.

UA wants rural COVID-19 vaccines


Close to 2 million Arizona residents have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but rural areas are still struggling.

The University of Arizona’s COVID-19 vaccination site is currently open about 12 hours a day. Eventually the state and university want to have it operating around the clock.

But that is not the only goal for university vaccinations. Dr. Richard Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general who is in charge of the UA COVID response, said the university wants to get into rural counties.

“If we can get enough vaccines, we’ll get out to Pinal County, and Graham, and Greenlee, and Yuma to help all of those communities where they have a paucity of resources that the university can help as well,” Carmona said.

Carmona said the university has decades of experience working in rural Arizona communities so they are a trusted partner in those areas.

USDA orders Forest Service to rescind statement in Oak Flat land transfer


The Tonto National Forest will be rescinding the final environmental impact statement that triggered the land swap of Oak Flat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture told the Forest Service to rescind the statement in order to thoroughly review concerns from tribes, the public and its partners.

Luke Goodrich is an attorney representing one of the groups challenging the transfer. He said the announcement is coming just hours before the federal government needs to respond to an emergency appeal arguing the swap infringes on Apache religious freedoms.

"It knows it can't justify the destruction of Oak Flat in court, and it knows the destruction of Oak Flat violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so this is a temporary retreat,” Goodrich said.

It's unclear how this withdrawal will impact Oak Flat or the land swap. Goodrich is calling for the federal government to agree to a court order that will protect the site while litigation continues.

Arizona reports no new COVID-19 deaths as toll nears 16,000


PHOENIX — Arizona is reporting no new COVID-19-related deaths as the state’s overall death toll approaches 16,000.

State health officials released the latest figures Monday morning, which include 1,039 more confirmed virus cases. This brings Arizona’s overall total case number to 817,821 and the number of deaths to 15,979.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested.

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, the number of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 inpatients in the state’s hospitals decreased to 1,241 on Sunday, the fewest since early November. Meanwhile, the number of ICU beds used by COVID-19 patients stood at 382.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation confirms 14 new COVID-19 cases, 2 more deaths


WINDOW ROCK — The Navajo Nation is reporting 14 new coronavirus cases and two more deaths.

The latest figures from tribal health officials on Sunday evening bring the total number of COVID-19 cases to 29,740 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll is now at 1,170.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez cautioned in a statement that people should not become complacent just because case numbers continue to trend downward.

Health facilities on the reservation and in border towns are conducting drive-thru vaccine events or administering doses by appointment. The Navajo-area Indian Health Service has vaccinated more than 100,000 people so far.

Learn more here.

Phoenix to dismantle Squaw Peak, Robert E. Lee street signs


PHOENIX — The city of Phoenix is officially installing new signs for two streets whose names have long been considered offensive.

Mayor Kate Gallego will look on Monday morning as workers erect a new sign for Piestewa Peak Drive, formerly Squaw Peak Drive. Historically, “Squaw” is a slur used to describe Native American women. Piestewa honors fallen Native American soldier Lori Piestewa. Officials will also unveil signage for Desert Cactus Street, formerly Robert E. Lee Street.

Critics say having a street named for the Confederate general glorifies the pro-slavery Confederacy. The issue gained momentum last year with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Learn more here.

FCC Approves Emergency Broadband Benefit, Helping Tribes And Others Get Online

Fronteras Desk

The Federal Communications Commission recently approved the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which is expected to enable eligible households to receive a discount on the cost of broadband service and connected devices during the pandemic, including and especially those on tribal land.

The program will provide households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service and up to $75 a month if the household is on tribal lands. It will also provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet.

The program amplifies the Navajo Nation’s recent effort to use CARES Act funding to upgrade their internet connectivity during the pandemic.

The funding has led to 139 broadband installations and capacity upgrades to existing broadband equipment. The Navajo Nation also recently received funding to install over 600 miles of fiber-optic lines on tribal land.

Arizona Supreme Court task force refocuses on disinformation


PHOENIX — Shortly after the Arizona Supreme Court created a task force on countering disinformation in 2019, its members realized their approach was a losing battle.

They thought they could simply counter misinformation with information.

The task force appears to be the first of its kind, and according to task force chair and court spokesman Aaron Nash “it seems like eye rolling would be a way to characterize how a lot of people thought of it” when it initially formed in response to concerns about Russian disinformation campaigns.

Then came the pandemic, protests following the death of George Floyd and the 2020 election – and the rush of disinformation that followed.

Learn more here.

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