/ Modified aug 13, 2020 4:44 p.m.

News roundup: A closer look at PPP loans in AZ, experts say asylum change wouldn't protect public health

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Aug. 13.

Cases 190,794 | Deaths 4,383 | Diagnostic tests 1,056,770

On Thursday, Aug 13, the state reported 1,351 news cases of novel coronavirus and 36 additional deaths. According to state data, on Aug. 12 both intensive care unit beds and ventilators saw slight increases in usage, though have generally trended downward for the past few weeks.

Nearly 20,000 Arizona businesses received federal PPP loans


The Paycheck Protection Program helped tens of thousands of large and small Arizona companies more easily get through the economic slowdown brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program, overseen by the federal Small Business Administration and administered by banks, was part of the $2 trillion CARES Act relief bill approved by Congress in late March.

In Arizona, 19,270 loans were granted in April and May. Those loans ranged from less than $150,000 to $10 million. The most common loan size in Arizona was less than $150,000, with 7,944 of those loans granted in Arizona, according to the SBA. Of the remaining 11,326 loans in the state, the most common size was between $150,000 and $350,000.

Learn more here.

Ducey disappointed in PAC-12 cancellation


Fall sports are on hold at PAC-12 schools like the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, and that has fan Gov. Doug Ducey upset.

"Over the course of time a vaccine at some point, lower positivity, more rapid testing there’s all kinds of things that we could have done to mitigate it from a fan or observer standpoint," Ducey said. "Some of the sports are non-contact at all and they’ve been canceled as well, so I was disappointed with the decision."

Ducey said the loss of fall collegiate sports at two of the state’s largest universities means a loss of tax revenue for the state. President Trump is urging college sports, especially football, to play in the fall.

Health experts: Proposed asylum change would fail to protect both public health and human rights


The Trump administration has been asking for public feedback on a proposal to block would-be asylum seekers deemed at risk of carrying a communicable disease. The measure is branded as a safeguard against COVID-19 contagion, but public health experts warn the change would deteriorate human rights while failing to actually curb the pandemic.

The policy change, proposed and opened to public comment by the administration last month, would allow immigration officials to turn away asylum seekers who come from, or have traveled through, countries where communicable diseases are present.

Joanna Naples-Mitchell with health advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights said the proposal is the latest in a long line of drastic changes to the immigration system. But she said it's especially dangerous to paint asylum seekers as a threat to public safety.

Learn more here.

UA President Robbins optimistic about university COVID-19 test results


University of Arizona president Robert Robbins says more than 1,200 UA students have been screened for the coronavirus and only one has tested positive. He gave that update during Thursday's briefing on the university's reentry plans.

Robbins says he hopes the result shows students are making good choices about their health. "Maybe these students have already had the virus or there they've been doing a great job of following the rules, and we hope they continue to follow the rules when they come back to our campus," he said.

So far the UA has only tested students living off campus on a voluntary basis. Starting Friday, the university will begin mandatory testing for all students who plan to live in dorms on campus.

Learn more here.

Covid Watch app part of UA reentry plan


Sometime before the first wave of 5,000 students returns to the UA campus on Aug. 24, the Covid Watch Arizona app will roll out on the Apple and Android app stores. It tracks how often the phone's owner comes in close contact with other users of the same app, so if one of them tests positive for the coronavirus, the other users can be notified.

Molecular and Cellular Biology Department head Joyce Schroeder says the Covid Watch Arizona app records unique Bluetooth codes from the phones of other people nearby so those people can be notified if the owner tests positive for the coronavirus.

Schroeder says the app is in the final testing phase. It will be free and anonymous, Schroeder says, but it depends on a high level of acceptance by the community.

The app has drawn the attention of national health officials.

Learn more here.

Arizona representatives raise concerns about potential Mexican produce measures

Fronteras Desk

Most of Arizona’s congressional delegation is raising concerns about potential U.S. measures against Mexican produce imports.

Both Arizona senators and seven representatives signed onto a recent letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. In it, they say potential so-called seasonality provisions could raise the price of tomatoes and harm the massive produce import industry of critical importance to Nogales, Arizona.

But Nogales distributor Jaime Chamberlain says the issue is bigger than tomatoes, and some U.S. growers are asking for measures against many Mexican produce imports.

Learn more here.

Sonoran capital Hermosillo further loosens COVID-19 restrictions

Fronteras Desk

The weekslong curfew on vehicle travel will be lifted, and many nonessential businesses will be allowed to reopen at reduced capacity, after they have shown that they are complying with new pandemic safety measures.

The changes are intended to support a responsible, gradual economic reopening, according to a copy of the order. It also claims that the previous measures are no longer merited by the level of hospital occupancy.

Movie theaters, gyms, bars, nightclubs and casinos, among several other businesses and venues, are to remain closed, according to the order.

Hundreds of new COVID-19 cases are still being confirmed daily in Sonora, along with several dozen new deaths, which have been heavily concentrated in the capital in recent days.

Arizona reports 1,351 additional virus cases, 36 more deaths


PHOENIX — Arizona health officials are reporting 1,351 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases with 36 additional deaths. The figures reported Thursday by the Department of Health Services increased the state’s totals to 190,794 confirmed cases with 4,383 deaths.

According to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by The Associated Press, the 7-day rolling averages of daily new cases in Arizona and daily deaths in Arizona both dropped over the past two weeks.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Learn more here.

In Arizona, groups aim for 1 million voters to oust Trump


PHOENIX — A coalition of voting rights groups in Arizona has banded together with the lofty goal of getting 1 million people to vote against President Donald Trump this November.

The new group, Mi AZ, launched Thursday with a car rally outside state government offices in Phoenix. It’s targeting voters under 35 years of age along with people of color, hoping to defeat Trump in what is increasingly considered a competitive battleground state.

The campaign comes as voter registration efforts have been stymied by the pandemic, forcing groups all over the country to use phones and the internet instead of approaching people in person to try to get them registered.

Arizona landlords ask high court to invalidate eviction ban


PHOENIX — Landlord advocacy groups are fighting Gov. Doug Ducey’s moratorium on evictions of people who have missed rent payments because they became ill or lost income due to the coronavirus.

The Arizona Multihousing Association, the Manufactured Housing Communities of Arizona and several individual property owners filed a special action with the Arizona State Supreme Court Wednesday. They argue the moratorium violates the state constitution’s separation of powers and its contract clause.

A representative for rental property owners says that five months after the ban was first imposed landlords are “at a breaking point.”

Learn more here.

Navajo man loses latest bid to delay federal execution


FLAGSTAFF — A judge has rejected a bid from the only Native American on death row to push back his execution date. U.S. District Judge David Campbell in Arizona issued the ruling Thursday.

Attorneys for Lezmond Mitchell had argued the federal execution must comply with Arizona law in seeking the delay. Campbell said the attorneys didn't identify any procedures in Arizona statutes or criminal rules that conflict with federal protocol when it comes to how Mitchell would die. Mitchell's attorneys said they will appeal. The Justice Department didn't respond to a request for comment.

Mitchell is scheduled to be put to death Aug. 26 in Indiana.

Learn more here.

Excessive heat to bake US Southwest through coming weekend


PHOENIX — Excessive heat is expected across the U.S. Southwest into early next week, with forecasters warning of temperatures over 110 degrees in desert cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas.

High temperatures are expected to be the norm through Monday across much of Arizona, and the National Weather Service said high temperature records might be broken in central and eastern New Mexico. Temperatures were expected to reach 114 degrees in Phoenix on both Friday and Saturday and 113 degrees in Las Vegas on Sunday.

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