Friday, January 22, 2021

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2021 at 9:23 AM

With more than 8,000 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases surpassed 708,000 as of Friday, Jan 22, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Pima County, which reported 858 new cases today, has seen 94,697 of the state’s 708,041 confirmed cases.

A total of 12,001 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 1,571 deaths in Pima County, according to the Jan. 22 report.

The number of hospitalized COVID cases statewide has declined in the last week but still remains far above the peak levels of the summer’s first wave. ADHS reported that as of Jan. 21, 4,495 COVID patients were hospitalized in the state. The summer peak of 3,517 hospitalized COVID patients was set on July 13; that number hit a subsequent low of 468 on Sept. 27, or about one-tenth of the current count.

A total of 2,007 people visited emergency rooms on Jan. 21 with COVID symptoms, down from the record high of 2,341 set on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. That number had previously peaked at 2,008 on July 7; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28.

A total of 1,054 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on Jan. 20. The summer’s record number of patients in ICU beds was 970, set on July 13. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22.

Most school districts delaying return to the classroom; Marana will resume hybrid instruction Monday

As the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County continues to reach dangerous levels, most public school districts in the Tucson area are pushing back previously set dates to resume in-person hybrid instruction.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is recommending all counties commit to virtual learning for students with online classes and some onsite support services.

ADHS made its recommendation based on three key benchmarks: cases per 100,000 individuals, percent positivity and hospital visits for COVID-like illness. All benchmarks are currently in a state of substantial transmission throughout the state.

In Pima County, ADHS data shows 8,983 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population and a 12.3% positivity rate of the virus as of Jan. 21. The most recent data available on the state health department’s school benchmarks website shows hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses at 14.8% as of Jan. 3.

While most districts remain in remote learning models, Catalina Foothills has remained open for in-person learning since Oct. 26. The Marana Unified School District anticipates returning to hybrid instruction on Monday, Jan. 25.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2021 at 12:17 PM

click to enlarge When will we hear all that noise in the hallways again? - COURTESY TUCSON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Courtesy Tucson Unified School District
When will we hear all that noise in the hallways again?

As the spread of COVID-19 in Pima County continues to reach dangerous levels, most public school districts in the Tucson area are pushing back previously set dates to resume in-person hybrid instruction.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is recommending all counties commit to virtual learning for students with online classes and some onsite support services.

ADHS made its recommendation based on three key benchmarks: cases per 100,000 individuals, percent positivity and hospital visits for COVID-like illness. All benchmarks are currently in a state of substantial transmission throughout the state.

In Pima County, ADHS data shows 8,983 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population and a 12.3% positivity rate of the virus as of Jan. 21. The most recent data available on the state health department’s school benchmarks website shows hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses at 14.8% as of Jan. 3.

While most districts remain in remote learning models, Catalina Foothills has remained open for in-person learning since Oct. 26. The Marana Unified School District anticipates returning to hybrid instruction on Monday, Jan. 25.

As of Jan. 21, the state health department is recommending all school districts remain in remote learning models. - THE ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES
The Arizona Department of Health Services
As of Jan. 21, the state health department is recommending all school districts remain in remote learning models.

Amphitheater

Originally set to return to a hybrid model on Jan. 19, Amphitheater Superintendent Todd Jaeger announced in a letter to families on Jan. 4 that remote-only learning would continue until a Feb. 1.

After the county health department said it would not be able to provide guidance until it receives more data, Jaeger said he plans to announce an official return date decision Friday.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2021 at 3:30 PM

WASHINGTON – About 180 white tombstones – each belonging to a child who died while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School – stand row-by-row in the dewy grass of central Pennsylvania, bearing the names of those who died while being forced to learn the white man’s way.

From 1,500 to 1,800 Native American students from Oklahoma attended the Carlisle school, said Jim Gerenscer, co-director of the Carlisle Indian School Project, a database that provides information about the school and the students who attended. But some never made it back home, dying from unknown causes at Carlisle.

The purpose of school, as well as others across the nation, was to remove Native Americans from their cultures and lifestyles and assimilate them into the white man’s world.

Carlisle, which opened in 1879 and operated until 1918, was among the first and best-known boarding schools for Native children, and its operational model set the standard for most that came after.

For many tribes in Oklahoma, the horrors of the Carlisle model were experienced closer to home.

Riverside Indian School, outside Anadarko, is the nation’s oldest federally operated American Indian boarding school. Organized by Quaker missionaries in 1871, it was known as the Wichita-Caddo School until 1878.

Joe and Ethil Wheeler were educated there. Anthony Galindo, the grandson they raised, recalls hearing their stories about conditions at the school.



