April 17, 2020 / Modified apr 21, 2020 2:08 p.m.

Fort Huachuca pandemic precautions, UA president, funerals impacted

Plus, what role community has in supporting vulnerable groups during the pandemic.

Our coverage of the novel coronavirus’s impact in Southern Arizona continued with a look at how parts of the military are adapting. At the start of April, Fort Huachuca reported its first case of COVID-19 in someone who works at the post but lives off site. Well before then, Army leaders had begun planning for the pandemic. Lorraine Rivera discussed its approach with Fort Huachuca commander Maj. Gen. Laura Potter.

“Early on we started with some minimal measures, like increasing our numbers of teleworking, decreasing some of our on-base services. And then as conditions changed in the state and in the county, we increased all of those measures as well,” Potter said. “Right now, we’re probably at the highest level of mitigation measures we’ve been at since the COVID epidemic began.”

Precautions include requiring face masks in areas where it may be difficult to maintain six feet of distance between individuals, reducing the size of formations, limiting classroom instruction to groups of 16 or fewer and serving meals to-go in order to eliminate dining in the cafeteria. Servicemembers are also prohibited from traveling beyond 60 miles of the post without an exemption.

“What I try to remind everyone is that measure is really intended to get us through this period of time and keep us as safe as we can possibly be inside what we call this bubble here in Cochise County and on Fort Huachuca in particular,” Potter said.

Potter also discussed the need to continue missions at Fort Huachuca, including training for soldiers.

“Just this week we are shipping out our first group of graduates from [Advanced Individual Training] since the travel restrictions have been imposed. And in the near future, within probably the next week or so, we’ll receive an inbound shipment of AIT soldiers,” Potter said.

This week the state of Arizona announced it would back the University of Arizona with at least $3.5 million to create 250,000 antibody tests to distribute to first responders and health care workers. UA President Robert Robbins discussed the purpose for the tests, which he also intends to roll out for the university’s 60,000 students, faculty and staff.

“If you look back to MERS and SARS, there was some immunity conferred by making antibodies to those viruses. So, we think that there will be some immunity, whether it’s six months, a year — two, three years — if it follows basic biology that’s what we hope,” Robbins said. “It’d be very helpful for frontline health care workers and for our students just to have the knowledge.”

Robbins also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on enrollment and employment at the university.

“The new international students are going to be self-limited. We’re planning for very few of them to come because the embassies overseas probably won’t be open until November. So, they can’t get their visas to come to be able to come to campus here in Tucson if they wanted to,” Robbins said. “The biggest question for me is going to be what happens to our domestic out-of-state students? Those students from California, from Texas, from Illinois, the East Coast. Do they make the trip out to Tucson to come back to face-to-face classes?”

An email from Robbins sent Friday to faculty and staff detailed his proposed furlough plan. It includes between 13 and 39 furlough dates taken over time. The number of days an employee must take depends on their salary. People making $200,000 or more would see a 20% salary reduction.

“We’re pretty convinced we’re going to have major losses at least in the first semester, and it may last 15 months. So, there will be inevitable layoffs unless we have some miracle … or a vaccine were to come out sooner than the year-to-18 months we think,” Robbins said.

Robbins said he hopes in-person classes can resume in fall 2020 but said it’s too soon to make any guarantees.

The outbreak led the university to cancel May’s graduation commencement. Instead, graduates and their guests can take part in a special live-stream experience on May 15. The UA hopes it can host an in-person ceremony during homecoming weekend at the end of October. Arizona 360 heard from several graduating seniors about the sense of loss campus closures and cancelations have imposed on the class of 2020.

COVID-19 has drastically changed how people mourn the loss of a loved one. Social distancing measures led funeral homes to limit gatherings. Tony Paniagua reports on how a funeral home in Tucson has adapted, as well as some of the greater shifts the pandemic has had on time-honored traditions and rituals.

While the coronavirus outbreak’s disruption of significant events and everyday life is undeniable, its effect on certain populations can be more severe depending on these groups’ socioeconomic status or their access to essential services. University of Arizona anthropologist Megan Carney discussed how the community can come together to support one another.

“We are only as safe and healthy as the most vulnerable in our society. Rather than thinking in terms of us versus them, where we’re preoccupied with wondering who belongs and who does not, we have to remember that we are all human. And we all have human needs,” Carney said.

Not long after the University of Arizona closed its campus, faculty tapped into their various expertise to see how they could help bolster state and local efforts to flatten the curve. It led to the creation of the COVID-19 Research Coordination Group that now includes more than 100 members from all areas of study on campus.

“We have faculty from the law school, and the business school, and engineering and the medical campus all talking together,” Elizabeth Cantwell said.

Cantwell leads the university’s office for Research, Innovation and Impact. She explained that some of the group’s ideas in action have included looking into how to 3D print hospital masks and other personal protective equipment. The UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health also produced a video for first responders about how they can protect themselves from exposure to the virus.

Cantwell said the group’s response to the current pandemic establishes a crucial network that can activate when the next crisis occurs.

“We all think that this is not the last pandemic the globe will see. The reason you have large research universities that are state funded is so that when we have real challenges, when our resilience in one way or another is challenged, we can reach in and bring those capacities to the fore,” Cantwell said.

Arizona 360
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