Steve K's Newsletter 08/31/20

Topics in this Issue:

 

Two Lute Stories 

Last week we lost a real ambassador for integrity in the community. I hired into the UA athletics department in ‘87, about 4 years into Lute’s career as head men’s basketball coach. We had contact in the department for the next 15 years, and then occasionally as he’d pop into McKale for visits and business. In the past few days you’ve likely read a lot of remembrances. Here are a couple of mine. 

Early on, when working in event management, one of the things I was responsible for was making sure the arena was transitioned from one event to another. The set up is far different for basketball than it is for a gymnastics meet. It’s not uncommon to have a Thursday night basketball game, followed by a Friday gymnastics meet, and then a mid-day basketball game on Saturday. On one such weekend, I instructed my crew to only leave the 2 main baskets in place for the early Friday basketball shoot-arounds, and not put out the extra 4 other sets in the end zones. That would speed up our transition to gymnastics once the basketball teams were done. Efficiency. Lute got ahold of me when he learned he’d be practicing with 2 hoops, not 6. He didn’t lose it, but explained that the arena was his ‘classroom’ and that I wouldn’t set up a regular classroom with 1/3 the regular number of chairs, so why short the arena set up? We got the other 4 hoops out, I’d say rather quickly. 

After he retired, he was a regular at home games. Prior to tip before an ASU game Lute and I were in one of the staff locker rooms together. I reminded him of the time when we played up at ASU and the students were heckling him. We were pounding the Sun Devils, so Lute’s reaction to the heckling was to just point up at the scoreboard. When I retold the story, he beamed, and true to form turned the conversation to his players, saying that the guys loved it when they got back into the locker room after the game ended. 

Since the shutdown, I’ve changed some of the décor in my office. Next time you come, this is some of the stuff you’ll see: 

 It’s the article written by Corky Simpson right after we won the ‘97 national championship. He was the sports columnist for the evening paper, the Tucson Citizen. And this: 

I’ve got a few more of those original signed National Champions envelopes. This one is framed and hanging in my Ward 6 man-cave. 

Since I began working in ICA in ‘87, I’ve had the privilege of working with some quality people. Five in particular - Jim Gault (women’s gymnastics,) Mary Roby (women’s senior administrator,) Jerry Kindall (baseball,) Dick Tomey (football,) and Lute. Each has now passed, but all have left a mark on the UA, Tucson, and on me.  

There’s a song from A Star is Born called I’ll Always Remember You This Way. One line is ‘the part of me that’s you will never die.’ I think of my mom when I sing it. It also applies to these 5. We’re fortunate to have had them on the UA campus for so long. Each of them lived by the principle that you achieve lasting success when your focus is on wanting the best for others, and not just what’s in it for you. Our current political leadership can benefit from reflecting on that. 

 

This blue light section is a tribute to first responders and health care providers who are working us through this pandemic. One group that largely goes under-appreciated is unpaid caregivers who are often working double and triple duty in, and outside of the home. 

A recent CDC study on mental health that I saw last week cited ‘unpaid caregivers for adults’ as being a group who is disproportionately affected with mental health conditions. These are certainly ‘essential workers’ many of whom are offering in-home assistance for family members who suffer other co-morbidities that make them susceptible to COVID. In addition, the study showed that just under 40% of these caregivers share a household with children.  

We at the Ward 6 office honor these unsung heroes. They work in multigenerational settings, doing work that is very difficult from a physical, mental, and emotional standpoint. And other than their own sense of self-respect for the hard work they’re doing, they’re ‘unpaid.’ Having seen and participated in this sort of situation, I know the community owes this group our thanks. 

More Outdoor Seating 

In the past couple of newsletters, I’ve shared examples of newly expanded outdoor dining opportunities that are opening in the downtown core. We had a great meeting with some 4th Avenue merchants last week and expect to see these expand over onto the Avenue soon. This week’s Local Tucson item is work being done in partnership between the Downtown Tucson Partnership, City staff, and the County to fund and approve more of these. 

The County has issued some grant money to DTP. They’re using that in up to $5,000 increments to help downtown businesses change their streetscape and create looks like this: 

That's the commercial strip over on Pennington. You’ll find others scattered throughout downtown. This Outdoor Cafe Grant Program is being used to purchase tables, chairs, rework planters, and build pedestrian ramps. Relationships are everything. It’s great to see the DTP working so well with the County in continuing the revitalization of the downtown area, especially while COVID has made things so much more difficult.  

