July 17, 2020 / Modified jul 17, 2020 4:22 p.m.

Back-to-school concerns, border wall, new COVID-19 test

Plus, what polling indicates about issues voters are prioritizing in 2020.

With weeks to go until a new academic year, many school districts are still figuring out what instruction will look like both online and in-person. While the White House wants states to bring students back, some education leaders in Arizona have serious reservations. We discussed some of those concerns with Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams.

“Schools want to plan accordingly and they want to do this right. So the discussion is all around how do you keep kids safe — all the stakeholders and the teachers and staff safe,” Williams said.

Williams said he prefers that parents who can continue distance learning at home do so for the entirety of the new school year.

“I’m going to ask that they really consider doing that for the well-being of everyone, and most importantly themselves,” Williams said.

Recent polling from OH Predictive Insights in Phoenix shows Democratic candidates in closely watched races for U.S. Senate and president leading their Republican incumbents, with months to go until Election Day. Despite being behind, Chief of Research Mike Noble explained that Sen. Martha McSally and President Trump have managed to make gains in recent months.

“The issue we see in our current polling shows McSally down 9, so she’d gained 4 points from before, so she made up a little ground,” Nobel said. “She’s not really fully consolidated her base. Mark Kelly’s base is really strong among Democrats. When you look at all important independents in the middle, 2 to 1, they’re breaking for Mark Kelly.”

Noble also discussed what the results of recent polls reveal about issues voters care about most in 2020.

“When COVID hit, it drove the concern or priority among voters on immigration to the ground,” Noble said. “Immigration is not even a top three issue among Arizona voters right now. It is education, is actually no. 1, health care is no. 2, and no. 3 is jobs and the economy.”

Work continues along Arizona's southern border on more than 60 miles of new, 30-foot bollard fencing. Tony Paniagua reports on how the ongoing construction has given rise to concerns about the project’s impact on the environment. He traveled to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge near the community of Sasabe in Pima County, as well as the Arizona Trail on the Coronado National Memorial in Cochise County.

Like many municipalities across Arizona, the city of Flagstaff has seen revenues drop during the pandemic. During summer the city usually welcomes an influx of visitors looking to escape the heat, and tourism generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the city each year, according to Trace Ward, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ward explained that Flagstaff is still welcoming visitors, but the city wants them to do their part to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus.

As Arizona ramps up testing for COVID-19, options now include a saliva test developed by researchers with Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute. The institute’s director, Dr. Joshua LaBaer, discussed how the testing differs from other methods and how it is being implemented. According to LaBaer, saliva testing requires fewer medical personnel and fewer supplies.

“We don’t have to go through a lot of [personal protective equipment] to collect these samples. In addition, it’s actually a very simple sample to collect, and it’s relatively noninvasive for the person,” LaBaer said. Testing requires a person to spit down a drinking straw into a tube. Results usually take about 24 hours, according to LaBaer.

“Scientifically, it turns out that the saliva samples are as good and maybe even a bit better at detecting the virus. When you think about it, when you use a swab you’re taking a small wiping of a solution and then adding it into saline. Whereas our specimen is entirely from the patient,” LaBaer said.

The saliva tests are primarily offered in the Phoenix metropolitan area by appointment only, which people can sign up for through the Arizona Department of Health Services' website. The university processes about a thousand tests per day, according to LaBaer. It plans to ramp up capacity as the university prepares to welcome back faculty, staff and students in the fall.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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