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/ Modified jan 20, 2021 3:54 p.m.

News roundup: COVID hits farm workers hard, county administrator gets new contract

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Jan. 20.

Arizona COVID-19 cases: 7 days

Map shows COVID-19 cases and case rates over the week preceding the last update.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies, Census Bureau. Case reports do not correspond to day of test.

Cases 690,544 | Deaths 11,528

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Arizona reported 4,845 new cases of COVID-19 and 262 additional deaths. While the vaccination effort moves forward, health officials say COVID-19 tests are far below where they should be, the Associated Press reports.

Health workers struggle to understand COVID-19 impact on Cochise County farmworkers


Older adults and some frontline workers in Arizona are now getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Arizonans working in other essential positions like farm work still have a while to wait, but those communities have already been hit hard by the virus.

In Cochise County, farming is a bedrock industry. U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest count showed more than a thousand farms countywide.

Linda Cifuentes is a capacity coordinator for Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center, a rural health network serving border communities. Her organization works with a handful of community health workers who live in Winchester Heights, a tight-knit community of farmworkers in Cochise County. They told her working during the pandemic can be risky.

Learn more here.

Pima County Administrator gets new contract, takes pay cut


Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has a new four-year contract. But the long-time chief executive didn't get everything he wanted.

Huckelberry brought his contract proposal on January 5. The board wasn't ready to make a four-year commitment on the spot, and some didn't like Huckelberry's request for a pay raise. Two weeks later the board was ready with a counterproposal, with a slight pay cut instead of a raise.

The new contract gives Huckelberry pay and benefits worth $292,000 a year, $9,000 less than he earns now, but still well ahead of any other county administrator in Arizona. Several officials said a pay raise would be unseemly in middle of major public health crisis.

Learn more here.

New lawsuit challenges legality of 'Remain in Mexico' program's migrant child removals


For immigrant rights advocates in Arizona and across the border, Joe Biden's presidency presents a chance to end Trump administration policies like the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP.

The program, also known as Remain in Mexico, is a Trump administration policy that forces migrants applying for asylum to await U.S. immigration hearings in Mexican border towns. Nearly 70,000 people have been subject to the policy so far, often waiting months or more than a year for hearings.

On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to end the program on day one, but questions remain about how and when that will happen. Now, even as President Donald Trump leaves office, lawsuits against the policy are still coming in.

Learn more here.

Pima County Superior Court gets 3 judges to fill vacancies


Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed Jeffrey Sklar, Lisa Abrams and Gary Cohen to Pima County Superior Court to fill some judicial vacancies.

The vacancies were created by the appointment of Judge John Hinderaker to the United States District Court, District of Arizona, and the retirement of judges Gus Aragón and Leslie Miller.

Sklar has been serving since 2018 as a Pima County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem. Abrams has been serving since 2010 as a commissioner for the Pima County Superior Court. Cohen has been serving as a Pima County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem since 2004.

Learn more here.

More testing urged in Arizona as new COVID-19 cases persist


PHOENIX — Public health experts are warning that more people in Arizona need to get tested as the state remains the worst nationwide for the rate of new COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute research center at Arizona State University, said Wednesday that only about 15,000 virus tests are being administered daily. He says the state should be conducting 80,000 to 100,000 tests a day.

State health officials on Wednesday reported 4,845 additional COVID-19 cases and 262 related deaths. That brings Arizona’s totals since the pandemic began to 690,544 cases and 11,528 deaths.

Navajo nation reports 45 new COVID-19 cases, but no deaths


WINDOW ROCK — Officials on the Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported 45 new COVID-19 cases, but no deaths. The latest figures released bring the total reported coronavirus cases on the reservation to 26,517 with 922 known deaths.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement that while people are getting vaccinated, it’s crucial to keep in mind that another variant of the virus has been found in nearby regions.

Nez says residents still need to remain vigilant and practice health safety measures like staying home. Residents of the vast reservation are still under a stay-at-home order Friday through Monday morning.

On Tuesday, the Navajo Department of Health identified 75 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 from Jan. 1-14.

Learn more here.

Sonora’s Second Coronavirus Wave Likely To Be Worse Than First

Fronteras Desk

With new daily coronavirus cases and death records recently broken, the situation in neighboring Sonora is going from bad to worse.

On Saturday, 611 cases and 61 deaths were announced, both new one-day highs, according to Sonoran Health Secretary Enrique Clausen. The record-breaking day came after weeks of rapid growth in both measures, and he put the blame on Sonorans continuing to gather despite the risks.

University of Sonora data scientist Julio Waissman says, "In fact, right now, if we look at cases, the second wave is going to be worse than the first." Waissman coordinates the University of Sonora’s data science masters program, and he and other data scientists at the university have been collaborating with the state health department on pandemic data analysis for months.

Group Calls On Biden To Remove Parts Of Trump Border Wall

Fronteras Desk

A group of border region activists and a member of Congress want to hold incoming President Joe Biden to his campaign promise that he will halt border wall construction on the southwest border.

The group included a tribal leader from Southern California, an attorney for a south Texas orphanage in the path of the wall, and Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva. The group used the meeting to call on Biden to hold to his promise.

Grijalva said he would ask for some of the border wall to be removed where it has damaged surrounding environments. But he did not call on Biden to remove the entire 450 miles of border wall put up under President Donald Trump.

In southern Arizona, work on the border wall continued this past weekend, and this truck drove the length of the border road near Sasabe, spraying the dust down. Pallets of heavy steel remain piled against the massive 30-foot border wall and workers on cranes continued operating atop the fence with days left in the presidency.

Arizona renewable energy standards targeted by GOP lawmakers


PHOENIX — The Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature is moving to strip the state utility regulation commission of the power to require electric utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.

Identical House and Senate proposals would bar the Arizona Corporation Commission from adopting a proposal requiring half the state’s power to come from solar and other renewable sources by 2035 and 100% by 2050.

The move by the Legislature to gut the commission’s right to require utilities to use renewable power comes as the nation is increasingly heading toward getting larger amounts of electricity from solar, wind and other renewable energy.

Learn more here.

Arizona measure would expand tax funds for private schools


PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers are considering legislation to quadruple the size of a program that allows people to use tax money for private school tuition for foster children and students with disabilities.

Republicans advanced the measure out of a Senate committee in a party-line vote Wednesday. They say the program creates more choices for parents who couldn’t otherwise afford private school tuition.

Democrats said the state shouldn’t be further siphoning money from the state treasury that could be used to pay for public schools.

The measure is the latest proposed expansion of Arizona’s wide-ranging programs to aid private and religious schools with public money.

Learn more here.

Forecasters: Rain, snow on tap for drought-weary Southwest


Forecasters say the drought-stricken Southwest can expect some relief from off-and-on wet weather the rest of this week and into next, with rain expected in lower elevations and snow in higher terrain.

The AccuWeather forecasting service said the next round of rain moving through the Southwest through Thursday is likely to be heavier than the quarter of an inch that many areas got Tuesday.

National Weather Service forecasters in Flagstaff in northern Arizona said stronger and colder storms will produce widespread rain and snow this weekend and early next week. Forecasters said increased precipitation is on tap Thursday and again this weekend and early next week.

Learn more here.

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