/ Modified feb 15, 2021 5:14 p.m.

News roundup: Judge allows Oak Flat land transfer to continue, UA-backed Mars mission approaches touch down

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, Feb. 15.

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 798,608 | Deaths 14,978

On Monday, Feb. 15, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,338 new cases of COVID-19 and zero additional deaths. Deaths at the start of the week may be underreported due to weekend delays, according to the Associated Press.


Federal judge issues order, not stopping mining effort at Oak Flat

AZPM

A federal judge decided Friday not to temporarily pause a copper mining project that would one day devastate an Apache religious site in the Tonto National Forest.

Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit advocating for the preservation of Oak Flat, requested the preliminary injunction in January, around the same time three lawsuits were filed to try and block the federal land from being transfer to a copper company. By not issuing the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Steven Logan leaves the land swap to Resolution Copper unimpeded.

"We are very disappointed, but we are not giving up and are excited to appeal to a higher Court and to prove our points where we disagree," said Wendsler Nosie Sr., the founder of Apache Stronghold and a former chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Learn more here.


New UA science package set to land on Mars

AZPM

NASA will try to land a University of Arizona-backed scientific package on Mars this week.

It is part of the Perseverance rover mission due to touch down on Mars Thursday afternoon. UA planetary scientist Lynda Carter said the experiment will use ground-penetrating radar to see layering in the rocks at the landing site. She noted the site is at the end of what is thought to be a long-ago Martian river or stream.

“For example, if there was a lake there, which we think there was, we might see evidence of layered kinds of deposits like what we get in lakes,” Carter said.

Perseverance is the latest of three robotic explorers visiting Mars this month. It is the size of an SUV and also carries a small helicopter which ground controllers will try to fly across the Martian landscape.


Virus surge recedes as Arizona nears 800K cases, 15K deaths

AP

PHOENIX — Arizona health officials reported 1,338 new COVID-19 cases on Monday as the state approaches 800,000 cases and 15,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The state did not report any new deaths Monday, but the fatality numbers tend to be light on Mondays following a weekend lag.

The state is likely to surpass both benchmarks of 800,000 cases and 15,000 deaths on Tuesday or Wednesday. The state has reported 798,608 cases and 14,978 deaths thus far.

Health officials say the coronavirus remains widespread across the state, but the surge that made Arizona the nation’s hot spot last month is receding.

Learn more here.


Navajo Nation reports 55 new COVID-19 cases, 3 more deaths

AP

WINDOW ROCK — Navajo Nation officials reported 55 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths.

The latest numbers released Sunday evening bring the total number of cases on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 29,269 since the pandemic began. There have been 1,111 deaths reported related to COVID-19.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued a statement reminding people to continue to take precautions to avoid spreading the virus and to protect their loved ones. He also encouraged people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The tribe has a nightly curfew in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to limit the spread of the virus.

Learn more here.


Hiker injured climbing down into cave in Peppersauce Canyon

AP

Pinal County Sheriff’s officials say they helped rescue a hiker who got injured while trying to climb down into a cave in Peppersauce Canyon.

They say the 64-year-old woman fell off a ladder Saturday afternoon at the canyon, located northeast of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Sheriff’s officials say the hiker suffered fractured bones and lacerations and was airlifted to a hospital for treatment.

The woman’s name hasn’t been released.

Tucson TV station KOLD reports that the rescue was a combined effort between the sheriff’s office, the American Medical Response and the Oracle Fire Department.

Learn more here.


Arizona’s prison population declines by 11% during pandemic

AP

PHOENIX — The number of inmates in Arizona’s prisons has declined 11% since the start of pandemic.

The decrease reflects a slowdown in the state’s court system that has held far fewer criminal jury trials over the last year as it took steps to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at courthouses.

Corrections officials say they are seeing fewer sentenced inmates being sent to prison from counties and fewer revocations of probation and community-supervision releases that would send people back behind bars.

Defense lawyers say defendants are reluctant to accept plea offers out of fear that they might be exposed to COVID-19 if they were sentenced to prison.

Learn more here.


Economic Experts Push For Immigration Reform In Pandemic Aid Package

Fronteras Desk

Dozens of economic analysts have signed a letter urging President Biden to add a path to citizenship for undocumented people into the COVID-19 relief package.

The letter argues that a recovery and jobs plan should include immigration reform because the pandemic has shown that public health and economic fates are intertwined. The authors say weak spots in the economy affect everyone. And they write that making people citizens would come with local and national benefits.

May Mgbolu, who’s assistant director of policy and advocacy at the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, said nearly 20% of essential workers in the state are undocumented.


Biden faces pressure as US sets new course on immigration

AP

TIJUANA, Mexico — President Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure at the border. Thousands of people are waiting to claim asylum and more come each day, falsely believing they will be able to enter the U.S. now that former President Donald Trump is out of office.

Biden has made major changes to his predecessor's hardline immigration policies. But he hasn't lifted the major restrictions to people seeking asylum as he faces pressures from all sides.

His administration has promised a more “humane” approach but hasn't said how or when it will act and is trying to discourage people from coming in the meantime.

Learn more here.

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