January 7, 2021 / Modified jan 7, 2021 5:51 p.m.

News roundup: AZ called global COVID ‘hot spot’, local bars challenge county curfew, TEP rates rise

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Jan. 7.

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 584,593 | Deaths 9,741

On Thursday, Jan. 7, Arizona reported 9,913 new cases of COVID-19 and 297 additional deaths. Thursday’s single-day death toll is the highest in the state since the pandemic began, breaking a record previously set on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. Health officials attribute the high number to recent reviews of death certificates.

Local bars and restaurants sue Pima County over curfew


A group of bars and restaurants filed a lawsuit against Pima County and other county officials claiming the 10 p.m. curfew the county enacted in December is unlawful and discriminatory towards businesses deemed non-essential.

The owners of Cobra Arcade Bar Tucson, The Maverick and HighWire Lounge filed the lawsuit Tuesday, said Grant Krueger who owns The Maverick and Union Public House. Those named in the suit are the county, the county supervisors, Pima County Health Department, Chuck Huckelberry, in his role of the Pima County Administrator, and Dr. Theresa Cullen, as Pima County Health Department Director.

Krueger said that he thinks the curfew doesn't take into account the effect an early closure has on the employees of businesses during their most profitable hours.

Krueger and the other plaintiffs said in the suit that the Pima County Board of Supervisors overstepped their legislative powers by establishing the curfew and that it infringes on one of Gov. Doug Ducey's executive orders and the state constitution.

Learn more here.

Free COVID-19 antibody treatment available in Tucson


Tucson Medical Center is one of the first sites in the nation to deliver a new antibody treatment designed to keep vulnerable coronavirus patients from having to be hospitalized. The program is funded by the federal government.

Assistant U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Doctor John Redd says the two antibody treatments, made by the drug makers Lily and Regeneron, are especially helpful for people who are at the highest risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. "They can reduce the hospitalization rate from approximately 15% to 4%, so they can reduce the rate of hospitalizations around 70%...that would be a great boon to everyone to reduce the hospitalization rate," Redd said.

The Regeneron treatment is the same one President Donald Trump received during his short stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in October, according to a spokesman for HHS.

TMC President and CEO Judy Rich says the infusion clinic is already up and running.

Arizona reports nearly 300 virus deaths, almost 10K cases


PHOENIX — Arizona on Thursday reported a pandemic-high number of deaths for the second time this week along with nearly 10,000 additional known COVID-19 cases. As on Tuesday when the state reported a then-record 253 deaths, the state said most of the 297 deaths reported Thursday were newly attributed to recent reviews of past death certificates.

The state reported 9,913 newly confirmed cases Thursday. That increased the state’s pandemic totals to 584,593 cases with 9,741 deaths.

The surge has stressed Arizona’s health care system, and the state’s coronavirus dashboard reported a record high of 4,920 COVID-19 patients occupying inpatient hospital beds Wednesday.

Learn more here.

Arizona deemed 'hot spot of the world' amid virus surge


PHOENIX — Five months after President Donald Trump hailed Arizona as a model for how it dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts warned that the state has become “the hot spot of the world.”

Some say health restrictions the governor has been hesitant to impose could have tamped down the crisis.

State health officials reported Wednesday a triple-digit number of new virus-related deaths for the second day in a row and more than 7,200 daily cases, with hospitals strained by a record number of patients.

The head of the Arizona Public Health Association predicts Arizona will soon look like Los Angeles, where a COVID-19 surge has created an oxygen shortage and ambulances being turned away.

Learn more here.

As Arizona becomes world hot spot, focus put on governor


PHOENIX — Since early in the pandemic, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has resisted instituting restrictive measures to try to keep the coronavirus cases from rising. All of those choices by the Republican governor are now getting renewed scrutiny as the Grand Canyon state becomes what health officials call the latest “hot spot of the world” because of soaring case loads.

Ducey has rejected calls from health care leaders to tighten restrictions, arguing it would cause people to be out of work. He also dismissed a proposal to have all public schools go to virtual learning for two weeks after the holidays.

Health officials are urging new measures as cases skyrocket.

Learn more here.

