Steve K's Newsletter 07/13/20

 

Topics in this Issue:

 

This past week, Arizona became the #1 Coronavirus infection capital of the world. Not something we should aspire to, but we ‘achieved’ that status none the less. This week’s blue light recognition is for the health care providers who are now so overstretched that the Governor and State Health Director have had to organize what’s called a ‘surge line.’ There are 4 key parts to the program; to expedite transferring patients to an ICU in another location, to expedite transferring patients to a lower level of care in order to free up ICU bed space, helping with inter-facility transportation, and clinical consultation for health care providers.  

This graphic shows the workflow of moving into an ICU: 

So far Arizona patients have been moved to other hospitals within the State; and sadly, we’ve had friends, neighbors, and loved ones transferred with COVID-19 to other health care facilities in other States. But the people working the surge line are facilitating the moves that are keeping our hospitals functional and they’re doing it on a 24/7 basis.  

I’ll have plenty more below on COVID and some changes this past week, but it’s appropriate to open with this note of thanks for the people who are working behind the scenes to keep the whole system up and running. 

One easy way to help that team is to wear a mask. However, we continue to see people in large groups who seem to think that’s a burden. Well, check out this guy – if he can figure it out, so can we. You’ll have to scroll down a little to watch the short video. 

https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/watch-monkey-makes-a-face-mask-and-walks-around-wearing-it-in-hilarious-video-2706931.html  

I’m going to start with a sweet short story of a Kind encounter I had on the Loop. My mom loved birds. She had bird feeders all over her yard and was constantly asking my bride to take her to the feed store to buy 100 lb. bags of seed. About a year ago, shortly after my mom had died, I stopped and greeted a young lady named Laura who I’ve seen on the Loop for probably 10 years. She walks along with a big bag of seed and tosses food out to the birds living in the habitat along the Rillito. I told Laura about my mom and that whenever I saw her, it would remind me of mom. Since then we’ve struck up a friendship on the Loop, greeting each other warmly when we pass each other. 

Last Thursday Laura called out how happy she was to see me that morning because July 10th was her birthday and with things so shut down, she wanted to share that with someone. That alone was nice, but what made it even cooler is that July 10th is my mom’s birthday too. It’s those unplanned and unpredictable little encounters that give richness to our days – if we look for them. 

TPD and Mobile Crisis Teams 

Over the course of the past month we’ve been hearing a lot about what reforming how we do policing might look. Nobody, maybe even especially our police officers would disagree that getting support from other social service providers would allow them to focus more directly on what is strictly law enforcement functions. The point I’ve made to several news outlets is that it’s unfortunate the discussion has turned into a zero-sum game; that is, take money from the police and give it to social service providers. We’ll have the funding conversation later next week when we meet to talk about budget, but for here I want to share how TPD is already connected with many of the service providers through what’s called our Mobile Crisis Teams (MCT’s.) 

The MCT program has been in place for about a decade here in Tucson. So, calls for engaging other skill sets is not novel to TPD. The Teams operate on a 24/7 basis and are funded through the Arizona Complete Health system.  

The MCT’s respond to a variety of mental health-related calls. Many times they’re there with cops. But sometimes a clinician calls to have a patient checked on. That patient may have stopped treatment and the clinician just wants a welfare check. Cops don’t go on those calls. 

Many times it’s the police who reach out for MCT support. Examples may include where the police have had repeated contact with a given individual and it’s apparent the person needs some mental or behavioral health assistance. Other times the Team is sent based on a call for service such as someone who is suicidal, but where there are no weapons involved. Those calls can be flagged either by the officer, or at the dispatch center. Where weapons are involved, a cop will be there. 

We also have what’s called our TC3 program. I’ve written about it before. Generally that’s where the Comm Center is able to identify a repeat caller who exhibits mental health or substance abuse problems. The MCT will respond and attempt to get the caller into a treatment program that’ll get them back on the road to recovery. And we have our Deflection Program. That’s where police will try to get people into treatment when they’re caught with drugs. You hear all of the County Attorney candidates saying they want to keep people arrested with small amounts of drugs out of jail. We’re already doing that. 