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 9:15 AM

click to enlarge TUSD Governing Board members learned fewer COVID-19 vaccines will be available to educators than anticipated at a meeting on Jan. 12. - TUCSON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Tucson Unified School District
TUSD Governing Board members learned fewer COVID-19 vaccines will be available to educators than anticipated at a meeting on Jan. 12.

Teachers included in the next phase of Pima County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout will have less access to vaccine doses than originally expected, Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo said at a governing board meeting Tuesday.

At a press conference on Jan. 8, Trujillo announced a registration website will go live Friday where TUSD employees can make an appointment to receive a vaccine at one of Pima County’s vaccination sites and schedule a follow up for a second dose 28 days later.

However, the Pima County Health Department has notified TUSD there may not be enough vaccine supply to vaccinate the hundreds of thousands who qualify for the vaccine in phase 1B, which includes prioritized essential workers in education and protective services, essential workers in fields like transportation and government, adults in congregate settings with high-risk medical conditions and individuals older than 75.

In its first week of vaccine implementation starting Jan. 18, the district could be limited to 100 to 200 vaccine appointments weekly for up to a month, Trujillo said.

“The Pima County Health Department's late Friday notification that it received a significantly limited supply of vaccines will not allow them to meet the aggressive targets that they had previously set of being able to vaccinate 2,000 to 3,000 group 1B individuals a day,” Trujillo said.

“So this compromises our efforts as a Tucson Unified community to make sure that all of our 1B employees can get vaccinated by the end of the month of February.”

Monday, January 11, 2021

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2021 at 3:50 PM

Gov. Doug Ducey delivered his 2021 State of the State address Monday afternoon with a message of maintaining resilience against COVID-19, returning students to classrooms and advocating for lower income taxes.

The governor began his address calling the Capitol riots on Jan. 6 a “sickening day in Washington D.C. that no American will ever forget.”

Ducey, who campaigned alongside Trump this year, condemned the siege of the capitol building that was incited by the president himself.

“In the United States of America, violence and vandalism have no place in the people's house. Perpetrators should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Ducey said. “Let us condemn it and resolve that it never happens again.”

Ducey refuses statewide "lockdowns" to prevent COVID-19 spread

The governor acknowledged the significant strain on healthcare workers to care for a growing number of COVID-19 patients but adamantly rejected instituting lockdowns in a state currently experiencing the second-highest rate of the virus’ transmission in the nation.

“Why not ban all gatherings and just lock everything down? It's a question that only makes sense if you forget about everything else, all the other troubles that lockdowns set in motion,” he said. “The rest of life doesn't stop in a pandemic. Least of all our basic responsibilities. People still have bills to pay, children in need of schooling, businesses to run and employees who depend on them.”

Ducey made clear he won’t grant authority to local jurisdictions to impose their own pandemic mitigation policies. Pima County has implemented its own curfew, which is being legally challenged by a group of Tucson bar owners.

“I've been entrusted by the people of Arizona with this responsibility. I'm not going to hand over the keys to a small group of mayors who have expressed every intention of locking down their cities,” Ducey said.

An end to remote learning

After mentioning he’s working to ensure teachers “receive the vaccine as quickly as possible,” Ducey advocated for an end to remote learning models for students to attend school from home.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2021 at 1:58 PM

click to enlarge TUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo speaks at a Jan. 8 virtual press conference. - TUCSON UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Tucson Unified School District
TUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo speaks at a Jan. 8 virtual press conference.

The superintendent of Tucson's largest school district announced it will not be returning to in-person instruction at least through January.

In the meantime, as Pima County is poised to begin administering vaccines to group 1B—which includes teachers—as early as next week, Tucson Unified School District is gearing up to help vaccinate its staff.

The county will set up a “supersite model” of six or seven vaccination centers where all district employees can receive the vaccine, said TUSD Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo.

On Friday, Jan. 15, a registration website will be set up for employees to make an appointment to receive a vaccination at one of the vaccine sites and schedule an appointment for a second dose 28 days later, he said. He made clear, however, that no employee will be mandated to receive the vaccine.

“We believe that it's our responsibility to create the conditions, create the opportunities for employees who want to go get the vaccine of their own free will and their own accord,” Trujillo said. “We will be creating conditions internally that will make it as easy as possible for an employee to choose to go get the vaccine.”

Some TUSD employees have already been vaccinated in their capacity as nurses, health assistants, athletic trainers, occupational therapists, speech therapists and language therapists that qualified under group 1A of vaccine recipients.

However, Trujillo noted, many who didn’t qualify also received the vaccine.

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2021 at 7:07 AM

WASHINGTON – The Trail of Tears, the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma, was one of the most inhumane policies in American history – but it wasn’t an isolated incident.

In 1831, nearly 16,000 members of the Cherokee Nation were forced under armed guard to leave their native lands in the southeastern United States to trek more than 1,000 miles to what eventually would become the state of Oklahoma.