New year brings higher rates for TEP customers


At the tail end of 2020, the Arizona Corporation Commission finally approved Tucson Electric Power's request to increase rates, which the utility had submitted back in May 2019. As a result, starting this year, residential customers will see their bills rise by an average of about $4.93 a month, though exact amounts will depend on individual usage.

The increase comes at a time of financial hardship for many, due to the pandemic and related job losses and economic downturn. TEP spokesperson Joseph Barrios said the utility acknowledges the timing of increased electric bills isn't ideal, but said the company needs to recoup the cost of investments—about $1.2 billion—it's made in the last five years.

Those include the natural-gas fueled reciprocating internal combustion engines at the Sundt Generating Station in Tucson and the purchase of a second unit at the natural gas-fired Gila River Generating Station in 2019. Those changes will offset the loss of power generation from two coal-fired power plants that are being retired. Barrios said these changes are part of TEP's plan to move toward more renewable energy generation, with a goal of 70% by 2035.

Still, TEP has received criticism from groups including the Sierra Club for not making the move to renewables more quickly and depending on natural gas as a transition fuel

Police: Pima County Republican Party headquarters vandalized


The Pima County Republican Party says their headquarters in Tucson was vandalized overnight. Photos on the party’s website posted Thursday show shattered glass on the front door of the headquarters.

Officials say nobody was inside the building at the time.

Tucson police say it appears a rock was thrown through a glass door, leaving a hole but not large enough for anyone to enter. Police say they don’t have any immediate suspects.

Newly elected county GOP Party Chairman Shelley Kais said in a statement that “thugs” vandalized the headquarters and “the people of Tucson will not stand for violence and lawlessness.”

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation reports 222 new COVID-19 cases, 1 more death


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 222 new COVID-19 cases and one more death. The latest figures increased the tribe’s totals since the pandemic began to 24,247 cases and 838 known deaths.

Health officials said nearly 211,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus on the reservation and more than 12,500 have recovered. The number of infections is thought to be far higher than reported because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says the tribe is beginning to see the results of the recent holidays with the high number of new COVID-19 cases.

Learn more here.

As Vaccinations Expand, More Undocumented Arizonans To Become Eligible


Arizona’s most populous county says it will soon make COVID-19 vaccines available to people who do a wider variety of essential jobs, like teaching.

The state is home to a large undocumented workforce that will more and more be vaccine-eligible as the so-called Phase 1B distribution expands beyond.

A state health department spokesperson said they're in the early stages of building a campaign to convince high-risk populations, like undocumented people, that vaccines are safe and they work.

Learn more here.

Arizona border deaths hit 10-year high after record heat


PHOENIX — A project that maps where the bodies of border-crossers were recovered from Arizona’s inhospitable deserts, valleys and mountains says it documented 227 deaths in 2020. That was the highest in a decade following the hottest, driest summer in state history.

The previous annual high mapped by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office and the nonprofit Humane Borders was 224 migrant deaths in 2010.

Enforcement efforts in California and Texas over the years have pushed migrants into dangerous terrain in Arizona without easy access to food and water. Some advocates believe border wall construction also has played a role.

Learn more here.

Arizona Republican Party chair to seek reelection


PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward said she would seek reelection as the leader of the state party.

The Arizona Republic reported Ward’s announcement Tuesday ended months of speculation about potential plans to run for statewide office or join another effort to promote the populist politics made popular by outgoing President Donald Trump.

Party spokesman Zachery Henry says only the state GOP's current treasurer has formally declared he would seek nomination for the party chair.

The election will take place at the party’s annual state meeting on Jan. 23.

Learn more here.

No indoor Masses in metro Tucson for 4 weeks due to COVID-19


Due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Pima County, Catholic churches across metro Tucson are canceling indoor Mass for four weeks. Diocese of Tucson officials announced Tuesday that indoor mass celebrations and baptisms will be suspended starting Friday until Feb. 5.

They say masses can be held outdoors and pastors may request permission from the bishop to hold an indoor mass. Diocese officials say funerals and weddings can be held indoors, but they will be limited to 25 people while baptisms will be limited to 10 people. Gatherings before or after ceremonies will not be allowed on Diocese property.

The Diocese will hold a review on Feb. 1 to discuss any changes regarding the coronavirus pandemic before the suspension’s scheduled end.

Learn more here.

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