I interviewed with Stephanie Casanova from the Star last week on the topic of police reform. When discussing social service workers intervening, the main points I made were these. First, we already engage social service providers on a regular basis. Second, not all calls are appropriate for a social service skill set. If there are weapons or violence involved, a 911 dispatcher will send a cop. I believe that’s appropriate. Our officers know they have the MCT as back-up once the situation is stabilized. And finally I made the point that the most important link in that whole equation is the triage function the 911 dispatcher must play. Sending the wrong person to a call may put peoples’ lives at risk. Domestic violence calls are the most dangerous for our police officers. Sending someone into what is already an inherently dangerous call places multiple lives at risk. 

We’ll continue the discussions about reforming how we do policing. My point here is that the notion of including social service agencies into that mix is not new and novel for TPD. It can be expanded. Doing that, if done correctly may result in getting people into effective treatment, and freeing our commissioned officers up for calls you place that really do require a cop.  

I’m grateful to our police officers for the work they do. So much of the rhetoric we’ve heard recently is misplaced and wrong. I look forward to finding forums in which we can have productive conversations about how we can do better without having to navigate some of the very disheartening charges that really won’t advance the larger conversation. 

Police Staffing 

Embedded in that whole reform conversation is the idea of ‘defunding the police.’ I want to share a little bit of history to put that into our current context. The vast majority of the TPD budget, over 80% is for staff. Defunding will therefore mean reducing personnel. While some on the M&C appear to find that an appealing outcome, I’m not in that camp. 

TPD is budgeted for a certain number of officers each year. They have not been staffed at that approved level anytime in the past 5 fiscal years. Our current budgeted TPD staffing is at 885 sworn officers. Right now, we have 796 who are deployable. The difference is 41 staff who are out on some form of leave, and 48 current vacancies. We have 36 officers who are in training right now, so do the math – even if all 36 of those finish their training successfully, we’ll still be a dozen officers short of being fully staffed. And we’ll still be wrestling with a few dozen at a given time who are off on some type of leave. And all of that is overlaid on the incorrect assumption that 885 commissioned officers is adequate for a City our size. 

We also have about 260 – round numbers – professional staff. Those are non-sworn officers who do things such as work in the crime lab, records division, administrative support, evidence, and also our new Community Service Officers. If you add all of those together you get to our approved full time equivalent (FTE) staffing number of 1,152. In 2016 our approved FTE for TPD was 1,322. That’s the hole we’ve been trying to fill. Talk of defunding is a little late to the game if the intent is to reduce our staffing levels. As you can see, that has already happened. 

So here’s a reality check for people who feel as though we should be taking money away from the police. The national climate right now is such that officers who are nearing retirement age are less likely than before to elect to stick around. In the next year we could be looking at nearly 1/3 of our commissioned police workforce choosing to take a job where they’re not spending their time at the front end of the rhetoric we hear. Recruiting into that same climate will be a near impossible task.  

We hear that the TPD budget is ‘bloated’ and that it takes up too much of our General Fund. Here’s the General Fund TPD budget trend for the past 6 fiscal years. The increases are largely due to the pension costs that are passed onto us from the State. As I showed above, it’s certainly not because we’ve added staffing. 

Police reform is a timely and necessary conversation. Our agency was ahead of that conversation before Chief Magnus was hired. Former Chief Villasenor was invited back to D.C. by President Obama to take part in a “21st Century Policing” forum. Magnus and his leadership team have continued to advance the department in a successful community policing effort. TPD’s not perfect. They’re also not rogue. 

I’ll close with this thought. A couple of months ago everybody on the M&C agreed that we should show our support of our TPD men and women out on the street by adopting the ordinance related to establishing a crime scene.  Much of our local media have misrepresented the ordinance as being one intended to prohibit videotaping cops. If you’re reporting the news, get it right. That sloppy reporting caused a national social media eruption. Last week, due to political pressure the M&C voted 6-1 to repeal the ordinance. That sends a message to our 885 commissioned officers, as well as TPD’s professional support staff. If the goal is to downsize the police department, votes like that, coupled with the extreme rhetoric aimed at our employees may achieve that end even without M&C explicitly voting to reduce the budget. I’ll keep an eye on those 48 current vacancies and see what effect all of this has on how that number grows. 

