/ Modified jun 12, 2020 8:21 a.m.

Daily News Roundup: Fire evacuations, Ducey on rise in cases, detention center accused of abuse

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, June 11.

Wildfire forces Tucson evacuations


The Pima County Sheriff’s Office ordered residents and businesses in the Catalina Foothills to evacuate as the Bighorn Fire continues to grow.

Public information officer Adam Jarrold says the steep terrain coupled with 100-degree weather and low humidity are making it a tough fire to fight.

"This area it's burning in is very steep, very rugged," he said. "So it's really difficult for us to get any of our hot shot crews any of our firefighters on the ground into areas, because of course where we put them in, we want to make sure it's safe and this really steep and rugged area is just not a safe place for our firefighters to be."

The fire began Friday night after a lightning strike.

Gov. Ducey: COVID-19 cases rising, hospitals still have capacity


In a Thursday press conference, Gov. Ducey acknowledged the "clear increase in cases," but continued to argue that they are largely the result of increased testing. The message from him and state health director Cara Christ leaders was mostly the same as weeks past--cases will continue to rise, hospitals currently have capacity, and everyone should observe social distancing, wear masks and wash their hands.

Ducey says the state knows its hospital capacity "to the bed" through daily reporting, and continues to have surge capacity of regular and ICU beds

"The facts are, we have an increase in testing, increase in cases and increase in positive tests results. We're going to continue to stay laser-focused on COVID 19," Ducey said.

The governor said if needed, he will consider pausing elective surgeries again and employing hospital surge capacity.

Eloy and La Palma detention centers accused of migrant abuse


Migrants being held at the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy say they are being forced to clean the facility and can’t social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter sent to legal aid group Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, migrants say they clean medical areas and work in the kitchen, despite being afraid of being exposed to the virus.

Yvette Borja with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona says Immigration and Customs Enforcement is constitutionally obliged to care for people in its custody.

When the government detains somebody, they need to protect them," she said. "That’s an affirmative thing. It’s not just ‘provide the basic necessities’, it’s ensuring that people don’t contract diseases like COVID-19. 16

Borja’s group joined with the Florence Project and other legal aid firms this week to file a federal lawsuit asking for the release of thirteen medically-vulnerable detainees at La Palma and the Eloy Detention Center down the road.

Wildfire-driven air-quality watch in Tucson


The Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ) has issued an Air Quality Health Watch caused by the Bighorn Fire. The potential for elevated levels of particulate matter and ground-level ozone is high in areas near the fire and beyond, depending on wind conditions.

The U.S. Forest Service says smoke will continue to settle into valleys and washes overnight and lift in the mornings after the sun rises and warms up the surrounding air. They believe during Thursday and Friday evenings, smoke will pinwheel clockwise and swing through Tucson beginning around 6:00-8:00 p.m.

No wall along Cocopah tribal land


President Trump's wall now stretches along 200 miles of U.S.-Mexico borderland. Progress hasn’t slowed during the coronavirus pandemic; in some places it’s even accelerating. But there’s a tiny swath of tribal land on the Colorado River where that’s not the case.

The Cocopah Indian Tribe’s reservation sits in the river’s delta, a corner of the borderland where California, Arizona and Mexico meet. Today tribal members are some of 40 million residents in western states who receive a share of water from the Colorado River basin. But they have been tied to the river much longer than those states have existed.

"The Colorado River where we are located is the line that divides us between US and Mexico," said Joe Rodriquez, a Cocopah tribal member and the director of its museum. "So the river itself is also on our land."

UA researchers search for COVID-19 cure


A University of Arizona researcher is eager to put a promising treatment for COVID-19 patients on the fast track toward drug development.

Pharmacologist Jun Wang and his group spent the last four months looking for molecular combinations that would have an impact against COVID-19. He says the group identified four compounds that can stop the coronavirus from replicating itself within a cell.

"We're glad to say that all four small molecules can potentially inhibit SARS Coronavirus 2 replication in cell culture and that's really exciting," he said. "What it basically means is that we are going after the right target."

Wang says one of the four candidates is connected to a drug that has already been proven safe for human use.

Navajo COVID-19 cases on the rise


In Arizona, health care officials are reporting spikes in new COVID-19 cases and hospitals have been told to prepare for the worst.

Navajo Nation health officials are reporting 125 new coronavirus cases and five new related deaths on the reservation. The death toll is approaching 300 and reservation-wide cases totaled 6,275 as of Wednesday.

Tribal officials said preliminary reports from 11 health care facilities indicate nearly 3,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 with more reports pending. Navajo officials are cautioning tribal members about letting up their guard too soon while the pandemic remains a serious threat throughout U.S.

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