December 18, 2020 / Modified dec 18, 2020 5:13 p.m.

News roundup: Vaccine arrives in Pima County, checking in on the Santa Cruz River

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Dec. 18.

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 442,671 | Deaths 7,819

On Friday, Dec. 18, Arizona reported 7,635 new cases of COVID-19 and 142 additional deaths. It is the third day in a row with over 100 reported deaths. As of Dec. 17, only 7% of intensive care unit beds in the state remain unused. That’s the lowest percent since the pandemic began, state health department data shows.

Checking in on the health of the Santa Cruz River

The Buzz

In the last decade, the water quality of the Santa Cruz River has improved significantly, creating better and healthier river habitat for plants, insects and animals. This week, The Buzz discusses the health of the Santa Cruz River today with local experts, and brings an update on the state's effort to create a set of regulations to protect surface water quality.

Listen to the full episode here.

COVID-19 vaccine distribution underway in Arizona

Arizona 360

Tucson Medical Center CEO Judy Rich discusses the hospital’s role in helping distribute vaccines to high-risk health care workers. Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia also explains the logistics around distribution.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona and University of Arizona law professor Tara Sklar explain some of the legal stipulations related to the vaccine and its authorization from the federal government.

Tony Paniagua introduces us to a University of Arizona student who participated in Moderna’s vaccine trial study.

An emergency medicine physician at Valleywise Health in Phoenix shares his experiences treating COVID-19 patients and working on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Watch the full episode here.

Arizona to receive fewer vaccine doses than expected next week, health department says


Arizona is getting fewer doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine than expected for the week of Dec. 20, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Arizona will receive 41,925 doses instead of the 70,200 the state was expecting to order. The Department of Health Services asked the CDC for an explanation of why it will receive fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine but as of Friday afternoon had not yet received an answer.

The state was also allocated 119,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Arizona placed the order for those and expects to receive them by Dec. 23. Pima County is in line to get 17,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

According to ADHS, 37,300 of the Moderna doses will go to residents and staff in skilled nursing facilities beginning the week of Dec. 27.

Banner-Phoenix morgue overflows with COVID-19 dead


In another sign of how the COVID-19 pandemic is stressing medical care facilities, the state's largest health care provider has started renting refrigerator trucks because it's running out of space in its morgues.

"One of these trucks is currently in use at Banner-University Medical Center Phoenix and another is at a Banner storage facility on standby," said Banner Health’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Marjorie Bessel, during a news conference Friday.

Bessel says the company is working to hire the final 300 employees it needs to respond to the pandemic, on top of 2,000 Banner has added to its staff recently.

Learn more here.

COVID-19 vaccine came quickly, but not at the expense of safety, expert says


Vaccines usually take years to develop, but in the case of COVID-19 it took less than a year. Experts watching the process said part of the reason is the research has been going on for years.

Government backing also led to the quick development of the vaccines, according to Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunobiologist at the University of Arizona. Part of the development process for a vaccine is determining market viability at different stages of the process. That is where the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed helped by paying for the manufacture of the drugs.

It is possible that some people will still have adverse reactions to the vaccine. But Bhattacharya cautions the public not to take one or two cases of adverse reactions as a reason not to get vaccinated.

Learn more here.

UA project assists tribal college students in STEAM majors


The University of Arizona has been awarded a four-year grant to encourage and support Diné College students to transfer to the university to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math majors.

The Advancing Postsecondary Attainment and Research in STEAM for Tribal Students project aims to increase the number of Native American students in science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math (STEAM) majors at the UA through mentorship and other forms of institutional assistance. (The "A" in STEAM is commonly used elsewhere to refer to "arts.")

These are the fields where some communities in tribal lands could use more experts. During the pandemic the lack of running water, electricity, food, access to health care or communication infrastructure have made national news.

Learn more here.

City employees minimum wage to increase to $15


The minimum wage for city of Tucson employees will increase to $15 an hour, Mayor Regina Romero announced Friday afternoon. The increase will begin in February, KGUN reports.

Arizona reports over 100 virus deaths for 3rd straight day


PHOENIX — Arizona has reported over 100 additional known coronavirus deaths for the third straight day and one of the largest daily increases in cases during the current surge.

The Department of Health Services on Friday reported 142 additional known deaths and 7,635 additional confirmed cases. Those figures bring the statewide totals to 7,819 deaths and 442,671 cases.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Arizona reached 3,931 on Thursday, the latest in a string of pandemic records started earlier this month. Before the current surge, the previous daily hospitalization record was around 3,500 on July 13 during the state’s summer surge.

Arizona hospitals are nearly at capacity, with only 7% of beds available and not in use.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation reports 287 new COVID-19 cases, 1 more death


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 287 new COVID-19 cases and one new related death.

In all, the tribe now has reported 20,395 coronavirus cases resulting in 732 deaths since the pandemic began. Health officials say more than 186,000 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested and nearly 11,000 have recovered from COVID-19.

Navajo Department of Health officials said 77 communities on the reservation still have uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus. Tribal officials have said nearly all intensive care unit beds on the reservation are being used as COVID-19 cases surge.

Learn more here.

Maricopa County to fight Legislature's election records ask


PHOENIX — The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors says it will fight a sweeping subpoena issued by the state Senate seeking a raft of data and copies of all mail-in ballots cast in the Nov. 3 election that Democrat Joe Biden won.

County supervisors say the subpoena seeks personal information on voters that is illegal to release and raises constitutional issues about voter privacy.

The five-member board dominated by Republicans voted 4-1 on Friday to file a court complaint questioning the legality of the subpoena. It was issued by the state Senate earlier this week after board Chairman Clint Hickman spent hours testifying before a committee.

Learn more here.

Power plant stacks that loomed over Arizona come down


FLAGSTAFF — Three towering concrete stacks that were among the last visual reminders of a shuttered power plant came down Friday.

People lined roadways and gathered in parking lots near Page, Arizona, to watch it happen. The 775-foot structures loomed over the Navajo Generating Station and a region that includes iconic tourist attractions.

The plant shut down last year as natural gas became a cheaper alternative for energy. It had been both a symbol of economic prosperity, providing steady employment and revenue for the Navajo Nation. Environmentalists fought for years to shutter it because of its reliance on fossil fuel, water use and pollution.

Learn more here.

US: More must be done to protect Colorado River from drought


FLAGSTAFF — A set of guidelines for managing the Colorado River helped seven Western states through a dry spell. But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it's not enough to keep key reservoirs from plummeting amid persistent drought and climate change.

Millions of people in seven states and Mexico rely on the river for drinking water and growing crops.

The bureau was tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of the 2007 guidelines that give the states an idea of how much water to expect each year. It released a report Friday saying stronger measures are needed in the future.

States, tribes and others will use the report to start negotiating what will replace the guidelines in 2026.

Learn more here.

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