COVID Testing 

Last week, Trump was quoted as saying this:  

“Testing — there were no tests for a new virus, but now we have tested over 40 million people. But by so doing, we show cases, 99 percent of which are totally harmless. Results that no other country will show, because no other country has testing that we have — not in terms of the numbers or in terms of the quality.” 

No matter how you define the word “harmless”, that statement is totally false. As I show each week in this newsletter, as many as 20% of COVID positive people require hospitalization. And nearly a quarter of those end up in the ICU. Our intensive care units are jammed to the gills. And patients fortunate enough to survive the COVID ordeal may face years of rehab, possibly never fully recovering the lung function they had pre-infection. And we do not know the long-term impacts of COVID on our immune systems. That is not ‘harmless.’  

One effective way to avoid coronavirus is to wear a mask. Even the chimp in the video up above has that figured out. That has been the consistent advice from the CDC and responsible health care providers since this all began back in March.  

Please join us this Saturday, July 18th as we host a drive-up mask give-away at the Ward 6 office. The event will run from 7am until 10am. You won’t get out of your car – just drive by and we’ll be handing you a new cloth mask. One per family member - the honor system. Tell us how many you’ll need and we’ll take care of you. We want to do our part to ensure everybody in the City has some form of face covering. Our office is located at 3202 E. 1st St. We hope to see you during the event. 

Ok, back to testing – The County spent last weekend putting a public COVID testing process through its paces before opening it up to the community. What they want to avoid is the hours’ long waits people have had to endure that you’ve likely seen on the news. So credit to the County for working out the kinks before inviting you to take part. Now, they’re ready. Last week I sent out this pre-notice -  

And at the end of the week, we received word that the partnership between the County and Paradigm Labs is up and running. The tests will be free, and the costs are covered by the County CARES Act allocation. 

The testing will take place at the Kino Event Center, 2805 E. Ajo. You must make an appointment in advance. That is being required in order to help avoid the lengthy waits. If you arrive late for your appointment, you’ll be asked to re-register for another time. They’re serious about limiting the wait time for people who have signed up. Register for the test by going to www.pima.gov/covid19testing. Click on “Schedule My Test” to register.  

Testing will take place between 11am and 7pm, Monday through Saturday. You do not need a doctor’s referral in order to take part. Please consider this if you have symptoms, have been around people who do, or for whatever reason you think you may have been exposed. These are the viral tests that show you if you’ve got COVID, not the antibody tests that only tell you if you had it in the past. 

This program will start with about 100 people per day. While Paradigm says they’re ready to do more than that, the hope is that by scaling up from this moderate start, they can learn as they go and make it an efficient experience for guests, and they can ensure a rapid turn-around time on test results. When you have to wait a week to get the results, we’ve done little to control community spread, and the whole contact tracing effort is made extremely difficult. 

County Contact Tracing 

Piggybacking on the testing is a County program they’ve begun with Maximus Health Services that will build on the existing COVID contact tracing work. Contact tracing is just what the name implies; somebody interviews the patient and learns who he/she may have had contact with since becoming infected. That ‘tracer’ then makes the rounds to inform that group of people that they may have been exposed to the virus. Hopefully that’ll lead them to getting tested, too. Based on that you can see the importance of avoiding large crowds. If you’re in one and you’re a COVID carrier, you’re making it impossible to trace your contacts. And if you’re in one and others are infected, you’re vulnerable without knowing it. 

Maximus is going to hire about 150 contact tracers to get the program started. They’re committed to hiring people who live within Pima County. They’re under a $10M, 6-month contract to begin with. It’d be great if we didn’t need them at the end of that deal. There are possible contract extensions built into the contract, though. 