The list of these extensions of premises is growing for downtown, the wider Tucson area, and over by Main Gate. The businesses now include the Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails, Casa Video, Maverick, Hops, Prep and Pastry, Owls’s Club, Senae Thai, Penca, Urban Fresh, Canyon Raptor, Café 54, Market Bar (American Eats,) Gentle Ben’s, Scented Leaf, Kababeque, Woops! Bakery, Jimmy’s Pita and Poke, Fuku Sushi, and Expresso Art. I appreciate the interest, and I appreciate the help our PDSD staff has invested in helping these along. 

Election Ballot Issues 

The recent decisions being made by the new federal Postmaster have caused legitimate questions about ballots getting to the Recorder in a timely manner. F. Ann Rodriguez, our Pima County Recorder advises us that her office is getting regular calls requesting that they mail out ballots earlier than usual. The Recorder cannot mail them out before October 7th - that’s the statutorily earliest they can send them. Even if you ask. Their hands are tied by state law. 

They’re also getting questions about random phone calls alleging a voter is not registered or has not requested a ballot. Or some other seemingly urgent reason for you to take some sort of action. The Pima County Recorder does not call or text voters unless they have a specific question about some form you submitted to them. These other calls are not from them. 

You can look at their website for registration instructions by going to www.recorder.pima.gov, or check your own registration information at https://www.recorder.pima.gov/VoterStats/VoterInfo.  

Things are messy enough this election season due to COVID. The last thing we need is phony calls/texts confusing voters even more. 

Private Student Housing 

Last week I opened with a blue light recognition for Rescue Me Wellness and their testing lab that’s up and running at 2502 N. Dodge. They’re still up and running, and you can still get in touch with them to schedule a test – or just walk in. The link to get signed up is https://tucsoncovidtesting.com, and their phone number is 433.8000. 

I also shared that at the time I wrote last week’s newsletter, I had made contact with the management from 2 of the student apartment towers located over on Tyndall, right off campus. My concerns were about having so many students arrive from out of town, check into their dorms, and not have any wellness check or COVID test performed. In fact, that concern was validated. And after having spoken to management from 5 towers, I can tell you that the same dynamic is true at each one. 

Last week was move-in week. In 5 of the towers located near Main Gate, there are in the neighborhood of 2,000 students now renting apartments. None were required to take a COVID test before checking in, and all of the towers are running north of 75% capacity. I naively hoped they’d be telling me they were limited to one person per room. None are. 

All of the students who are moving into on-campus dorms are required to take an antigen test before they’re allowed to check in. If they tested positive, they were quarantined in Babcock Inn, off campus. None of that is happening at any of the private, off-campus apartment towers. There’s talk of requiring anyone coming onto campus to have been tested, but that’s still in the discussion stage. With that as the background, I reached out to Lisa Ritter. She runs Rescue Me Wellness. After a series of calls, including my contacting County Administrator Huckelberry to be sure funding was available, Lisa and I organized two evenings of testing right outside of the towers. 

 That’s a lot of bodies, from all over the country, crammed into a pretty small area, none of whom were tested, and no game plan for isolating sick people or tracing their contacts. That’s why I told Melissa Egan from KOLD it’s an accident waiting to happen. 

Credit to Lisa and her team for hosting the testing last Friday and Saturday evenings. And credit to the Islamic Center family for allowing us to use their parking lot to stage in. That’s the same parking lot that has been subjected to bottles and other debris being tossed from the balconies above. It was yet another olive branch from ICT. 

This chart shows the age breakdown of COVID infections as of the end of July. The blue is within City limits, and the green is unincorporated Pima County. Look at the ages 20-24. It’s the tallest bar on the graph. The second tallest is 25-29. Those two groups are many of the students we tested over the weekend. Test results will be called directly to the students within 48 hours of the test. Any positives will be encouraged to check in with campus health and begin the tracing process.  

Our goal was to get this started during the first week of classes. The brushfire that could happen if an outbreak went unchecked is exactly the sort of condition that President Robbins has warned might close things down on campus; that is, peoples’ behavior that’s not under the control of the UA. We know that behavior is going to be an issue. The UA had to shut down the sand volleyball facility over by Coronado dorm due to too many people packed onto it playing volleyball. All we can do now is hope this testing happened in time to avoid significant community spread. The UA is going to pick up this testing effort in the off-campus towers beginning this week. 

