Steve K's Newsletter 08/17/20

Topics in this Issue:

 

 

This blue light section has been a way for us at Ward 6 to show our support for medical staff and first responders during this COVID season. This week, that support was shown in some unique ways that fly under the public radar screen. 

One group recognized and thanked this week is Sgt. Jack Julsing and his TPD Homeless Outreach Team. Throughout COVID, that group has continued to be engaged with the homeless population with the goal of getting them into services they need. Last week, they made contact with a guy who has been sleeping in the midtown area. The guy had bounced from one bad luck situation to another and is now on the street. Jack and his guys have gotten him into a support situation, hopefully on his way to getting back into the chef/cook field and back on his feet. Clearly, that’s the preferred outcome vs an arrest that would have only set him back again. 

This is one of our TFD units out in midtown last week. 

The residents of Poets Square have worked with Tucson Clean & Beautiful to plant trees and do the maintenance along a series of medians that stretch through the neighborhood. With no monsoon action, their work was looking, well, a bit yellow. TFD does routine hose maneuver training, and this proved to be an opportunity to get the training in and douse the medians with some much-needed water at the same time. Timely training, great public outreach, and a nice drink for the landscaping that the neighbors have invested their sweat equity in. 

Thanks to all of our public safety workers who continue to work hard making this the great community it is to live and work in. 

COVID Trend 

Schools are about to open, the UA is as well, and the Governor has now given businesses the guidelines they’ll need to follow in order to reopen. Behind all of this is commentary that trends are headed in the right direction and we have COVID, if not under control, at least the infection trends are headed in the right direction. I’m not sure that’s true. 

This is a month-by-month summary Pima County uses to track COVID. Note the July spike we went through, but the first half of August still puts us on track to being the 2nd highest monthly total of new cases since March. And if we see a spike due to schools going back into session, topping the July #’s isn’t out of the question. 

Here’s the daily count graph. As I’ve shared previously, most of the analyses are using 7-day averages now because the daily counts bounce around too much. That’s likely due to reporting lags. But the point is we are still far higher in counts than we were even back when Ducey put the stay at home restrictions into place. I’m concerned that we’re just getting bored with all of this and are grasping for some reason to roll back into the old normal. 

And who’s getting sick? With school and the UA about to resume, that’s an important question to answer. Here are those numbers: 

Fully 60% of the cases now fall in the age categories that will be populating our schools and the UA. If you’re involved in those reopenings, please do all the CDC stuff; masks, social distance, stay home if you have symptoms – and if you’re in a vulnerable category, consider doing your work remotely. 

Pandemic Unemployment Update 

A couple of weeks ago I shared the guest piece I wrote for the Star on Unemployment Insurance. Quick review – the State offers up to $240 per week, which is $5 above what Mississippi offers and is 2nd lowest in the nation. The additional $600 per week the feds were paying ended. Congress and the President have been unable to agree on an extension, so Trump issued an Executive Order (what else?) to get $400 to States, $300 of which was coming from Washington if the State matched with $100 of their own. 

Fast forward to last week when Ducey traveled to D.C. and met with Trump. Shortly after his return the Governor announced Arizona is accepting the $300, and somehow the $100 match is no longer being required. Or maybe Trump decided to allow Arizona to count the money we’re already paying as being that match. The result is cutting the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance support in half, and Arizona stays $5 ahead of Mississippi. If you qualify, you’ll receive up to $540 per week. 

No details were given about how long the payments will last, or when they’ll even begin. In what is already an over-stretched State system, with backlogs on payments, they’re at least ready to take applications. You can apply online at www.pua.azdes.gov. The ‘pua’ is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. 

The feds are getting their extra money from a FEMA disaster relief fund. While there are questions about the legality of it, I guess that will sort itself out over time. The State could have topped off the $400 as was the original requirement in the Executive Order, but Ducey has chosen to leave the $540M they have in the Arizona UI trust fund out of this equation, and the $500M unspent CARES money out of this as well.  

If you are approved, the payments will be made retroactively to July 26th - that’s when the original $600 ended and the stare-down between Congress and the President began.  

Rent/Utility Assistance 

We approved this nearly 2 months ago and finally this assistance has made its way out of the ‘system’ and is now available to help. If you’re having trouble with rent or utility payments, we’ve allocated $4.5M to help you through. 

