March 18, 2020 / Modified mar 18, 2020 1:55 p.m.

Arizona coronavirus news briefs, March 18

AZPM and AP coverage of COVID-19 impacting Tucson and the state: Cities restrict businesses, Arizona primary and more.

A roundup of coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak as of midday March 18. For more coverage, visit our resource page. This story may be updated.


Number of Arizona cases up to 27

(AZPM) The number of coronavirus cases in Arizona was up to 27 as of early afternoon Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health Services.

That includes five cases in Pima County and 11 in Maricopa County. Health officials said the total number was reduced by one because one test in Maricopa County came back negative. The department says the overall number of people tested as of Wednesday midday was 265, according to the ADHS website.


Gov. Ducey visits Tucson hospital

(AZPM) Gov. Doug Ducey was at Banner University Hospital in Tucson Tuesday. He didn’t roll out any new restrictions or policies to deal with the coronavirus during his visit, but said his team was staying on the leading edge of national policy and was relying on data and science to drive any future decisions.

Ducey said the state was running low on blood supplies and food banks needed restocking and he asked for Arizonans to step up to meet the need.

Speaking after the governor, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, Dr. Cara Christ, said the number of commercial labs doing testing has grown and now includes Labcorps, Quest, Arap, Mayo Clinic and Tgen. She said the number of labs would continue to grow in the coming days and weeks.


Pima County supervisors approve employee sick leave

(AZPM) Pima County Supervisors approved sweeping changes to the sick leave policy for county employees Tuesday. While some county officials had concerns about the details, chairman Richard Elias said it was mainly about meeting workers' needs during the coronavirus pandemic:

"What we're voting on is essentially granting time-off to our employees based on hardship, based on illness, based on vulnerable populations within their households," Elias said.

Among the changes, county employees will now be able to use all their available sick time to care for an ill family member. Previously, there was a 40- hour limit. In addition, employees who use up their available sick leave will be able to draw up to 80 hours in advance, and earn it back over time.

They can also use sick leave to stay at home with a healthy child when school is closed. The current policy requires employees to use their vacation time for that.

The board scheduled a special meeting Thursday for a final vote on the new policy.


Phoenix, Tucson order closures of bars, restaurants

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff are ordering bars, gyms and other indoor facilities to close immediately and restaurants to offer to-go service only in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The mayors of Phoenix and Tucson declared a state of emergency Tuesday afternoon. Restaurants were given until 8 p.m. to convert to drive-thru, delivery or pick-up only. The mayor of Flagstaff was the first to make the decision with an official proclamation on Monday.

The closures come as state health officials identified three more coronavirus cases, including the first two on the Arizona portion of the Navajo reservation in Navajo County.


Getting coronavirus updates in Spanish is mixed bag in US

PHOENIX (AP) — As government officials across the country warn about the dangers of the coronavirus, they’re doing so predominantly in English. They’re potentially not reaching the millions of Spanish speakers in the U.S. who aren’t proficient in English to make sure they know how to stay healthy during a global pandemic.

In Arizona, the health department website doesn't have Spanish-language updates. But in Washington state, where most coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have occurred, officials have led the way in Spanish messaging and reaching people in many other languages. Advocacy groups and Spanish-language media are filling in the gaps as cities and states say they're working to translate guidance.


Arizona elections chief seeks move toward all-mail elections

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's top election official is asking lawmakers to let counties run elections entirely by mail later this year if it's necessary to protect election workers and voters from the coronavirus outbreak.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said Wednesday that “we need to prepare now for any eventuality.”

The request was met skeptically by Republican state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who leads the Senate committee overseeing election measures. She says the proposal is unnecessary because voters can already request a mail ballot for any reason.

Thousands of voters cast a ballot Tuesday on the Democratic presidential primary amid extra sanitation precautions. Arizona's primary for all other races is in August, and the general election is in November.


Arizona House OKs some remote voting as budget introduced

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House approved a rule change Tuesday that will allow as many as six members to vote without being in the chamber.

The change came over opposition of minority Democrats who said it allows the House Speaker to pick winners and losers during a health crisis. One Democrat joined all Republicans in approving the change that allows House Speaker Rusty Bowers to pick who can vote remotely.

The Senate doesn't now plan to allow remote voting. The House also introduced a basic state budget expected to pass this week and allow lawmakers to adjourn until the coronavirus crisis ebbs.


Trump mulls sending all who cross border illegally to Mexico

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration is considering a plan to turn back all people who cross the border illegally from Mexico because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two administration officials said Tuesday that the president has the power to take such action during a pandemic like the coronavirus outbreak but is still considering whether to do so. The officials spoke Tuesday to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the plan hasn’t been announced.

An advocacy group says “the administration is using the pandemic as a pretext to advance its long-term goal of curtailing asylum rights for people fleeing persecution.”


Arizona primary marked by coronavirus concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) — Voters in Arizona cast their ballots in the Democratic primary during a pandemic that has stunted travel, closed schools, forced millions of workers to stay home and canceled campaign rallies.

Many voters Tuesday expressed concerns that they or their family members will be infected with the new coronavirus. That’s according to a wide-ranging AP VoteCast survey of the Democratic primary electorate in Arizona.

VoteCast also found voters ranked health care as the most important issue facing the country, well above climate change, the economy, race relations, foreign policy and many other social issues. The Associated Press declared Joe Biden the winner in Arizona.


Politics in time of coronavirus: Arizona quietly picks Biden

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona’s moment in the presidential political spotlight disappeared as the nation mobilized to confront the coronavirus outbreak.

It left an anticlimactic election that didn’t feel much like an election. The candidates canceled their rallies and stopped door-to-door outreach to voters. Then the debate that was supposed to highlight Arizona’s emergence as a national battleground was moved from Phoenix to Washington, D.C.

The television ads supporting Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders came fast and furious. Campaign volunteers made phone calls and texted voters. But there was no last-minute get-out-the-vote barnstorm. The candidates’ attempts to engage voters came in the form of stilted virtual events from the other side of the country.


US nursing homes warn of looming shortage of masks and gowns

WASHINGTON (AP) — A nursing home industry group is warning that many facilities risk running out of protective masks and gowns for staff by next week and at least one already had to resort to using plastic garbage bags to make gowns to protect staff against the coronavirus.

Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer with the American Health Care Association, told reporters on a call Wednesday that “drastic action” is needed to conserve gowns and masks. More than 15,000 nursing homes care for about 1.4 million patients nationwide. Federal officials say preventing nursing home outbreaks is now one of their chief concerns.


US Census Bureau suspends field operations on virus concerns

The U.S. Census Bureau has suspended field operations for two weeks, citing the health and safety of its workers and the U.S. public from the novel coronavirus. The Census Bureau made the announcement Wednesday, a week after the start of the 2020 census count.

Bureau officials said they were continuing to monitor all operations related to the 2020 census in the wake of the virus spread. As of Wednesday, 11 million households had answered the census questions. Most census workers won't head into the field until May, when they'll knock on the doors of homes that haven't turned in their questionnaires.


Reds' employee in Arizona tests positive for coronavirus

CINCINNATI (AP) — An employee who worked at the Cincinnati Reds spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The employee lives in Arizona and has been self-quarantined, along with other members of the Reds staff who were in close contact. Major League Baseball has shut down spring training and pushed back the start of the season until at least mid-May because of the pandemic.

While players in the NBA and the NHL have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, no Major League Baseball player is known to have beeen infected.

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