Almost 4,000 Cherokees died along the way, never making it to the land designated by the U.S. government as Indian Territory.

Removal of the Choctaw Nation began even earlier, in 1830. Like the Cherokees, they were forced to leave their homes in the South and a way of life developed over millennia to start over in an alien environment on the prairie.

But the Cherokee and Choctaw nations are only two of the tribes with a removal story. There are 39 tribes in Oklahoma, five native to the state, that have stories to be told – each with its own trail of tears.

Long before the 1830s, the federal government believed white people could use the Native lands better than the indigenous inhabitants. This “Indian problem” motivated settlers to strip Native people of their land and resources, relentlessly pushing tribal members farther west. That pressure often resulted in violent attacks on Native Americans by settlers. If the Indians fought back, whites considered it proof that they were savages.



Thursday, January 7, 2021

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2021 at 7:14 AM

WASHINGTON – Arizona has 304,180 infants and toddlers who need child care but only 234,270 slots to accommodate them, with poor and rural families most likely to be left out, a recent study said.

Arizona child care advocates said they were not surprised by the numbers in the Bipartisan Policy Center study, which they said has inspired them to push harder for accessible care.

“Some people can afford to put their children in high-quality care and their children will get that and we don’t have to worry about those kids, fortunately,” said Marilee Dal Pra, CEO of First Things First, a Phoenix-based children’s advocacy group.

“Unfortunately, in a state like Arizona that has such a high poverty level, especially for the zero to 5 (year old) population, these families don’t have those resources,” Dal Pra said.

The October report by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s early childhood initiative looked at 25 states – an initial plan to get data from all 50 states was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic – to analyze gaps in child care across the country.

While Arizona fell short, its nearly 70,000-slot deficit was not the worst in the nation. Arizona fell about in the middle of the 25 states, both in terms of whole numbers and percentage shortfall.

North Carolina had just under 200,000 slots for the more than 459,000 children in need of care there, according to the report, which said California had about 1 million slots to accommodate demand from about 1.7 million children. Only Texas had a supply of child care slots that slightly exceeded its need, according to the report.



Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2021 at 4:47 PM

For Arizona’s students, 2020’s winter break is over, but the alarming spread of COVID-19 remains. As a result, students are returning to school this January predominantly in remote online models.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is recommending all counties in the state commit to virtual learning for students to attend classes online with some onsite support services available.

ADHS makes its recommendation based on three key benchmarks: cases per 100,000 individuals, percent positivity and hospital visits for COVID-like illness. All benchmarks are currently in a state of substantial transmission throughout the state.

In Pima County, ADHS data shows 7,298 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 individuals and an 11.2% positivity rate of the virus as of Jan. 6. The most recent data available on the state health department’s school benchmarks website shows hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses at 13.2% as of Dec. 13.

On Twitter, State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman called on Gov. Doug Ducey to order schools to remain in distanced learning for two weeks and allow school leaders to make reopening decisions after this two-week quarantine.


The governor’s spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, made clear Ducey will not be issuing the mandatory two-week quarantine for schools.

“Gov. Ducey will not be considering this request or issuing this kind of mandate," Karamargin said. "This is a local decision.”

Of the local public school districts in northwest Tucson, only Catalina Foothills remains open for in-person instruction.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is recommending all counties in the state hold school remotely. - ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES
Arizona Department of Health Services
The Arizona Department of Health Services is recommending all counties in the state hold school remotely.


Amphitheater Public Schools

Amphitheater schools returned to classes online only Monday and anticipate staying in a remote model until at least Jan. 19. According to the district’s Communications Director Michelle Valenzuela, Amphi will continue to work with Pima County on its recommendation for schools’ learning models.

Students are expected to participate in remote learning five full days a week and interact with their teachers live at designated times in addition to participating in offline tasks.

Valenzuela says the district has been working with the Amphi Foundation to provide internet service to students in need of it through partnerships with Cox and Comcast. Around 60 families have been provided Wi-Fi, and according to Valenzuela, the district plans to provide more services to families through a partnership with the City of Tucson in the coming weeks.

Teachers are also working with students without internet access to provide them paper packets that contain enough material for the entire academic week. Teachers will be in regular contact with offline students “to provide feedback and support,” according to Amphi’s website.


Catalina Foothills

Catalina Foothills is one of the only local public school districts to remain open for in-person learning after returning from winter break. According to Director of Alumni and Community Relations Julie Farbarik, the decision to remain open was based on the district’s relatively low case counts.

Since Nov. 20, the district has reported 27 new COVID-19 cases throughout its school sites.

“Keeping schools open is important to our students’ social-emotional well-being and their overall academic engagement,” Farbarik wrote in an email. “In their December communication to superintendents, the PCHD made it clear that it supports each school district’s decision based on its local COVID case experience. The numbers at our schools are very low, so we are continuing to offer an in-person learning option.”

