/ Modified aug 21, 2020 5:42 p.m.

News roundup: Boosting voter participation in AZ, opioid crisis continues in pandemic

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Aug. 21.

Cases: 196,899 | Deaths: 4,688 | PCR tests: 1,126,420

On Friday, Aug. 21, Arizona reported 619 news cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. According to state data, intensive care unit bed usage by COVID-19 patients has generally trended downward this month, as has ventilator usage.

Getting out the vote ahead of the November election

The Buzz

The general election is three months away, and groups everywhere are working hard to get voters registered. This week, The Buzz talks with several advocacy groups working to ensure voter participation across demographic lines, and what trends we've seen in state voter registration data.

The show also takes a look into the potential for Arizona to become a purple or even blue state in future elections, as growing communities of color flex their political power in the state.

Listen to the full episode here.

Arizona’s opioid epidemic under COVID-19

Arizona 360

Lorraine Rivera speaks to Customs and Border Protection Director of Field Operations Guadalupe Ramirez about a surge in fentanyl and heroin seizures at Arizona’s ports of entry. Tony Paniagua also reports on how pandemic-related travel restrictions at the ports have had an adverse effect on the local economy.

Fentanyl seizures are also on the rise in Pima County, as Arizona 360 learns from Captain Jeffrey Palmer who leads the Pima County Sheriff Department’s Border Interdiction Unit. Lorraine Rivera discusses how that could be related to the pandemic with University of Arizona professor Todd Vanderah, who is director of its new Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center.

Laura Conover, who runs unopposed this November in the race for Pima County Attorney, discusses her approach to prosecuting drug-related crimes and the reforms she plans to implement as the county’s top prosecutor.

Watch the full episode here.

Courts toss 2 initiatives, say 2 can stay on Arizona ballot


PHOENIX — Arizona voters will consider just two citizen initiatives in November after court rulings that tossed two others from the ballot.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a decision that kept a voter initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana on the ballot. But the high court blocked one that would ban surprise medical billing and prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

Separately, a lower court ruled that backers of an initiative overhauling the state’s prison sentencing laws didn’t collect enough signatures. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had reinstated an initiative raising taxes on the wealthy to boost school funding.

Learn more here.

Arizona sees 20% rise in deaths, not all directly from virus


PHOENIX — Arizona has seen a 20% increase in deaths in the first seven months of this year. And not all of them have been directly linked to the coronavirus. Public health experts say it will take months to determine what’s driving the death rate.

Possible explanations include overdoses and suicides by people struggling with isolation or unemployment during the pandemic. Other possibilities are patients succumbing to chronic diseases after postponing hospital visits due to fears about contracting the virus there and deaths from Arizona’s tough regular flu season. It ran from October to April.

A more complete understanding will emerge after death certificates are reviewed by health officials.

Learn more here.

Asylum seekers describe self-harm, faulty COVID-19 response at ICE detention center


A group of asylum seekers held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a detention center in Eloy say conditions inside the facility have led to hunger strikes and a string of self-harm incidents since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

In an August letter shared with media by the advocacy group No More Deaths, 11 asylum seekers from Cuba say they are members of political opposition groups back home and came to the U.S. to seek protection. But awaiting immigration hearings at the La Palma Correctional Center, they've seen or experienced suicide attempts, self-harm incidents and mental health crises — and conditions are only getting worse.

Learn more here.

Arizona unemployment rate rises above national average


Arizona’s unemployment rate climbed to 10.6% last month, up from 10% in July, according to the state Office of Economic Opportunity. At the same time, the national average fell from 11.1% to 10.2%

In Arizona, the hospitality and construction industries lost the most jobs. The hospitality sector saw a loss of 16,200 jobs in July and while 1,200 construction jobs were lost. The bright spot on the monthly jobs report was increases in the education, trade, and professional service sectors. Combined, those three sectors added 1,400 jobs to Arizona’s economy.

More than 1.2 million Arizona residents are currently receiving unemployment benefits.

Arizona Supreme Court: Every county can have a marijuana dispensary despite cap


In 2016, Saguaro Healing LLC, applied to open a marijuana dispensary in La Paz County. The state Department of Health Services turned that application down because the maximum number of dispensaries allowed by state law had been met. At the time of the ADHS decision, La Paz County did not have a dispensary.