Maximus is using this email for people who are interested in contact tracing positions; FSSHumanCapital@maximus.com. Once you send them a note indicating your interest, they’ll assist you through the application process. 

This Be Kind is for all of the keepers, staff and docents out at the Reid Park zoo. This week they’ve got another member of their family who, once the zoo reopens will be a sure star. 

  

The lady on the right is Anna. She’s the proud mom of the little Grevy’s zebra at her side. The little guy was born on the 4th of July. That’s cool for Tucson, but it’s even more important for the Grevy’s as a species. They’re the most endangered of all zebra species. 

When my bride and kid did our safari in Kenya, we saw Grevy’s all over the place. The first day of the trip we were wowed by the herds. By the end it was ho-hum, more zebras. That was over 10 years ago. Now travelers would be thrilled to see one of the herds that we grew accustomed to. 

Thanks to all the zoo workers who are involved in the important animal conservation work going on out at Reid Park. By the time they reopen, the new addition will be ready for his public. 

Governor’s Latest Move 

Last week, 5 Arizona mayors sent Ducey a letter indicating an interest in his issuing a Statewide mask regulation, increasing testing and expanding the closure of businesses to include barber shops, hair salons and ‘other venues with a high potential for transmission.’ The mayors who signed, in descending population order were from Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, Tempe and Tolleson. My hope is still to regain local control over these decisions. The same day the Governor held his press conference, I sent him and his staff this letter: 

That press conference was held on July 9th. The Governor spent time expressing – correctly – how slammed we and our health care institutions are by the infection rate. He said the safest place to be is at home. He said he wanted to make decisions that had the ‘maximum effectiveness.’ And the Governor shared this pie chart. It shows a variety of activities and gauges each based on the level of risk each poses: 

I snipped it from his presentation so it’s difficult to read, but under “moderate-high” risk he includes going to a hair salon-barbershop, eating inside at a restaurant, attending a wedding or a funeral, traveling on a plane and playing a close contact sport such as basketball or football.  

None of those was shut down in his Executive Order. Saying he wanted to act in a way that would have the maximum impact, and doing it are evidently two different things. 

Here’s what Ducey did with respect to indoor dining: 

How does that compare to his original Stay at Home Executive Order – back when all of this began in March and our infection numbers were a fraction of what they are now? Here’s the language from his original Stay at Home: 

Keep that in mind as you see some of the data below. There is no Country in the entire world where confirmed cases of COVID-19 are growing as quickly as they are in Arizona. This chart ranks locales with the most confirmed cases – adjusted for population size. It treats each U.S. State as though it was a Country. We’re #1! In the world.  

And the Governor didn’t touch a single one of the activities listed as moderate to high risk.  

The impacts of the July 4th weekend will be clear in the data starting this coming week. The one thing Ducey did say that should resonate is that the safest place to be is at your home.  

COVID and Sports 

A little COVID/sports sidebar to show how that segment of the entertainment industry is being affected. Back in March, the NBA shut down, the NCAA cancelled spring sports, MLB paused their season and March Madness was cancelled. Those actions were intended to limit large gatherings, and to limit cross-country travel that would have made things much worse, more quickly. 

Now there’s talk of some sports resuming. The NBA is setting up shop at Disney World in Orlando. They’ll quarantine the players and are planning to begin a shortened season later this month. Players will be away from their families for the duration of time their team is still alive in the league play. 

Baseball has agreed to a shortened season, to begin later this month. They’ll play in front of empty stadiums, but given the travel involved, some players are opting out. Sean Doolittle is a relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals. His comment was “I’m planning on playing, but if at any point I start to feel unsafe, then I’ll opt out. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it. If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands.” 

The NFL is planning on starting their season later this year. They’re still working on details, but don’t count on full stadiums.  

Last week, the Pac 12 announced that fall sports will be limited to in-conference schedules, only. That’s for football, volleyball and soccer at the UA. Football had been scheduled to play Hawaii, Portland State and Texas Tech. None of those games will happen. By the end of this month the conference will announce the new schedules. Travel is of course going to be a piece of this. Conversations are on-going related to crowd size and the various protocols that we’ll have to employ in and around the stadium. 