On Saturday I was able to get us into the lobby of one of the private apartment towers to offer the testing. In our 3 hour window, we tested just under 100 students in that lobby. Of them, 36 reported either active symptoms or have been in contact with someone who is sick. I’ve made arrangements for access to 2 other lobbies for testing. In total, over the 2 evenings at both of our sites, we tested around 250 students. The results will be shared with each of them directly by Tuesday of this week, and the raw data sent to the County Health people. 

The UA is talking about expanding its wastewater testing to include the towers. I raised that as a possibility during a weekly call last Thursday. The UA FM folks are actively studying it. And there is an App you can load onto your smartphone that will alert you if you’ve been close to someone else registered on the App who has tested positive. Go to this link to sign up; Covid.arizona.edu/covidwatch . 

Retail Compliance 

That’s the student housing part of reopening. Businesses are also in the process of the slow reopening. There are COVID-driven guidelines that I’ve shared in previous newsletters related to how gyms, theaters, water parks and restaurants must apply CDC rules if they’re going to be in compliance. Simple observation has shown that many are not taking those requirements as seriously as public health officials – and those of us who don’t want to see this mess extended – expect. 

I had some contacts with both City and County people with enforcement in mind. My focus is on areas in proximity to either campus or close to large student housing complexes. University Police aren’t leading the off-campus enforcement effort, either of business compliance or mask wearing. When I raised the issue of UA mask enforcement with City/County/TPD, the response was that “they were not supportive of tickets being issued to students (or even that this issue receives any amount of unusual attention.)” 

With CDC guidelines driving reopening, a State mandated Executive Order outlining those regulations, and both Pima County and City mask wearing ordinances in place, I’m of the opinion that enforcement is not ‘unusual attention.’ More to the point, it’s what we are expected to do in order to ensure community spread is controlled. The whole ‘education’ thing is nice, but unless you’ve found a rock to live under since March, that piece should have been achieved weeks/months ago. 

Pima County Health Inspectors are empowered to shut down businesses that are clearly out of compliance with the reopening guidelines. They will have the support of TPD if that becomes necessary. There are too many new faces in town, having come from all over the country to allow time for ‘education’ and door hangers to be our approach to violations of the law. If you see a business that’s clearly not complying with the mask-up laws, you can send them to www.Tucne.ws/pimareport.  

Neighborhood Student Relations 

Currently, the UA doesn’t have a robust off-campus housing department. But the community relations folks are ready to engage and partner in working towards solutions if you have neighborhood issues with off-campus student behavior. There’s a hotline you can call to report certain activities. 

First please keep in mind that if you’re dealing with an emergency or an issue of criminal activity, call 911. The ‘neighborhood concerns hotline’ is not going to respond to a ‘shots fired’ unruly gathering call. Where the hotline will be of value is working with student behaviors that may be of nuisance value, and correctable with a personal contact. Those can be parties, but also loud music over a period of time, trashing the area, cars/traffic/parking - the sorts of things you might otherwise contact our Code Enforcement people, or your neighborhood association to help address. 

Another area they’ll help with is people ignoring COVID protocols off campus. The relationship we have is a partnership with City/County/UA, and surrounding neighborhoods. If you have concerns about student COVID-related behavior, call and we’ll work together to address it. 

The hotline is 282.3649. Contacting them will be the catalyst for a group visit to the place. That group will consist of UA representatives, your neighbors, other community partners, and my office. We’ll be masked up and will be properly distanced, but we’ll visit and share the guidelines and best practices that are contained in both State and local ordinances related to controlling the virus.  

The Red Tag unit is still operating and now has COVID as an extra motivating tool. Report violations to RedTag@tucsonaz.gov.  

As so many in the health care world have said, it’s human behavior that will determine how soon we get back together in person, outside of our bubbles. Please help us deliver that message to groups you see out violating CDC rules so we don’t lose any of the ground we’ve achieved in the past few weeks. 

College Reopening Generally 

I read an interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week that showed how varying types of Universities and Colleges are approaching the new school year. It was the work of a group of researchers out of Davidson College. They looked at a comparison of how institutions are reopening based on their public/private/2 and 4 year status. The results mirrored what I found at the private, for-profit apartment towers off campus. 

