/ Modified sep 29, 2020 11:13 a.m.

News roundup: UA COVID app reaches 30,000 devices, Indigenous people protest border-wall construction on traditional lands

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, September 28

Cases 217,510 | Deaths 5,623

On Monday, Sept. 28, Arizona reported 273 new cases of COVID-19 and 1 additional death. 30,000 people have signed onto UA's COVID Watch app

UA stay-at-home request coming to an end


Pima County’s stay-at-home request for University of Arizona students living near campus expires Sept. 29. University officials said the next steps will be determined by the numbers.

“If case numbers begin to rise again there may be a need to reinstate this self-imposed voluntary quarantine. But if the cases skyrocket again, then working with the county health department more legal quarantine issues may need to be enacted,” said Robert Robbins, University of Arizona President.

It appears the stay-at-home request made a difference. Last week, the university reported a total of 261 cases of COVID-19 among students and employees. Before the request, the university reported that many cases in a single day.

Testing, however, was also down last week. University officials have said the reason for the drop could be tied to the stay-at-home request or possible fear from students that if they get a positive test they will be forced to quarantine.

Robbins said he is happy with the drop is positive tests but is he is also concerned that students are still not being careful.

UA COVID Watch app is now on 30,000 devices


About 30 thousand people have installed the COVID Watch Arizona app on their mobile devices. One of its co-creators says the app has alerted many people to potential exposure to the coronavirus. But we might never know if it actually helped slow the spread of the pandemic.

The app went live in the Google and Apple app stores about a month ago. It's designed for students, faculty, and staff at the University of Arizona and Northern Ariozna University. Users get a notification if they've spent significant time near another app user who's tested positive for the coronavirus.

U of A professor Joanna Masel says the app is anonymous, but developers can see that people are clicking on the links that activate when a user receives an alert, so people are evidently paying attention to it.

"None of this will help if people don't quarantine when they're asked to quarantine. All of this is about getting the information out there to ask people to quarantine. The place that it helps is when they actually do quarantine," Dr. Masel said on a webinar conducted Monday.

The app was developed by the U of A and a Tucson based startup called COVID watch, with an eye toward a potential rollout for users throughout the state. Similar apps in other regions have come under criticism saying they've had a negligible effect on the spread of the coronavirus.

Indigenous people protest wall construction near Quitobaquito Springs


Around 30 people from nearly a dozen Indigenous tribes across the West gathered Sunday for a ceremony addressing border wall construction on the ancestral land of local tribes that is now Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The meeting came just before park service officials closed a portion of the park on Monday.

O’odham elders gathered supporters at Quitobaquito Springs — a treasured freshwater source near the border — that used to be home to Eleanor Ortega’s relatives and other Hia-Ced O’odham families — a tribe not federally recognized.

"It really breaks my heart when I come over here," he said. "I feel like my great great grandfather’s probably saying that, "How did you guys allow this to happen? This is your home."

This summer, cracked mud flats covered most of the pond’s surface and spring’s flow hit a record low. Ortega says the site used to be full of orchards and farming plots, one of six springs across Hia-Ced O’odam land. Construction on the 30-foot steel bollard wall is now visible from the pond.

Park Service officials announced the road to Quitobaquito would be closed to all traffic, citing public safety concerns during ongoing border construction

Tracking the speed of mail as the election nears


"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from their appointed rounds." That message--the unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service--is being called into question this year as the election nears and more people consider voting by mail due to the pandemic.

In Arizona, 80% of voters cast their ballots by mail, so questions about the ability of the postal service to handle election mail are critical.

To find out how long the mail takes, I asked friends and family across Tucson and around the country to mail a letter to my house. Twenty-one envelopes were put in the mail from homes, offices, post offices, and blue boxes on street corners.

The eight letters from the Tucson metro area covered Oro Valley, Marana, Central Tucson, and the west and south sides of the area. Each of the letters took three days to reach my house, including the two I mailed from my own house.

Dave Lewis, the president of SnailWorks which tracks mail for corporation and non-profits, said that's normal.

“We’re seeing three to four, three to five sometimes, more typically I would say three to four days is what we are seeing,” Lewis said.

The U.S. Postal Service declined the opportunity for a recorded interview but directed AZPM to a website that give goals for mail delivery between zip codes.

The USPS expectation for mail going across Tucson, according to the website, is four days. Our experiment found it took three days.

Tucson’s mail is sent to Phoenix for processing and then returned to southern Arizona for delivery. So how long does it take a letter from the Phoenix metro area to get to Tucson since it skips the step of being transported to Phoenix? According to our experiment, three days, once again in line with postal service goals.

In recent months, the postal service has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that high speed sorting machines were taken offline and mailboxes were removed. Lewis said mail delivery has slowed recently.

“We’ve seen a little deterioration in service in the last few months. And when I say a little, it’s that a fair amount of mail is running one day late,” said Lewis.

The postal service is aware of public concerns surrounding a higher volume of election mail. It recently posted a video on its website trying to reassure voters.

Mail from the rest of the country coming to Tucson took four or five days to get here, which is within the goals of the postal service. A letter sent from a post office in the City of New York took six days and a letter sent from western New York took seven days. Both of those letters traveled over a Sunday.

Arizona fire grows to more than 12,400 acres, 4 homes burned


Firefighters are working to get a grip on a wildfire north of Phoenix that has destroyed several structures including at least four homes, 10 outbuildings and two vehicles. The blaze, which was first reported Friday afternoon in the Tonto National Forest, has grown to more than 19 square miles Monday with no containment.

The fires's cause remains under investigation. Forest officials say the wildfire is burning in grass and brush. Some residents who evacuated were leaving summer homes. Crews continue to set backfires to help protect structures and other assets near Cave Creek. Firefighters are focused on suppressing flames on the fire’s northern side.

911 service outages reported in parts of Arizona and Nevada


Authorities say 911 service was down throughout parts of northern and southern Arizona and Nevada on Monday night. It was unclear why the emergency system was down and authorities didn’t immediately have an expected time of repair.

For some Arizona counties and cities, service went down and then resumed as quickly as 15 minutes later while others were still experiencing outages. In southern Arizona, the Pima and Cochise County Sheriff’s Departments, Tucson police, Oro Valley police, Northwest Fire District and the city of Tucson all reported 911 outages.

Agencies across Yavapai County and Flagstaff were reporting outages in northern Arizona. There were no reported 911 outages in the Phoenix metro area. In Nevada, 911 was down in the Washoe County, Reno and Sparks areas.

Cindy McCain to advise Biden campaign


Cindy McCain, the widow of former Republican senator and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain, will advise Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential transition team as it prepares for the former vice president to take office if he wins in November. Biden’s transition team announced Monday that McCain will be the second Republican on the 16-member advisory board.

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