March 31, 2020 / Modified mar 31, 2020 5:08 p.m.

Arizona coronavirus news in brief, March 31

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona: High school graduation, 3D-printed masks, and more.

Arizona COVID-19 map, June 4

Cases: 22,753 | Deaths: 996 | Tests: 350,902*
Click on a county to see totals and daily increases reported by the state. Daily changes don't necessarily reflect the previous 24 hours. Health experts say case data significantly underrepresents the actual spread of the virus due to limited testing. *Test numbers combine serology and PCR tests.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: ADHS, county health departments, Census 2018 Quick Facts

Select regional coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak as of early afternoon, March 31. For more coverage, visit our resource page. This story may be updated.

High school seniors to graduate despite closure

AZPM, March 31

Members of the Arizona Board of Education have adopted an emergency rule that prevents schools from withholding credit or a diploma because students missed instructional time due to school closure.

The decision comes a day after Gov. Doug Ducey announced schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year.

Schools still retain discretion in granting academic credit or diplomas, but the loss of time in the classroom can't be the sole reason for withholding either.

The board said unanimously that schools can award diplomas if a student "was on track to meet the minimum course of study and competency requirements prior to the school closure."

Read more.

Groups question risk, expense of border wall construction amid pandemic

AZPM, March 31

Gov. Doug Ducey’s shelter-in-place order tightened COVID-19 precautions in Arizona this week. But while most people are being asked to stay home, construction on the border wall continues. Groups say that doesn’t make sense in the middle of a pandemic.

Dan Millis, a borderlands campaigner with the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, estimated in some cases border wall construction even appears to be accelerating. He said the project is costing more than $18 billion in government funds that could be put toward coronavirus relief. And these mass construction sites make social distancing impossible.

“You have large crews of dozens of people in close proximity to each other. Those folks, in this case, come from all over the United States and beyond,” he said.

Millis said many of those workers make frequent trips to visit family in other states. He said that puts added stress on resources like lodging, food supplies and health care in places like Douglas and Ajo.

Read more.

Navajo Nation implementing curfew

AZPM, March 30

The Navajo Nation said it would implement a curfew starting Monday night in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 on the Nation.

President Jonathan Nez discussed the 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and other efforts the Nation is taking to lower the number of people infected with the new coronavirus Sunday during a Facebook Live event. Though the sovereign nation issued a shelter-in-place emergency order on March 20, there were 115 confirmed cases of the virus at the time of the announcement. The Navajo Epidemiology Center reported 13 more cases by Monday afternoon.

Read more.

Businesses may get COVID-19 relief loans as soon as Friday

AP, March 31

NEW YORK (AP) — Small businesses seeking loans through the government's $2 trillion coronavirus relief package could receive money as soon as Friday.

That prediction came Tuesday from senior administration officials who spoke to reporters about details of the loan program. Companies will be able to submit applications on Friday. With an approval process that's been stripped down from the one used for traditional business loans, money can be available to companies the same day.

The loans are available to small businesses ranging from sole proprietors and freelancers to companies with up to 500 employees.

Read more.

Federal virus rescue plan could pump $4.2B into Arizona

AP, March 31

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus aid plan is expected to send about $4.2 billion into Arizona.

The state Legislature's budget analysts say that includes $2.8 billion to help the state and big cities and counties and new money for K-12 schools and public universities. The state alone is expected to get $1.55 billion to deal with the effects of the virus.

The Arizona Department of Health Services added four new virus deaths to their count on Tuesday, bringing the total to 24. The state has now tallied 1,289 cases across all 15 counties.

Read more.

White House projects 100K to 240K US deaths from virus

AP, March 31

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is warning Americans to brace for a “rough two-week period” ahead as the White House is releasing new projections that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Public health officials stress that the number could be less if people change their behavior. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, says, “We really believe we can do a lot better than that” if all Americans take seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease.

Read more.

Calls mount to close Grand Canyon after resident gets virus

AP, March 31

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Calls are mounting for the federal government to close Grand Canyon National Park after a resident of the iconic park tested positive for the coronavirus and has been in isolation.

Members of Congress and city, county and tribal officials have urged the Interior Department to approve a request from the park to close. The Park Service has been deciding whether to shut down individual sites on a park-by-park basis, in consultation with state and local health officials.

Neither the Interior Department nor the Park Service immediately responded to requests Tuesday on the status of the Grand Canyon's request.

Read more.

Too little too late? Experts decry Mexico virus policy delay

AP, March 31

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico has started taking tougher measures against the coronavirus after weeks of its president hugging followers and saying religious medals would protect him.

Some experts warn the sprawling country of 129 million is acting too late and testing too little to prevent the type of crisis unfolding across the border in the U.S. Last week it banned non-essential government work as confirmed cases climbed. But it waited until late Monday to extend that to other business sectors, and to bar gatherings of more than 50 people.

By Tuesday, Mexico reported more than 1,000 confirmed cases and at least 28 deaths — figures experts say greatly understates the true number of victims.

Read more.

Phoenix closing playground equipment at parks due to virus

AP, March 31

PHOENIX (AP) — The city of Phoenix is closing playground equipment at city parks to help restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

The closure announced late Monday by the state's most populous city takes effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday. That's also when a statewide stay-at-home order issued Monday by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will take effect. State officials on Monday also announced that Arizona schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Phoenix officials said the closure order for playground equipment also includes fitness equipment and basketball and volleyball courts in parks but that parks green spaces and walking areas and certain other facilities remain open.

Unemployment grows, so has demand at Phoenix-area food banks

AP, March 30

PHOENIX — Some food banks in the Phoenix metro area are reporting a huge increase of people seeking sustenance as unemployment claims continue to grow because of the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Mary’s Food Bank served 1,250 people at its largest Phoenix facility on March 23 compared with 495 a week earlier. A spokesman says St. Mary’s has served more than 1,000 people every day since March 17. The facility had never before served 1,200 people in one day outside of the holiday season.

United Food Bank reports it distributed food to an estimated 2,000 households last Friday at the Mesa Convention Center. Nearly 89,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week compared with 3,500 a week before the health crisis.

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