/ Modified oct 26, 2020 9:53 p.m.

News roundup: Pima County struggles with contact tracing, vote-by-mail deadline arrives

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Oct. 26.

Cases 238,964 | Deaths 5,875

On Monday, Oct. 26, Arizona reported 801 new cases of COVID-19 and 1 additional death. Arizona has experienced high average daily case numbers in the past week, though they remain lower than the summer spike, according to the Associated Press.

Pima County struggles with contract tracing


Pima County’s seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 cases has increased in the last week by 30 cases a day.

“A week ago, our seven-day rolling average was 59 cases a day, today we are up to 88. That’s a significant increase in one week,” said Theresa Cullen, head of the Pima County Health Department.

The increase in cases mirrors a rise statewide. The number of COVID-19 cases in Arizona has steadily risen over the last month, peaking at more than 1,000 new cases a day last week.

The Pima County website shows most COVID-19 metrics in the yellow or green zones, except “Timely Investigation” which is more commonly known as contact tracing.

Pima County health officials said the public needs to help get that number into a more acceptable range.

“100% of our cases we call within 24 hours. Actually, our numbers are even better than that. We have some of the best numbers in the country. But if people don’t answer the phone or don’t respond to our text, we do every way we can. We can’t get that number up to 65% (people spoken with) is our goal for 48 hours,” said Cullen.

The last COVID-19 spike in Pima County was tied to the University of Arizona. Cullen said that is not the case this time.

Vote-by-mail deadline arrives


The deadline to get ballots in the mail is Tuesday, Oct. 27, according to Arizona election officials. That is seven days before Election Day and officials said that gives the U.S. Postal Service enough time to deliver the ballot.

Arizona law says ballots must be received, not just postmarked, by Election Day.

If you cannot get your ballot in the mail by Tuesday, you can still vote.

Early ballots can be dropped off at any early voting site. They can also be dropped off at any polling location on Election Day.

If you did not request an early ballot, but still want to vote before Election Day you can do that at any early polling center.

Election officials remind everyone that their vote is secret, there is no way for anyone to determine who you voted for.

Whether or not you cast a ballot, early or on Election Day, is a matter of public record.

UA urges caution over Halloween


University of Arizona officials are urging students to be responsible when celebrating Halloween this weekend. The university has continued to break up large parties and officials said that kind of behavior will lead to an uptick in cases of COVID-19.

University President Robert Robbins reminded students and the university community that even in costume, people need to wear masks.

Last week, the university broke up a dozen parties, including one with more than 100 people in attendance.

UA has a month of on-campus classes left before the Thanksgiving break. After the break, all classes will finish the semester online.

“From now, until November 26th, when we expect many students will leave the Tucson area for the semester break, we need to stay focused, we need to stay vigilant, we need to pay meticulous attention to details,” said Robbins.

Even though all classes will be online after the break, students will be allowed to return to campus for the last few weeks of classes.

UA fall-semester revenue better than expect


University of Arizona officials estimate that 20-25% of students decided not to attend the university during the fall semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initial estimates from the university put the cost of those lost students at about $90 million. Robbins says, so far, the shortfall has only reached about $50 million.

The amount of tuition that we got was more than we thought it would be. There’s still been a furlough program, it still caused incredible pain and suffering to our faculty, our staff and I would say even to our students because many of the students have jobs at the university

Registration gets underway next week for the Spring semester and university officials are uncertain how many students will return for classes.

Robbins said next semester will look similar to this one. Classes will begin online and then slowly transition to some in-person classes if there is no major outbreak.

Currently, the university allows classes of 50 or fewer people to meet in-person. Robbins said about 6,000 students are on campus at this point.

In-person classes for everyone probably will not happen for a year according to Robbins.

During October, the university has averaged about five new cases of COVID-19 a day. In September, that number was nearly 90 a day.

Early voting begins in the Tohono O'odham Nation


Early voting in the Tohono O'odham Nation begins Monday, with Election Day polling places to open at district offices.

For voters living in the nation who are looking to vote in-person or drop off their mail-in ballots before Election Day, early voting in Sells will be at the Toka Community Building Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Emergency voting at the site will be help Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. If voters across the reservation approximately the size of Connecticut want to wait to vote till Nov. 3, there may be a voting location closer to them on Election Day.

"Out on the [Tohono] O'odham Nation here in Pima County area, the polling places have not changed in the 20 years that I've been here, and the polling places have historically been through those 20 years the district offices for wherever the particular voter my live," said Brad Nelson, the elections director for Pima County.

The 2.8 million acre Tohono O'odham Nation is broken down into 11 districts that range across Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties.

Street address are not the norm in the nation. Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said in a September Arizona State Museum webinar that giving directions to one's home is dependent on landmarks.

National candidates descend on Arizona


Arizona and Nevada will be buzzing with activity in the last week before the election as both presidential candidates try to swing the crucial battlegrounds in their direction.

President Donald Trump and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris are both scheduled to hold events in the Western states this week.

Trump on Wednesday has scheduled a rally in Bullhead City, Arizona, on the border with Laughlin, Nevada and about an hour from Las Vegas. He has another rally scheduled later that day in Goodyear, Arizona.

Harris, a U.S. senator from California, is scheduled to hold Nevada events in Reno and Las Vegas on Tuesday before traveling to Arizona on Wednesday for appearances in Phoenix and Tucson.

Navajo Nation coronavirus statistics


Navajo Nation health officials are reporting 63 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, but no additional deaths for the seventh consecutive day.

The latest figures released Monday bring the total number of cases to nearly 11,362 with the known death toll remaining at 574. Tribal health officials say 121,827 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

In that same time, nearly 7,500 have recovered. A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

Commercial flights may be safer than previously thought.


Even as airlines post billion-dollar losses, the U.S. Department of Transportation has declined to mandate mask-wearing on airplanes. But a University of Arizona-backed study of cleaning methods could offer some hope for the future of flight.

The study by Boeing and UA suggests chemical disinfectants, ultraviolet wands and antimicrobial coatings can effectively kill coronavirus on airplane interior surfaces. Researchers tested the methods against MS2, a live stand-in that is harder to kill than the virus that causes COVID-19.

UA Microbiologist Charles Gerba stressed the value of testing real-world materials and conditions.

“Most of the antimicrobials that are available today have only really been tested in the laboratory and not in a real-world situation like in an aircraft." Gerba said.

The research has not yet been submitted for peer review.

Allegations brought by NCAA against UA athletics


Trouble could be ahead for the University of Arizona athletics. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has brought nine allegations of institutional wrongdoing against the university, including a Level I lack of control charge against basketball coach Sean Miller.

Level I violations are the most serious NCAA infractions and can lead to postseason bans or other significant penalties.

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