As you’ll see in the COVID Data section below, none of this is static, etched in stone, decided and a done deal. Doolittle is right – the ‘general public’ is a part of determining how all of this is going to play out. 

My next Be Kind goes out to all the members of our January 8th Memorial Board. They continue hard at work managing the design/constructing and funding effort for our community memorial. The Kindness mention is also due for everyone who has given to the project. Your gifts are an investment in the memories of those we lost on that day back in 2011. 

The site is now taking shape to the point that you can see the general outlines of what will be the memorial. It’s located just west of the Pima County administration building, between the County building and City Hall.  

One part of the memorial will be these symbols that’ll appear along one of the masonry walls. Each symbol is designed with an image that remembers one of the victims of the shooting. The space will be a place for reflection, and for remembering. Very unlike today’s climate, we were united in spirit in the weeks that followed the event. It’s sad that we seem to have drifted from that sense of alignment. 

The project is still on track to be finished before the 10-year anniversary next January. I’ll bring you updates from time to time as the construction reaches milestones. 

Tumamoc Hill 

When the pandemic hit us in full force, the UA was forced to shut down Tumamoc Hill to walkers/joggers. That happened on March 18th.  It’s an extremely popular place for people to go out and get some exercise. The shutdown was because, given the number of people out enjoying the trek, social distancing became impossible and people were not following the CDC guidelines related to mask wearing.  

On Memorial Day, the UA reopened the trail, with the caveat that social distancing was still important. I mentioned in the Sports and COVID section that the behavior of the public will play a part in how sporting activities resume, if at all.  The same is true on Tumamoc. Rules announcing masks and social distancing were posted along Tumamoc; masks are required and keeping a 6’ distance between others is as well.  

Unfortunately, this is typical of what we’re seeing up there on a regular basis now: 

Nobody wants to shut down Tumamoc again. But with the escalating numbers in COVID infections, doing that is becoming about the only option they have if people don’t start to abide by the rules.  

Being outdoors is great. I’m out running and walking every day. But even out on the Loop where we don’t see crowds like this, I’ve got a neck gaiter on that I can pull up when people get too close. The UA does not have the staffing available to monitor enforcement on Tumamoc. I share this item in the newsletter to ask your cooperation, self-policing and gentle assistance in letting others know that if you’re on Tumamoc, the rules are posted for a reason. Here’s the message: Closing Tumamoc once again may be the only option left to the UA if people using the hill for their mental and physical exercise don’t begin to comply with the COVID rules.  

Please help us pass that word. Wear a mask and if the hill is overstuffed with people when you arrive, find another place to get your workout. The concerns have been raised both by administration, and by others who are in fact complying with the rules. Everyone loses if everyone doesn’t get with the program. 

Desert National Wildlife Refuge 

Tumamoc is our local natural learning lab. Up north of Vegas is the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. It’s the largest refuge in the lower 48. It’s full of wildlife and is a key habitat for desert bighorn sheep. And it’s about to be taken over by the Air Force as a bombing and training range. Not all of it – just 800,000 acres. 

  

The Senate originally rejected the land grab, but strangely, the House added an amendment that authorizes the expansion. That amendment was done on a voice vote in the House Armed Services Committee with no discussion.  

There’s now an effort to undo that amendment. It’s happening under the label #DontBombTheBighorn. Our own Representative Grijalva chairs the House Natural Resources Committee. Many feel that outreach to him is about the last hope of stopping the loss of those lands. The refuge and its protection date all the way back to President Teddy Roosevelt in 1936. That’s nearly a century of protection about to be undone. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the refuge, just Google Desert National Wildlife Refuge and you’ll find plenty of references. If you’d like to voice your position on the amendment to turn 800,000 acres of it over to the Air Force, contact Representative Grijalva’s office at  622.6788. You can also learn more from this link:

https://act.biologicaldiversity.org/onlineactions/5b9X9MxH5k-pj1KWEHNvHQ2?sourceID=1006092&utm_source=ad&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=currentalerts 

Botanical Gardens 

  

Our friends at the Botanical Gardens reopened late last week, but with changes that are in place to make guests and their staff comfortable as they wander through the gardens. 