Our Housing staff is partnering with Primavera, Interfaith Community Services, our Ward 6 partners the Catholic Community Services (think Benedictine,) and the International Rescue Committee to administer the program. There are some qualifiers and rules you need to be aware of. 

First, this is available to City residents. The County has a program earmarked for non-City residents. You can receive up to $2,500 for rental/utility assistance once, for up to 3 months of those costs. And this is limited to households with earnings of less than $68,400. 

If you’re approved the support will be sent directly to either your landlord, or to the utility. You can start the online application process now by going to www.tucsonaz.gov/hcd/rent-help. Call them at 837.5364 if you’re having trouble with the application. 

This is being funded using our CARES money. The funding is limited so apply as soon as possible. 

KIDCO 2.0 

And with schools now trying to open, we’re expanding KIDCO to an all-day program to help families get mom and dad back on the job without having to worry about how they’re navigating online learning at home alone. This is available for parents of kids aged 5-11 who are currently enrolled in K-5th grade in either the TUSD or Amphi Districts. 

The program will include on-site virtual learning monitoring, with assistance during regular school hours. After school there’ll be activities, games, and other things to keep the kids occupied. All students will be required to wear a mask, and you’ll need to provide the learning tools (laptops, books, supplies.) 

The cost is $125 per month for City residents and a little more for non-City residents. And there’s a discount program residents can apply for through this link: 

Register via EZEEreg.com 
Discount Program 

I was sharing with someone earlier today how so totally foreign all of this is to what was ‘normal’ just 6 months ago. Who thought when March Madness was canceled that we’d even be having this conversation. But here we are – please take advantage of these opportunities while we’re able to make them available.  

Harvard Global Health Institute & COVID-19 

Each week I try to bring in a new way of considering COVID and how we might gauge reopening things. I shared last week how the State data is internally inconsistent. They have lag times in reporting, and yet they’re giving advice on things such as schools and businesses reopening based on flawed data. Garbage in/garbage out. 

I also shared the State risk assessment tool for K-12. Below I’ll show you how they’re essentially applying those same criteria to businesses. Here though I’m going to introduce a risk scale presented by the Harvard Global Health Institute. I think their framework offers a more thorough breakdown of risk levels than what the AZDHS is giving. But applying it still relies on the data inputs. I’m looking at the Pima County data as the gold standard since they’re the ones collecting it locally. If the State drops numbers somewhere along the line, at least we know what was submitted. 

The State risk tool breaks the data down into 3 categories; substantial, moderate, and minimal. You’ll see more on that below. Harvard has 4 levels in their tool, and just as Arizona Health uses the number of cases per 100,000 as the measure, so does Harvard.  

The break points in those levels are 25 cases per 100,000 or higher for ‘stay at home necessary’, 10-24 for either ‘stay at home’ or ‘rigorous test/trace,’ 1-9 for ‘rigorous test/trace,’ and under 1 for monitor and test/trace. Even the lowest level of spread noted by Harvard continues to recommend monitoring and testing. It’s a much more conservative long-term approach geared to assuring we don’t get back to where we are today any time soon. 

So where does Pima County fit into that matrix? I tracked the data Harvard ran and found it aligns with our Pima County numbers on August 13th, so it’s pretty current. Here’s the State map they had for the data on that date – Pima County being at the orange level – accelerated spread. 

And here’ the Pima County snapshot for the 13th: 

So by the Harvard standard, we’re just barely below the Red level at 23.3 cases per 100,000 people in the 7-day moving average, and 244 daily new cases per 100,000. 

Ducey’s approach to opening schools is to allow local decision making at the moderate risk level. I’ll show you later how he’s taking a very different approach to let businesses open. But Harvard’s recommendation for our level of infection is ‘stay home/rigorous test and trace.’ 

I pulled this table from their report. It shows the numbers for each Arizona County. We’re one of the highest in the State at 23.3. In fact only Gila (24.9) is in worse shape.  

Pima County got the Udall Center test site up and running on Friday, August 7th. There was a short-lived effort to pull our funding during our last M&C meeting, but that ended when the County advised those involved that they’d just suspend operations out there if we yanked the funds. Good for them – our goal should be testing on a community-wide basis so we can learn where hot spots are. The County has learned from their other sites that it takes a couple of weeks for a location to get to a steady volume of testing. We’ll build to that at Udall and closer to the end of the month will have enough data to know if they need to stay there or move to a new location.  