State law sets the number of dispensaries each year as equal to one dispensary for every 10 pharmacies in the state.

The court ruled Thursday that the dispensary permit should have been issued because the law that sets the maximum number of dispensaries also says that number can be exceeded in order to ensure that there is a dispensary in every county.

Arizona hotels look to aid from HOPE Act to stay open


As Congress remains deadlocked on stimulus talks, many hotels are on the brink of financial collapse, especially in a state where coronavirus arrived during the peak tourism season. The lodging industry has already lost over $7 billion this year, according to the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association.

Hoteliers across the state and country are advocating for federal help. In lieu of a new aid package, the hotel industry is rallying around the Helping Open Properties Endeavor (HOPE) Act. The bipartisan legislation would provide financial assistance to commercial real estate.

The bill would tap into the $454 billion allocated to the Economic Stabilization Fund as part of the CARES Act passed in March.

Learn more here.

Air Force seeking public comment on basing F-35 jets in Tucson


The Air Force has opened a final public comment period on the proposal to base F-35 fighter jets in Tucson.

The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) issued by the Air Force says if the F-35 is based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base the number of flights in and out of the base will increase by about 5% annually.

The report also said that Davis-Monthan is not the preferred new home for the fighter jet, but it is a “reasonable alternative.”

Learn more here.

Sonoran Hospitals At 40% Capacity For Coronavirus Patients

Fronteras Desk

Just weeks ago, Sonoran officials announced that both private and public hospitals were running out of beds. Now hospitalizations have fallen.

"Hospitals are at about 40% capacity on average across the state," said Sonora's Director of Epidemiology Dénica Cruz during a press conference.

Sonora also has reported fewer daily coronavirus deaths in recent days.

But Cruz emphasized that the state still has a high positivity rate, with more than 40% of coronavirus tests coming back positive, an indicator that Sonora is still experiencing widespread community transmission of the virus. Until the testing positivity rate is at 5% or lower, she said, Sonora can't consider its coronavirus outbreak under control.

Businesswoman becomes new member of Arizona Board of Regents


PHOENIX — Cecilia Mata, a native of Panama who came to the United States in 2000 and started a global security business five years later, is joining the Arizona Board of Regents. Gov. Doug Ducey announced the addition of Mata to the board Thursday. Mata, who lives in Sierra Vista, will fill a vacancy created when Ram Krishna’s term expired.

Regents can serve up to two four-year terms. The board oversees the state’s three public universities — Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

Ducey said in statement that Mata is an “enthusiastic advocate for women-owned and minority-owned small businesses.”

Learn more here.

ASU regents sues Facebook over Instagram account


PHOENIX — Arizona State University regents are suing in federal court Facebook and the owner of an Instagram account that advertised “ASU COVID parties" online. The regents say an account with the Instagram handle “asu_covid.parties” was sharing misinformation about the coronavirus to students and claimed to be throwing large parties at the university as students returned to campus for the fall semester. The lawsuit says the account is improperly using the school’s logos and trademarks.

The Arizona Republic reports it is unclear who runs the account. The lawsuit names “John Doe aka ‘asu_covid.parties’” as the defendant alongside Facebook.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Learn more here.

AG: drug supplier found so Arizona could resume executions


PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has notified Gov. Doug Ducey that a drug supplier has been found so the state could get ready to resume executions. Arizona’s last execution was of Joseph R. Wood in 2014. Brnovich said of the more than 100 death row inmates in the state, 20 have exhausted their appeals.

In a letter Thursday to Ducey, Brnovich says his office has found a lawful supplier of pentobarbital that can make the drug available to Arizona. He is urging Ducey to act without delay so Arizona may begin the process of securing the required pentobarbital.

Ducey says he has received Brnovich’s letter and will respond once he gets more information.

Learn more here.

Mounting US deaths reveal an outsize toll on people of color


As many as 215,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. during the first seven months of 2020, suggesting that the number of lives lost to the coronavirus is significantly higher than the official toll. And half the dead were people of color — Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans. That's according to an analysis of government data by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization.

Learn more here.

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