/ Modified sep 1, 2020 4:33 p.m.

News roundup: Climbing electric bills add worry during pandemic, county businesses reopen

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Sept. 1.

Arizona COVID-19 one-week snapshot, Oct. 28

Since last week, Arizona reported 7,253 new cases (3% increase), 51 more deaths (1% increase) and a statewide positive test rate of 9%. The state reported a daily average of 1,036 cases and 7 deaths. Choose a Layerlayer and click on a county to learn more.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: ADHS, county health departments, Census 2018 Quick Facts. *Test numbers are totals including diagnostic and serology tests. Positive test rate is calculated using reported case and test totals. Daily reports may not reflect recent data, the state says.

Cases 202,342 | Deaths 5,044 | PCR tests 1,207,256

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the state reported 507 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths. Local conditions meet state requirements that allow for many businesses to reopen, though safety guidelines remain in place.


A 'collision of crises' is leaving thousands in Tucson struggling with electric bills

AZPM

2020 is on track to be Tucson’s hottest summer on record. The high temps have sent the mercury, and electric bills, climbing.

When the stay-at-home order went into effect in March, households used 6% more energy than normal, according to Tucson Electric Power. In the following months, usage has stayed up, breaking a record for peak demand on July 31.

At the same time summer temps were driving up bills, the state’s unemployment rate remained stubbornly high and weekly unemployment benefits were cut in half.

"With more Arizonans unemployed and also more Arizonans working from home, bills have increased, which has made it harder for households to keep up with their bills," said Diane Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for utility ratepayers.

Learn more here.


Pima County businesses reopen, face strict health guidelines

AZPM

More Arizona counties are close to joining Pima and seven others in reaching the benchmarks that allow bars, gyms and other businesses to reopen with restrictions. Dr. Cara Christ, the head of the Arizona Department of Health Services, says reopening has moved quickly.

“Since announcing that several new counties met those benchmarks, 1205 gyms, bars providing dine-in services, water parks, and movie theaters filed attestations agreeing to open with reduced occupancy and to comply with the prevention requirements for their establishment type,” Christ said.

Christ says so far, the state has received about 800 complaints from the public about businesses that are reopened but are not following health guidelines. She says about half of those were false or did not pertain to businesses that had been closed by the governor. She says the rest are under investigation.


Report highlights biodiversity loss at Quitobaquito during border wall construction

AZPM

A border riparian area is missing some of its birds, and researchers across the borderlands say border wall construction may be a part of the reason why.

According to the report released by R. Roy Johnson,a long-time riparian ecologist in the Southwest who has worked for the National Park Service, and Gary Nabhan, a researcher at the University of Arizona, at least 36 species of birds that normally frequent the pond fed by Quitobaquito Springs haven't shown up since new border wall construction began nearly a year ago. It's unclear if their absence is temporary or permanent.

"With the construction activities, bright lighting, bulldozing, dynamiting, neither the birds nor the bird watchers want to be at Quitobaquito right now," Nabhan said.

Learn more here.


Ducey pushes flu vaccine amid COVID-19 pandemic

AP

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and public health officials are urging people to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. The officials warned Monday that hospitals face potential overcrowding with flu patients while still trying to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ducey says free vaccines will be made available to people who are uninsured or underinsured. He also says the state will increase payments to health care providers who vaccinate people on Arizona’s Medicaid plan in hopes of increasing availability of the vaccine.

Arizona's flu season generally lasts from October to March with cases peaking in February.

Learn more here.


Driver’s licenses’ expiration dates pushed back

Arizona Daily Star

Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday that driver’s licenses set to expire in 2020 will get a one-year extension. Law enforcement officers will accept licenses that expire between March 2020 and December 2020 for one year after their expiration date.

This move is expected to reduce the need for people to go to Motor Vehicle Division offices, especially Arizonans over the age of 65 who must renew their licenses every five years.

Learn more here.


Nursing homes in Pima County to allow visitors again

Arizona Daily Star

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities must release plans this week to address how visitors may be allowed to see their loved ones again. Most homes have not allowed visitors since the pandemic began in March.

Certain safety precautions will be mandatory. That might include masks, maintaining six feet of distance or producing a negative COVID-19 test.

Learn more here.


Group raising defense money for suspect hears from candidate

AP

PHOENIX — The Republican nominee for sheriff in metro Phoenix spoke to a group of conservative Arizona State University students criticized for fundraising for the legal defense of a 17-year-old who authorities said fatally shot two protesters last week in Wisconsin.

Jerry Sheridan said he isn’t worried about creating an unfavorable appearance by speaking at the online fundraiser Monday night by College Republicans United. Sheridan said he spoke to the group twice last year and agreed to his latest appearance two weeks ago, before authorities say Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and wounded a third person during an anti-racism demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Learn more here.


Northern Arizona University reopened for in-person classes

AP

FLAGSTAFF — Northern Arizona University has reopened for in-person classes Monday, welcoming students for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic closed the Flagstaff campus in March.

The Arizona Daily Sun reported that the announcement came three weeks after the university began its academic year online.

As of Monday, 29,594 students were enrolled in classes across all the NAU campuses, with more than 6,000 students living in university-owned residence halls. Some faculty members have continued to raise concerns about the return to campus as Coconino County health officials reported an additional 55 cases last week, increasing the total to 3,205 confirmed virus cases.

Learn more here.


Lawsuit: Teen burned when pinned on hot sidewalk by officers

AP

PHOENIX — A lawsuit alleges a 17-year-old girl suffered second-degree burns on her arms last summer when Phoenix officers pinned her on a hot sidewalk during an arrest. The lawsuit filed Monday by the teen said the arrest occurred on a day when temperatures reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

The teen was involved in a fight against another student at a bus stop. Police say the teen refused to listen to officers and began to kick and pull away. They say the officers didn’t violate its use of force policy.

The Associated Press isn’t naming the girl because it generally doesn’t identify juveniles charged with crimes.

Learn more here.


Mexico’s New War Against Junk Food

Fronteras Desk

Processed food and drinks will carry a significantly big tag on its content, and some states banning the sales of these products to the underaged population.

This is the new wave of Mexico’s so-called “anti-junk food laws.”

Like in the U.S., Mexico faces a severe obesity and overweight problem. The authorities are trying to stop those health issues with a new labeling system for processed food, while banning the sales of those products to the underaged. But the strategy is being confronted, and even considered a distractor from the pandemic.

Learn more here.


Virus crisis easing across Sun Belt but could heat up again

AP

The torrid coronavirus summer across the Sun Belt is easing after two disastrous months that brought more than 35,000 deaths. Whether the outbreak will heat up again after Labor Day and the resumption of school and football in the land of Friday Night Lights remains to be seen.

Seven of the nine states along the nation’s Southern and Western rim are seeing drops in three important gauges — new deaths, new cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus. Alabama is the only state in the region to see all three numbers rising; Mississippi’s deaths are up, but positive rates and cases are dropping.

Learn more here.

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