More COVID numbers later. Based on the Harvard assessment tool, we’re pushing the envelope a little too quickly though. 

Downtown Links Public Meeting

One impact of the City resisting moving that envelope too fast is to continue hosting public meetings virtually. Downtown Links is ready to begin Phase 3, and a pre-construction virtual public meeting is coming this Wednesday evening. 

Pre-con meetings are intended to share things such as schedules, introduce the contractors and their roles, talk through some logistical pieces such as traffic patterns that’ll be affected, parking and hours of operation. They’re not design meetings - that’s done. 

There are two ways you can join this meeting. One is online at https://bit.ly/30A77Wq. The other option is to attend by phone. To do that call 1.213.293.2303 and then punch in the passcode 704 727 28#. There will be time set aside for Q&A with the project team. 

January 8th and the El Presidio Fountain 

The plaza that lies between City Hall and the County building is Presidio Plaza. Right now the section over by the County building is under construction. In a few months that’ll be the new January 8th Memorial. Just a bit to the west of that Memorial is this fountain -  

It’s likely that you haven’t seen it bubbling like that because it’s out of commission and has been for quite a while.  

The fountain was designed and built in 1970. The architect responsible for it is Charles Clement. The City owns the fountain and is responsible for maintaining it. Below the fountain is an underground parking garage. That’s significant because anything that takes place above ground has to take into consideration the fact that below ground is essentially hollow. A structural engineer worries about the load-bearing capacity of the ground. How much can it take before it caves in. 

Here’s a graphic showing how the January 8th Memorial articulates with the fountain. 

The fountain is hidden under the “Culinary Garden; Phyllis Schneck” note. You can see it’s right on the western edge of the Memorial. 

Soon we’re going to have to decide what to do with the fountain. It’s broken down right now. Repairs are costly, and anything that is done on the site will have to keep in mind the parking garage down below. The County has advised us that they’re planning on fencing off the fountain once they complete upgrading the irrigation system in the park. That’ll be for safety reasons since the fountain isn’t pumping any water and cannot until we fix it. The County proposal is to either remove it altogether or have the City resume maintaining it. So far, I haven’t heard them suggest we sell it to them and have the County begin the maintenance/repair effort. 

Right now, we’re gathering public input on the fountain; what value does it bring, do you want to see it preserved, is a water feature in the desert something we should rethink, in this current economic environment is maintenance a good investment of our money, does it bring back urban renewal memories that may just as well be removed? All of that’s on the table. 

The County Administrator’s memo outlining the background and suggesting we’re looking for public input didn’t include any way for people to register their thoughts. So I’ll offer up 3 ways you can do that; email Chuck Huckelberry at chuck.huckelberry@pima.gov, our City Manager at michael.ortega@tucsonaz.gov, and I’d like to hear your thoughts, so include me too at steve.kozachik@tucsonaz.gov. If you’ve got thoughts on the disposition of the fountain, please share them. We’ll need to make some decisions prior to the end of the year so the grand opening of the Memorial isn’t scarred by construction fencing blocking off a dysfunctional water element in the Plaza. 

Some Economic News during COVID 

This’ll be my Local Tucson item this week – asking you to support our local businesses where you can. 

I promise this won’t be a bunch of numbers – some, but not eye-glazing. Each day in the news you see reports of how the pandemic is affecting workers, which means it’s affecting their employers. People are losing their jobs, some temporarily, and some permanently. That affects consumer spending. It’s all a financial circle that is showing up as we would expect in the numbers. 

Econ. 101 – Gross Domestic Product is the value of all the goods and services produced in the economy. Our 2nd quarter GDP was the worst quarter since the feds began measuring and tracking it after WWII. During the April/May/June quarter we lost around 40 million jobs. With consumer spending making up about ¾ of GDP, those lost jobs account for much of the drop in GDP. 

If you’re out of work, you’re counting your pennies. That means businesses aren’t selling, which means their workers are subject to layoff, too. That’s the downward spiral we’re in. And it’s the reason the Federal and State support is so important. I shared above how we’re trying to prime the pump locally, but it’s going to take serious input from those other levels of government to really make a significant difference. 

