March 25, 2021

News roundup: Ducey lifts more COVID restrictions, Pima County expands vaccine eligibility

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, March 25.

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 837,987 | Deaths 16,874

On Thursday, March 25, Arizona reported 138 new cases of COVID-19 and 32 additional deaths. Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order lifting mask mandates and restrictions on large gatherings Thursday.

Arizona governor lifts mask mandates, re-opens bars


PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is prohibiting government mask mandates and allowing bars and nightclubs shuttered for months to open their doors without restrictions.

Ducey’s move Thursday leaves in place few of the restrictions he implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus. His order still allows businesses to enforce mask mandates if they want, but cities, towns and counties must lift theirs.

Restrictions on gatherings of 50 or more people also were lifted, but organizers are required to “encourage” safety precautions like social distancing.

The Republican governor cites rising vaccination rates and the opening of vaccine appointments to all adults, as well as a declining number of infections and hospitalizations.

Learn more here.

Pima County expands COVID-19 vaccines to those age 16 and older


Pima County residents over the age of 16 are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine so long as they meet certain criteria.

Those criteria include certain medical conditions, or living in a congregate facility, or working as an essential worker. A full list is at the bottom of this article.

Any Pima County resident over the age of 55 is eligible to get a vaccine with no job or health restrictions.

Earlier this week, the state announced it would vaccinate anyone over the age of 16 at its four vaccine pods, including the one at the University of Arizona.

Learn more here.

Pima County will bus migrants to Tucson


The Pima County Board of Supervisors Wednesday voted to pick up the tab for bussing asylum-seeking migrants from outlying desert towns to Tucson shelters, after the Border Patrol started dropping them at places like Ajo and Three Points.

The Border Patrol claims it can't afford to bring them all the way to Tucson without overspending its budget, which is against federal law.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says the change is just one of the problems the county is having with the federal agency, which also includes poor communication.

The board voted to direct Huckelberry to contract with bus companies to transport the migrants, in the hope that the federal government would reimburse the county later.

Learn more here.

Ducey offers to "revisit" FEMA vaccine offer


Governor Doug Ducey Wednesday signaled a willingness to reconsider an offer by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up two COVID vaccination sites in Pima County.

Last week state officials declined FEMA's offer, despite support from the county. The state's refusal left county officials frustrated. Democratic county supervisor Adelita Grijalva said it's wrong for state officials to block the aid when the county wants it.

Supervisors, in a rare unanimous vote, decided to ask the governor to reverse the FEMA decision, and if that fails, to appeal directly to FEMA for assistance.

Later, at a news conference in Tucson, Ducey said he would reconsider because of the board's vote.

Learn more here.

Democratic state Rep. Randy Friese enters congressional race


State Rep. Randy Friese of Tucson announced Thursday he’s running for Congress, joining a fellow Democratic legislator in what could become a crowded race to replace retiring Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.

Friese is a trauma surgeon who has served in the Arizona House since 2015.

State Sen. Kirsten Engel, also from Tucson, announced her candidacy Friday.

Friese’s candidacy announcement cited his background as a U.S. Navy Medical Corps veteran and a retired University of Arizona College of Medicine professor and his treatment of then-U.S. Rep. Gabriel Giffords after she was critically wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011 mass shooting in Tucson.

Learn more here.

After 3 days with no COVID deaths, Navajo Nation reports 2


WINDOW ROCK — The Navajo Nation on Wednesday reported 10 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths. It was the first deaths reported by the tribe after three days without any coronavirus-related fatalities.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe’s numbers to 30,021 cases and 1,235 known deaths since the pandemic began.

The Navajo Nation had a soft reopening last week with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions. Still, mask mandates and daily curfews remain on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Tribal health officials say nearly 197,000 vaccine shots have been administered so far.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation President Nez Testifies On Radiation Exposure Compensation Act

Fronteras Desk

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez testified before the House Judiciary Committee during a discussion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

About three decades ago, Congress tried to address a growing concern about the health problems caused by uranium exposure during the U.S. nuclear weapons buildup.

The act covered uranium miners and people who lived close to test sites, known as downwinders.

But Nez and others testified that the act has fallen short of its goals, and should be extended beyond 2022, when it is set to expire. He said there are hundreds of abandoned mines in the Navajo Nation.

Learn more here.

Arizona governor signs online dating, fertility fraud bills


PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has signed legislation that allows lawsuits against a fertility doctor for secretly using their own sperm or ovum to impregnate a woman.

The Republican governor also signed another bill requiring online dating services to inform members if they have been in contact with a member who has been banned for fraud.

The proposals were among 37 bills the Republican governor signed into law on Wednesday, including three Ducey called “responsible” criminal justice reform measures.

Learn more here.

Bill changed to limit releasing video from Arizona troopers


PHOENIX — Legislation to equip state troopers with body-worn cameras has been modified to prohibit the Arizona Department of Public Safety from releasing video unless it “involves a criminal act.”

The Arizona Republic reported that the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday unanimously advanced the amended bill to the Senate floor for a final vote. The measure would set aside $1.5 million each year from 2022 through 2026 to buy and equip troopers with cameras.

DPS is the largest law enforcement agency in Arizona that doesn't use body cameras.

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee says he added the amendment to protect people’s privacy. Several lawmakers expressed concern limiting public transparency.

Learn more here.

Arizona AG sues over tax cut ban in Biden virus aid law


PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has sued the U.S. Treasury Department over a provision in President Joe Biden’s massive coronavirus relief law that bars states from using the cash they get to directly or indirectly cut taxes.

The Arizona Republican contends in Thursday's lawsuit that the provision is unconstitutional because it is ambiguous and imposes on Arizona’s sovereignty by attempting to control state budget decisions.

The lawsuit was filed despite Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen telling Brnovich that the American Rescue Plan Act does not bar states from cutting taxes, only blocking Arizona from using the $4.8 billion it will get to backfill those tax cuts.

Learn more here.

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