April 10, 2020 / Modified apr 10, 2020 4:55 p.m.

Businesses adapt to the pandemic, help for displaced workers, tribal nations impacted

Plus, how to discuss the outbreak and manage at-home learning with children.

This week, Arizona 360 visited local businesses to see how they are adapting to restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restaurants and bars in Tucson received orders to suspend dine-in services nearly a month ago. Since then, the owner of Shish Kebab House of Tucson, Reina Alas, said sales have dropped 70% during the transition to take-out only. She described the financial and emotional toll that COVID-19 has had on her restaurant.

“Now that I see it so empty — I come in the morning and sometimes I kneel down and pray. I say, ‘God, give me a better day today,’” Alas said.

Other businesses have taken less of a hit. Green Things has only seen a slight drop in revenue compared to last year, owner Jan Westenborg said. Like hardware and grocery stores, nurseries are also considered essential.

“We offer basic goods and services to the public,” Westenborg said. “And we have the knowledge to help the public plant all of those things.”

Newly implemented safety measures give people the option to pay over the phone and pick up their orders without stepping out of their cars. For customers who choose to shop in person, staff regularly disinfect carts, pens and other common surfaces.

As businesses adjust in the short-term, University of Arizona School of Architecture assistant professor Altaf Engineer described how the pandemic will likely usher in a new era of designed focused on reducing the need for people to touch various surfaces in order to minimize the spread of germs.

“We’re looking to make changes that will be more permanent, that will prevent pandemics of this nature from happening again. And I think we can make a big difference in bridging architecture and medicine,” Engineer said.

To help workers displaced by the coronavirus outbreak, Pima County launched an unemployment hotline and website PimaWorks.com. Arnold Palacios serves as the community services director for the county’s economic development team. He explained the types of assistance offered by the county.

While the economic downturn has led to widespread layoffs, some employers are opting to furlough their staff instead. Labor attorney Barney Holtzman discussed the benefits available to furloughed workers.

“The governor’s executive order says that you have lost your employment permanently or temporarily, if it’s the result of COVID-19, then you are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits. And he also modified the eligibility requirements going forward,” Holtzman said.

He added that furloughed workers may also be entitled to their health insurance benefits depending on their employer’s policy.

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches peoples’ budgets, Pima Animal Care Center anticipates an influx of pets surrendered by owners who can’t afford to keep them.

“Already we’re getting calls from people who can’t afford to buy food for their pet next week. So we have our pet support center here and we’re here to help those folks as well,” said Kristen Hassen, director of animal services at PACC.

In response to the crisis, PACC suspended walk-in visits and is now offering essential services like adoptions and emergency surrenders by appointment only. Of the more than 1,200 pets currently available for adoption, more than 90% are staying in foster homes. Hassen called the community’s help unprecedented and that it comes at a crucial moment.

“We know thousands of animals are going to need our help over the next few months. And we’re also going to have to house pets whose owners are hospitalized or who, in the worst case possible, die from coronavirus,” Hassen said.

PACC said pet owners should have a plan in case they contract the disease. Hassen recommends they designate someone who can watch their animals and supply them with enough food and medicine for two weeks. They should also leave written instructions about how to care for their pets.

“None of us think we need a microchip until our pet gets lost and it’s the same thing with this,” Hassen said.

Over the next 60 days, Hassen said PACC expects more than 4,000 animals will need its services, underscoring the ongoing need for foster homes and donations. The center’s website includes information about how to help.

Like state and local governments, the leaders of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes are also tasked with issuing their own measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. In Southern Arizona, the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe and the Tohono O’odham Nation have declared emergencies, put out stay-at-home orders and closed casinos. Arizona 360 learned more about the pandemic’s impact on the tribes from Arizona Public Media Indigenous affairs reporter Emma Gibson.

Arizona 360 asked parents to share their concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic to learn the challenges it poses for some families at home. Among their responses, they wanted more information about how to discuss the outbreak with their children and how to juggle at-home learning and remote work responsibilities. University of Arizona behavioral health expert Tricia Haynes offered insight and discussed ways parents can manage the challenges the pandemic has placed on households.

“One of the key things with younger kids is to make sure we have definitions to terms that might not be entirely clear. My 8-year-old didn’t exactly understand what a virus was, so I had to sit down with her and explain how it’s a type of germ that’s invisible and it’s super small and we can’t see it but it can make us very sick,” Haynes said.

Haynes also led a team of UA faculty and staff at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health that developed a COVID-19 toolkit that pulls together resources for parents and teachers.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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