/ Modified jul 17, 2020 5:25 p.m.

Daily news roundup: Hospital workers on COVID-19 surge, challenges for school districts

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, July 17.

Cases 138,523 | Deaths 2,583 | Diagnostic tests 764,155

Arizona reported 3,910 new cases of novel coronavirus and 91 additional deaths on Friday, July 17. As of July 16, 90% of hospital beds in intensive care units were in use, according to state data. According to the Associated Press, Banner Health will bring in 1,000 nurses from other states to help Arizona hospitals combat COVID-19.

Tucson hospitals balance full patient loads, COVID-19 stress

The Buzz

For weeks, rising coronavirus cases have led to increased hospitalizations and deaths. As Arizona continues to be a global hot spot, health care workers are pleading with the public to take preventative measures like masks, hand-washing and social distancing seriously. This week, The Buzz talks with doctors and nurses at local hospitals and clinics about the challenges of fighting COVID-19 and what the public needs to do to reduce the spread of the disease.

To hear this week's episode of The Buzz, click here.

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

Arizona 360

Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams discusses what challenges district leaders and educators face as they prepare for the new school year and distance learning during the pandemic.

From national races, to Gov. Ducey’s approval rating and issues tracking with voters, Lorraine Rivera learns what polling indicates about this year’s election from pollster Mike Noble with OH Predictive Insights.

Tony Paniagua reports on ongoing construction of new border wall in Southern Arizona where some residents are concerned about the environmental impacts of building.

Discover Flagstaff director Trace Ward discusses precautions the tourism-friendly city has adopted to curb the spread of COVID-19 that leaders want visitors to be aware of before they visit.

Arizona State University’s Dr. Joshua LaBaer discusses the state’s first COVID-19 saliva test developed by researchers he leads at the university’s Biodesign Institute.

For more and to see this week's episode, click here.

Arizona AG asks Supreme Court to decide Tucson election date


Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a dispute between Tucson and the state Legislature over the city’s plans to hold elections in 2021 instead of an even-numbered year.

The Republican attorney general said Friday that Tucson's election plans may violate a 2018 law requiring cities to hold their elections in even-numbered years if their off-year elections show a significantly lower turnout.

Tucson officials say state lawmakers can’t tell them when to hold their city elections. If the Supreme Court sides with Brnovich, Tucson will have to change its election date or lose state funding that amounts to about a quarter of its general fund revenue.

Pima County COVID-19 infection rate below Arizona average


About 13% of the people tested for COVID-19 at Pima County's testing site at the Kino Sports Complex have received positive results since the site opened July 13, according to Pima County health officials.

While rates of positivity can vary depending on the source and the lags in data reported by the state, Arizona's most recently reported data suggests a recent positivity rate of 18% or more, and John's Hopkins University test tracking tool has put Arizona's seven-day average rate above 20% for weeks.

For more and to see a map of COVID-19 test sites in Pima County, click here.

Banner Health to add nurses, others in Arizona amid virus


PHOENIX — The largest health system in Arizona has announced it will add about 1,000 out-of-state nurses and respiratory therapists to its workforce to help with the coronavirus pandemic.

Banner Health Chief Human Resources Officer Naomi Cramer says the company will add 980 workers, about twice the amount added during a busy flu season, because more care is needed for patients with COVID-19. The nurses and respiratory therapists are traveling health care workers who take assignments across the country.

The Arizona Republic reports that Banner Health has also hired 49 per diem physicians and expects to hire 20 more to help with demand resulting from the pandemic.

Learn more here.

Stress rises for unemployed as extra $600 benefit nears end


WASHINGTON — A major source of income for roughly 30 million unemployed people is set to end, threatening their ability to meet rent and pay bills and potentially undercutting the fragile economic recovery.

In March, Congress approved an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits; that additional payment expires next week unless it gets renewed. The unemployment insurance program has emerged as a crucial source of support at a time when the jobless rate is at Depression-era levels.

In May, unemployment benefits made up 6% of all U.S. income, ahead of even Social Security, and up dramatically from February, when it amounted to just 0.1% of national income.

Learn more here.

Border wall project based on outdated model, scathing report finds

Fronteras Desk

A new federal investigation finds that the Trump administration moved forward with the border wall along the boundary with Mexico with no real strategy to control the border in place.

The Office of Inspector General says the U.S. government’s border wall project relies on outdated models for how to achieve operational control of the border and no plan for how to implement much else.

The report issued this week says Customs and Border Protection ignored its own priorities for where to build a new border wall and relied on only one year of information about border crossings before it started building.

That means CBP doesn’t have a plan in place for spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a new wall system. Hiring more agents to secure the border, for example, would have been cheaper.

CBP for its part told investigators it was responding to president Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order to immediately build the wall.

Governor's office: Arizona not sharing driver's license data with census

Fronteras Desk

The Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but several states have agreed to share driver’s license information with the Bureau.

President Trump’s workaround of the Supreme Court decision was to order the Census Bureau to collect citizenship data from federal and state agency records. Iowa, South Carolina, South Dakota and Nebraska have agreed to share driver’s license information.

A spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey says Arizona has not made any data-sharing deal on licenses with the Census Bureau.

A state Department of Transportation spokesperson says there were talks with Census officials late last year, but a formal request under Arizona law was not filed.

The self-response rate in Arizona to the 2020 census is currently below the state’s percentage from 2010.

Border Patrol: Man legally carrying corpse hid people in SUV


DOUGLAS — Border Patrol agents say an Arizona man who was transporting a body to a mortuary is facing human smuggling charges after they found six people hiding inside the vehicle. The man was driving an SUV when he was stopped earlier this week in Douglas for an immigration inspection.

The U.S. Border Patrol said Thursday that the man legally was transporting a human corpse in a body bag as part of his work for a mortuary. The agency didn't identify the driver. Agents say the six Mexican nationals in the vehicle were processed for immigration violations.

Corrections officer on leave after shooting himself in hand


A corrections officer in Pima County is on paid administrative leave after authorities say he shot through his own hand, and the bullet struck another man in the chest.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department says corrections Officer Raul Burruel was off-duty at the time. The agency is investigating the incident that happened over the weekend but said it doesn't believe Burruel intentionally fired the handgun.

Burruel and the other man were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Sheriff's spokesman Deputy James Allerton said Thursday he had no further details on what led up to the injuries or the conditions of the men.

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