Where else is this being felt in our local economy? One of our lifeblood industries is tourism. Look at this graph our Visit Tucson partners had in their most recent update. It shows how the coronavirus has impacted the hotel industry in the Pima County region. In July of 2019 they had just over 61% occupancy. Compare that to June of this year where it was just under 45%. You can see the clear trend in both occupancy, and room rates since COVID hit. People aren’t traveling. That impacts our restaurants, rental cars, entertainment venues – I guess you could call the hotel numbers a canary in the whole economic coal mine as an indicator of what’s happening to us locally. 

Combined, between our bed tax and sales taxes we expect to be about $10M behind what we had budgeted for last year. 

I promised not a lot of numbers. My point here is to encourage you to support our local businesses whenever you can. They’re hurting. The numbers don’t lie. My bride and I aren’t dining in at restaurants, but we are buying take out. Every little bit helps. It’s about putting Tucson First. 

Reopening Businesses  

Earlier, I mentioned that Ducey is allowing local school districts to look at the risk scale the State issued and to decide on when they’ll reopen. Placing your kids at ‘moderate risk’ is the standard being proposed by the State. That’s not true for businesses. 

Last week I shared the Court decision with respect to Ducey’s shutting gyms down. In brief, the Court told him that he needed to get gym operators some specific guidelines so they had a finish line in front of them. Without knowing what was expected of them, they were being deprived of due process. On Monday of last week, the Governor’s office put out a lengthy response.  

In last week’s newsletter I included this graphic – it's the guide for K-12 schools for reopening.  

You’ll find the guidance offered to businesses to look strikingly similar. Here it is: 

Counties are broken down into one of those risk categories. In order to take part in the phased business reopening, all 3 of the benchmarks must be met in a given County for 14 days plus a 12-day lag in reporting. In other words, before a business can move from say Moderate requirements to Minimal requirements each of the new set of standards would have to be met for 14 days, and the State builds in a 12 day fudge-factor to make sure their data isn’t adjusted for late-arriving information. Pima County is in the Substantial Risk category.  

Once Pima County has met that first “14 day, plus 12-day lag” step, businesses will have varying standards they will need to apply when they open. Those are broken down in this chart. You’ll see that the ‘Moderate’ standards are much different for gyms than they are for movie theaters or bars. That’s to be expected. 

Each of the cells includes the words “with ADHS mitigation requirements.” Those are very specific health protocols the business will need to demonstrate it is implementing – in addition to the % occupancy and positivity levels that must be maintained in order to stay in that risk category. Here’s what it is for gyms: 

And this is what bars that do not operate under a restaurant license will need to have in place at each level of risk: 

So gyms can open at 25% occupancy if they include all those hygiene and cleaning protocols when the County they operate in reaches the “Moderate” criteria. Bars won’t be opening until that same County gets to 3% positivity in testing results, and even then, they’ll be limited to 50% occupancy. 

All of this is captured in a 24-page document that outlines how they reach each measurement, and what each form of business will be required to do. If you want that level of detail, here’s the link: 

https://www.azdhs.gov/documents/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/novel-coronavirus/community/guidance-for-businesses.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery 

And speaking of links, the weak one in all of this is the validity of the data being used to evaluate where on the risk scale a County lies. Last week I shared how I was able to find differing data sets even within the same DHS reporting site. The 12 day lag is supposed to clear that up. The State shouldn’t be operating in the ‘fax’ era when students, teachers, parents and businesses are relying on it to be quick and accurate in how COVID data is recorded and reported. Lives and livelihoods are at stake. 

JTED, The Rotary, and COVID

Another example of the collateral damage COVID is creating is delaying the hands-on opening of the new Joint Technical Education District (JTED) campus. Thanks to the significant financial support The Rotary has committed, and a partnership with TUSD to lease space, the new 50,000 sq/ft campus is ready – when COVID is. 

The JTED program will include career and technical options that regular high schools aren’t able to offer. Courses such as Engineering, Aerospace and Mining Technology, Medical Assistant, Licensed Nursing Assistant, Home Health Aide/Caregiving, techy stuff like 3D animation, AI, Cybersecurity and Game Design and culinary arts courses where the kids will work directly with local chefs. Some of the work will get students certified so they can immediately begin working with Phlebotomists, EKG tech, and other medical support staff positions.  

In the space TUSD is leasing, they’ll offer the core academic classes so students can use the new JTED facility as their home campus. But since they’ll also offer course work in the evenings and on weekends, other students will be able to take part.  

