/ Modified jan 22, 2021 9:32 p.m.

News roundup: Oak Flat mining project draws controversy, number of vaccination distribution sites expand

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Jan. 22.

Arizona COVID-19 cases: 7 days

Map shows COVID-19 cases and case rates over the week preceding the last update.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies, Census Bureau. Case reports do not correspond to day of test.

Cases 708,041 | Deaths 12,001

On Friday, Jan. 22, Arizona reported 8,099 new cases of COVID-19 and 229 additional deaths.

Controversial Oak Flat mine moves closer to reality

The Buzz

A federal land transfer will soon allow a mining company to take ownership of land within the Tonto National Forest, under which lies one of the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the world.

The land itself, known as Oak Flat, is sacred to the Apache people and a popular recreation spot. The San Carlos Apache Tribe has been fighting the copper mine and seeking protection for Oak Flat for years.

This week, The Buzz discusses the proposed mine and hears from those for and against the project.

Listen to the full episode here

Expanding vaccinations, education priorities, political unity

Arizona 360

As more people become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Tony Paniagua reports on efforts to expand distribution in Pima County. Lorraine Rivera also speaks to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ about the state’s role in overseeing distribution.

Arizona 360 hears from State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman about what her office is doing to address the pandemic’s ongoing impact on educators and students.

University of Arizona political scientist Samara Klar discusses this week’s historic inauguration set against the backdrop of current political unrest and partisanship, and how it reflects on Arizona’s political landscape.

New Pima County Supervisor Matt Heinz discusses the board’s vote this week to extend the contract of longtime county administrator Chuck Huckelberry. Arizona 360 also hears from former Tucson Mayor and political scientist Tom Volgy about the role of the county administrator and ways power can manifest in that position.

Watch the full episode here.

Vaccine appointment error fixed, more vaccines headed to Pima County


Tucson Medical Center has fixed a computer glitch that temporarily stopped some people from making their COVID-19 vaccine appointments.

The glitch led to a noticeable amount of unclaimed appointments, said Francisco Garcia, the Pima County’s chief medical officer. In an effort not to waste the time, the county sent invitations to law enforcement officers who still needed to be vaccinated. Now, the original glitch has been fixed.

Garcia said the county's getting another 29,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from the state, bringing the total for next week up to 77,000 doses. He estimates that from that total the "vast majority" will be new appointments.

Learn more here.

Proposed Tucson Police raise draws objections


A proposal for a double-digit pay raise for Tucson Police officers is drawing pushback from civil rights groups and at least one city council member.

The salary proposal presented to the city council this week aims to set up a market adjustment and a pay-for-performance program for TPD Officers. Police Chief Chris Magnus says his officers earn 13% less than average for the state, and his department is losing newly-trained officers to higher-paying agencies.

But for advocacy groups like Black Lives Matter-Tucson and Living United for Change in Arizona or LUCHA, the problem isn't the cost -- it's the message sent by giving a raise to a department that's seen controversy, such as the death of a man in custody last April.

Learn more here.

Unemployment rate drops in Arizona, remains high


The December unemployment rate for Arizona was 7.5%, a half point drop from November. The national unemployment rate was 6.7% for the same time frame.

Last week, close to 220,000 Arizona residents received some sort of unemployment benefits. More than 8,000 new unemployment claims were filed in Arizona last week, according to the state Department of Economic Security.

Claims for the federal supported pandemic unemployment program continue to be the most used program in the state. Pandemic unemployment allows independent contractors and those who work in the gig economy to get unemployment benefits. They are not covered by state unemployment programs.

View an interactive graph of unemployment claims here.

Monitors head to the border after order to halt the wall


Halting the The Trump administration’s border wall construction was one of the first executive orders made by President Joe Biden this week.

Contractors have seven days now to abide by the mandate. This week along the border, environmentalists like Myles Traphagen with Wildlands Network are out in force to make sure that happens.

The new wall spans more than 450 miles — including several stretches in Arizona. Traphagen was one of a handful of monitors who fanned out in Texas, California and Arizona this week.

Learn more here.

Proposed changes to Arizona citizen initiative process


House Concurrent Resolution 2001 would make citizen initiatives deal with only one subject.

In 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that citizen initiatives are not bound by a single subject rule.

Backers of the proposed constitutional amendment said it will prevent what is known as logrolling. That is when a series of different ideas are grouped together forcing an up or down vote on all of them as a unit instead of individually.

Democrats on the committee argued that it is already difficult enough for citizens to get an idea on the ballot and not allowing the grouping of ideas makes it that much more difficult.

Learn more here.

Arizona COVID-19 hospitalizations down as deaths reach 12K


PHOENIX — Health officials say the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Arizona are declining despite the state having the worst infection rate in the country.

Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday that the number of patients and even the positivity test rate have dipped slightly in the last few weeks.

It was the one bright spot of news as Arizona reached a grim milestone with a pandemic death toll of more than 12,000. That puts COVID-19 on track to eclipse heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in the state.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation reports 166 new COVID-19 cases, 7 more deaths


WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 166 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths. The latest figures bring the total reported coronavirus cases on the reservation to 26,782 with 940 known deaths.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says that while people are getting vaccinated, it’s crucial to keep in mind that another variant of the virus has been found in nearby regions.

The Navajo Department of Health this week has identified 75 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 from Jan. 1-14. Nez says residents still need to remain vigilant and practice health safety measures like staying home.

The Navajo Nation extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Learn more here.

Navajo Nation Extends Stay-At-Home Order

Fronteras Desk

The Navajo Department of Health issued a public health order, extending the stay-at-home lockdown through at least Feb.15. The extension is in response to the continued spread of the coronavirus.

Exempt from the lockdown are essential workers and those that are obtaining essential items or in emergencies.

The order also enacts a daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Monday and halts the 57-hour weekend lockdowns in order to open up availability to vaccinate more people.

Arizona approves 73 licenses for legal marijuana sales


PHOENIX — Legal marijuana sales have started in Arizona under licenses approved by the state Health Services Department.

The health department announced Friday it has issued 73 licenses in nine of the state’s 15 counties under provisions of the marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November.

The vast majority of the licenses were issued in Maricopa County. Most went to existing medical marijuana dispensaries that can start selling recreational pot right away. Other counties with dispensaries now allowed to sell marijuana are Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Pima, Pinal, Yavapai and Yuma.

People 21 and older can legally possess up to an ounce (28 grams) of marijuana or a smaller quantity of “concentrates” such as hashish under the terms of Proposition 207.

Learn more here.

Arizona GOP plots its future after Trump's presidency


PHOENIX — The Arizona Republican Party confronts its future this weekend after losing the presidential race and a second U.S. Senate seat in four years.

On the agenda for the state committee meeting Saturday is the reelection bid by controversial Chairwoman Kelli Ward and the censure of Cindy McCain, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey.

The combative focus worries longtime GOP insiders who have watched the party lose ground in the suburbs as the influence of its traditional conservative establishment has faded in favor of Trump. But Ward says the GOP is well positioned for victory in 2022.

Learn more here.

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