Governments, nonprofits, and businesses announced new measures over the weekend for dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Arizona’s number of positive coronavirus cases rose over the weekend. The state is now up to 18 cases of COVID-19, according to Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) numbers released Monday. Six of those diagnoses came from a commercial laboratory, while 12 came from the state’s public health lab.
The agency had been publishing updated totals of the number of people tested for coronavirus in the state. On Monday morning, that statistic had been removed from the agency’s website. ADHS later added it back to the website but cautioned it only included the number of people tested at the state lab (now 200) and not those done in commercial labs. However, the number of positive results does include numbers from commercial labs.
Gov. Ducey Closes Schools
Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman on Sunday announced a statewide closure of public schools through March 27 after some districts began announcing temporary shutdowns last week.
Ducey said his office has been working with schools and the federal government to find ways to continue providing students in need with free meals during the closure. He told parents to contact their local school for more information on how to pick up meals.
Ducey also said his office has also been working with local nonprofits to find alternative childcare options for those who need it. In partnership with the state, multiple Boys & Girls Clubs will stay open through the closure and offer services from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The Arizona Education Association had called on the governor earlier that day to announce a closure in the interest of student and staff safety.
“While any school closure can be disruptive, it is reckless to pretend we are sending our teachers, staff, and students into safe environments Monday morning,” AEA President Joe Thomas said in a letter to Ducey. “Arizona needs time to assess how healthy our schools can be and what the rest of the school year will look like for our students. We must act now for all our safety.”
The group also called on Ducey to convene a special session of the Legislature to deal with the pandemic.
Grocery Stores Limit Hours
Grocery stores have announced new hours in an effort to allow their staff more time to restock shelves.
Fry’s Food Stores will now be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Albertson’s and Safeway locations will be opening one hour later and closing one hour earlier. Bashas’ stores are moving to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedules, while Trader Joe’s locations will be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Walmart is also scaling back, with 24-hour stores now open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Locations that are usually open until midnight have also reduced hours, while some that close earlier have kept their same schedules.
Many stores, including Costco and Target, have tried to reduce empty shelves by placing limits on how many items each shopper can buy at a time.
Phoenix Suspends Evictions
Mayor Kate Gallego announced Sunday that Phoenix would suspend all financial evictions from city-owned housing.
“This is the responsible thing to do to ensure people have access to shelter and sanitation,” she said in a tweet. “The state should ensure this protection is extended to all Arizonans during this uncertain time.”
The city joined Tucson last week in announcing a suspension of all water shutoffs due to nonpayment.
Salt River Project, a central Arizona utility, announced last week it would suspend power shutoffs due to nonpayment. Arizona Public Service, another utility, has not announced a similar plan but encouraged customers who were having trouble paying their bills to check out its assistance programs.
Prisons Not Prepared
The Prison Law Office, a law firm that represents inmates, sent a letter to the Arizona Department of Corrections asking for a plan of how the agency will work to protect prisoners and staff from the coronavirus pandemic, according to KJZZ.
PLO attorney Corene Kendrick told the radio station that during a tour of the Florence Prison last week, she saw inmates – some elderly and dealing with pre-existing health conditions – living in crowded and dirty conditions, calling it a “breeding ground for infectious disease.”
Prisoners and corrections officers also expressed concern over the lack of cleaning and hygienic supplies available.
“Once a week, I am given four quarts of watered-down disinfectant to clean a bunkhouse with 34 people living in it,” an inmate told KJZZ. “The chemicals barely last 2 days. They issue 1 scrub pad every 60 days, no disposable gloves or bleach. Each bunkhouse is a stew-pot for infection and disease.”
Kendrick called on ADOC to, among other fixes, release “elderly people, persons convicted of nonviolent offenses, and others who present little or no risk to public safety.” The agency announced Friday it was suspending visitations at all its prisons for at least a month.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect the response by ADHS regarding the number of testing cases temporarily removed from its website.