You’ll see the changes in place as soon as you arrive. They’ve set aside the northeast entrance off from the parking lot as the entry point. There’s plenty of signage so you won’t have any trouble tracking the new entry. All staff and all guests will be required to wear a mask. And they’ve got the social distancing markers clearly spaced out on the floor. Everyone will follow a one-way flow through the gift shop as you make your way out to the gardens. 

In order to ensure people have their own space once inside, they’ll be monitoring the number of people in at a given time. That means there could be a short wait, so if that is an issue, you might want to call ahead to be sure there’s room when you want to go. 

It’s great to have Michelle and her group back up and running. And knowing that they’re following all of the CDC guidelines and doing regular deep cleaning throughout the place should give you a sense of security that your visit will be a safe and enjoyable outing.  

The Gardens are located at 2150 N. Alvernon. You can reach them at 326.9686. 

COVID Data 

Last week I changed things up a bit and showed the month-by-month progression of the infection numbers. I’ll pick the month-over-month report back up again with the end of June data here: 

Here are the numbers for the first 10 days of July. Do you remember when the advice from the health care community was that we look for 14 consecutive days when the infection numbers were going down? We had a brief 4- or 5-day time in mid-April when the numbers were stable in the mid-20's per day, but now look at the daily counts. The State went from 80,000 cases to almost 117,000, and in Pima County we’ve jumped from 8,000 up to over 11,000. That’s in 10 days. The daily changes are bumping 4,000 new cases in Arizona, and over 300 per day in Pima County. Please take advantage of the testing opportunities that are being offered so we can get our arms around the community spread. 

And the comparison of the raw Statewide numbers from 2 weeks ago: 

Compared to last week: 

Here’s your weekly update on the Statewide COVID numbers. From last week’s newsletter: 

  And here are the numbers from AZDHS as of last weekend: 

And my weekly reminder that you can track the State data every day at www.azdhs.gov

COVID Utility Assistance 

Nobody knows how long coronavirus will last or how severe the economic impacts of this pandemic will be. What we do know is that those impacts are significant for a growing number of families. TEP has a few programs they’re offering, each of which is intended to help their customers through some of the financial lift associated with utility payments. This first link is their direct monthly discount:  

Lifeline Program ($15/month discount) - https://www.tep.com/customer-assistance/ 

You can use this link to sign up for the benefit. 

Lifeline Online Form - https://account.tep.com/MyAccount/UserValidationLifeLinePlan 

 And this link includes other community partners who might also be of value to you if you’re in need of some added help, beyond the ‘Lifeline Program.’ It’s all a part of everyone working together to lend a hand to neighbors. 

Emergency Short-term Assistance - https://www.tep.com/short-term-assistance/ 

One of the programs that we had to put on hold when the pandemic hit us was the Household Hazardous Waste Program out at the Los Reales landfill. This week’s Local Tucson item is our resumption of that program.  

Beginning on Tuesday, City residents can drop off HHW out at the landfill for free on both Tuesday’s and on Thursday’s from 7am until 4pm. If you live outside the City limits, there’s a $10 charge, so in order to get this for free, please be prepared with something like a utility bill or a driver’s license with an up-to-date address. 

On Wednesdays, commercial businesses can take their HHW to Los Reales. The hours of operation are the same as for residents, but businesses will need to make an appointment in advance. Call them at 791.4183 to discuss a delivery time and rates.  

Use this link to see a full list of items you can take under this program: https://www.tucsonaz.gov/es/hhw-list  

We’re still operating under some of the COVID protocols. Everyone will be required to wear a mask. No cash transactions are being conducted. And we will insist everybody at the landfill practices CDC social distance guidelines. 

Sincerely,

Steve Kozachik
Council Member, Ward 6
ward6@tucsonaz.gov

 

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