Of the district’s seven K-12 schools, two elementary schools began offering five-day in-person instruction starting Jan. 4. The other five offer hybrid learning with two days of in-person learning and three days of remote work. All schools are offering a completely remote option.

Although Catalina Foothills doesn’t have any direct services for students without internet access, students can access its onsite support service for access to Chromebooks, laptops or Wi-Fi, depending on availability.


Flowing Wells Unified School District

Flowing Wells has returned to school remotely, but anticipates reinstating their hybrid option on Jan. 19. However, Superintendent David Baker said this may change in the future. Remote work entails daily scheduled classes via Zoom.

According to Baker, the district provided over 400 hot spots to provide internet to students at home while nearly 100 students come to campus through on-site services to access the internet.

The Emily Meschter Early Learning Center, the district’s preschool, remains open for in-person learning with a remote option. Most students attend four half days a week, Baker said.

“In all reviewed studies and articles, preschool students and pre-schools have very low virus transmission rates and that has proved to be true at our site this school year. Pima County Health has also communicated that preschools and early childhood care facilities across the county have remained opened with very low classroom transmission,” Baker said in an email. “There are also many educational benefits for students to participate in classroom instruction, as compared to virtual learning.”


Marana Unified School District

The Marana district plans on returning to hybrid instruction on Jan. 25 while monitoring public health metrics from the Pima County Health Department, according to Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement Alli Benjamin.

Every student has been issued a Chromebook laptop while remote learning takes place five full days a week with both live teacher-led lessons and independent learning.

According to Benjamin, the district has struggled to locate and purchase Wi-Fi hotspots, but Marana has a limited number of hotspots they’re issuing to families in need. Parents can also apply for students to attend the district’s onsite services for internet access.


Sunnyside Unified School District

Sunnyside schools will be in a remote learning model until Jan. 19. Hybrid learning will commence unless the Pima County Health Department makes the recommendation to stay remote before Jan. 19.

Students are expected to log into their devices to interact with teachers at least three times a day. Kindergarten through first-grade students are provided iPads while second through twelve graders are assigned Chromebooks for participation in remote learning.

Students without internet access are being provided with mobile Wi-Fi devices, according to Sunnyside’s Director of Public Information Marisela Felix. Felix said Sunnyside families can also qualify for a low-cost internet program through Cox.


Tucson Unified School District

Tucson’s largest school district is remaining in a remote-only model as it transitions to 2021. All curriculums can be accessed online through live lessons with teachers and independent work on online educational platforms. Unlike other local districts, TUSD never reopened for in-person instruction during the fall semester.

TUSD has in-person learning spaces where students can access classes online while socially distanced at school sites. According to Leslie Lenhart, TUSD’s director of communications and media relations, there’s no set limit on the number of students attending the learning spaces, but they’re reserved for “at-risk” and “exceptional education” students.

The district doesn’t have an anticipated start date to move to in-person learning.

“The Governing Board will be a part of this decision, but no details are currently available, as we follow the science and the guidelines of PCHD,” Lenhart wrote in an email.

Lenhart said TUSD will provide a free hotspot for internet connection for any family in need of one.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2020 at 7:13 AM

WASHINGTON – After years of steady declines, enrollment in Affordable Care Act coverage ticked up in Arizona and held steady in the U.S. this year in what one advocate called a “pleasant surprise” after a challenging year.

The six-week open enrollment period that ended last Tuesday showed enrollment going from 153,020 in Arizona for coverage plans for this year to 154,265 people who signed up for coverage in 2021, according to preliminary numbers released Friday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Nationally, the number of people signing up for coverage in the federal exchange dipped from 8.3 million last year to 8.2 million this year – but federal officials note that New Jersey and Pennsylvania shifted from the federal marketplace to state-based marketplaces this year. That removed 578,251 people from those states who would otherwise have been counted on the federal rolls.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement Friday that the Trump administration’s “focus on delivering more choices along with a smooth and streamlined consumer experience continues to drive strong enrollment.”

“We’ve opened more pathways to enroll by taking advantage of the private sector and people are clearly finding the coverage they need at this critical time,” she said.

Morgan Tucker, state director for Protect Our Care Arizona, agreed that more people took advantage of coverage this year – but she said it was no thanks to the Trump administration, which she accused of trying to “sabotage” the Obama-era health insurance program.

“Despite anything they may have heard over the last four years, it is safe, reliable health insurance that they can trust,” Tucker said of coverage available under the “Obamacare” program.

The ACA has also been under assault by a coalition of states, including Arizona, that argued before the Supreme Court this fall that the plan is unconstitutional. A ruling in that case is not expected for months, but Tucker said it cast a shadow over this year’s open enrollment.