They got their Certificate of Occupancy on the new space last week. There are over 50,000 high school students within a half hour of the new facility. The roadblock is COVID. This’ll be a great opportunity once the pandemic calms down. But it’s really important that families are aware they’re ready to be up and running.  

They’re located at The Bridges – South Park and I-10. Check out the JTED program on their website at www.pimajted.org.  

 

  

How about a quick Be Kind for the Pima Animal Care Center folks. They’re still giving away free dog and cat food for people who have been financially hit by COVID. While that sentence may conjure up some unfortunate images, the food is intended for your pets. 

Every Tuesday, from 9am until 11am you can take advantage of this offer over at the Pine Tree Apartments – Columbus and 29th. Just show up and they’ll take care of you – no interrogation about your financial status. This is on the honor system. We at the Ward 6 office are grateful to our PACC partners and www.GreaterGood.org  for making this available. 

And while you’re over on 29th Street, you can stop by Precision Tool and Construction Supply to make a donation into their UA Student Food Pantry. With students returning to campus, and to the neighborhoods surrounding campus, there’ll be a need these pantries will meet. Rincon Heights neighbors are still working their former Little Free Library as a free food pantry –  Marla and her colleagues at Precision are involved, too. 

Precision is located at 4857 E. 29th. You can feed your pets, and some UA students from one trip along 29th.  

Final COVID Data Points 

The State DHS website continues to suffer from a lag in recording data that has been reported. But over the weekend I checked to see how they’re viewing Pima County for schools reopening. Based on Ducey’s own standards, here’s what they’re saying: 

Of course, the analysis they do is all based on the number of cases they’re counting. If the denominator is wrong, the result will be too. The week of July 26th, Pima County reported 1,675 new cases. The State is basing their # p/100,000 on just over 1,400 cases. Even with their undercount, Pima County does not qualify for reopening schools based on that metric. 

The NY Times does track with the Pima County Health data. Here’s the graphic for Pima County they had online over the weekend- the last day they had recorded was August 13th. Our 7-day moving average is 244 cases per day. That’s still way over the 100 per 100,000 standard the State is looking for to reopen schools. 

While I don’t count on the State for tracking the rolling 7-day averages – their backlog leaves their data way too unreliable – the State site still has the raw numbers somewhat up to date. Here’s the Pima County summary as of Sunday evening:        

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

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

In addition to giving you the link to the State website, I’ll share a couple of the other ones I use. For the NY Times data sets, use this link:    

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/23/upshot/five-ways-to-monitor-coronavirus-outbreak-us.html 

And you can chew over the Harvard data on this site: Harvard Global Health Institute Key Metrics   

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

 

Let’s close with two more Be Kind mentions. One is for all of our Pima County Public Library workers who are back in business, serving everyone from kids to seniors. They’re front line workers, directly interacting with the public and filling a void that only the library can.  

Some of the libraries are offering computer use, printing, copying and faxing. All of them are offering curbside pick up for books you’ve reserved. To reserve books you can go online at www.library.pima.gov. Or you can call their infoline at 791.4010.  

This is a list of the libraries offering those in-building services.  

  • Caviglia-Arivaca Library 
  • Salazar-Ajo Library 
  • Eckstrom-Columbus Library 
  • Joyner-Green Valley Library 
  • Joel D. Valdez Main Library 
  • Mission Library 
  • Sam Lena-South Tucson Library 
  • Murphy-Wilmot Library 
  • Woods Memorial Library 
  • Oro Valley Public Library 

Masks are required for anyone who enters any of the library buildings. Thanks to all of the workers who are staffing, both inside and outdoors, to keep the library as an outlet for many of us during this shutdown. 

And thanks to the Lutheran Social Services group who is partnered with PCOA on their grocery shopping program. I’ve shared about this program in the past – it's still up and running and is providing a much-needed service to seniors throughout the City. 

To qualify for free grocery delivery, you must be at least 60 years of age and have an income of less than 200% of the Federal poverty line ($25,520 per year.) That age group is already in the CDC ‘vulnerable’ category, which is why this program is so timely and important. 

Contact the PCOA office to sign up – 790.7262. Or email them at help@pcoa.org. Either way, they’ll get you connected and save you the effort and risk of heading to a grocery store. 

Sincerely,

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

 

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