The categories of institutions they studied are ‘public, 4 year,’ ‘private nonprofit, 4 year,’ ‘public 2 year,’ and ‘private nonprofit, 2 year’ schools. The goal was to see how each of those categories of schools was reopening on the scale of fully in person, to total virtual. 

This graph shows the results for public, 4 year schools. The UA falls in this category. You can see that very few are starting ‘fully in person,’ and most are opening ‘primarily online.’ Based on the UA reopening approach I’d place them in the ‘hybrid’ category – about ½ and ½ in person and online. We’ll see how the opening goes to see if and how that changes. 

The picture changes quite a bit when looking at private, 4 year schools. Now you see the largest category is ‘primarily in person.’ The ‘primarily online’ falls way down in the ranking. The off-campus private dorms are following the same profit-driven approach to reopening their rooms for the fall semester. The testing we did last weekend will be instructive. 

The public, 2 year schools are very similar to their 4 year partners. ‘Primarily online’ is the most common. 

And with the caveat that the vast majority of the private, 2 year schools were undecided at the time Davidson did their survey, the ‘Primarily in person’ category still tops the others. 

So what are we seeing across the country after the first couple of weeks of class? The University of Alabama reported over 500 cases of COVID. Ohio State has issued 228 suspensions for violating COVID rules. Auburn has over 200 positive tests. Iowa had over 100 on their first day of classes. UNC had 135.  

Moving to online after the first week or two of opening are East Carolina, UNC Charlotte, Butler, Eastern Michigan, NC State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ithica, and UNC. St. Olaf has suspended 17 students. Syracuse placed 23 students on ‘interim suspension.’ Virginia Tech – 7 suspensions. Purdue, 36, and Radford has suspended 3 students for “endangering conduct.” 

It would have been great if the private off-campus student apartment towers had begun with scaled back numbers of renters, wellness checks and some protocols in place for isolating sick students, and tracing. They didn’t - we’re playing catch up now. It’d be great to report to you that the tests resulted in high participation, and few COVID cases. Stay tuned for that. 

When is a trend not a trend?  

I’ve shared in past newsletters how following the daily data is not a good way to draw conclusions for coronavirus. This is the chart I pulled from last weekend for August reports from the County to the State. 

The 4th column is the increases by day at the State level, and the last column is increases by day at the Pima County level. And as you can see by the August 26 curiosity, the numbers are ‘subject to revision’ once numerous sets of eyes are on them. Having 384 cases reported on the 25th, and than –8 the next day is just, well, meaningless. How do you have negative 8 new cases in a day?  And just look at how all the other days just bounce around from one day to the next. That is not a true reflection of actual cases. There’s a lag in when the daily count is turned in, and when it shows up in public data sets. And as I’ve shown in the past, there’s a difference between what we see locally, and what the State puts out. 

So we track trends and hope that gives a more accurate picture. There’s a chart in the County report that gives the monthly tracking – here's that most recent report: 

That’s for Pima County. We know the spike happened in July, after the Stay-at-Home was lifted. But that mandate was put into place when the numbers were around 1,000 per month. Now we’re bumping 5,000 per month. And school/UA just reopened.  

My point is that we hear a lot of chatter about the trend heading in the right direction. That might be accurate, but I’d add a couple of points. That trend is starting from a peak, and is just now about 5x the level it was when we first shut things down. And that trend will be challenged in the upcoming weeks when we see the impact of thousands of new residents going out to socialize in many of the newly reopened businesses. As I’ve said before, we don’t set the rules. The virus does. 

Governor’s Press Briefing  

Last week the COVID briefing given by Ducey was cancelled due to his attendance at the Trump acceptance speech. While that’s not particularly noteworthy, I saw the flyer that was sent to invitees. I’ve included a page from it below. 

A couple of items caught my eye. First, while they required masks ‘upon arrival,’ once inside the perimeter, they were ‘encouraged.’ And social distancing was to be practiced ‘whenever possible.’ It was not practiced in the seating area during the speech. 

Also, no weapons. In any other large political gathering like this, that’s a no-brainer. But last time around they had quite the protest over that restriction. Not a peep last week, despite the strong NRA support the campaign has been advertising.  

Above I included voter registration information from F. Ann. Please participate in the process.  

Comparing COVID Reports 

I mentioned above that daily counts are not a reliable way to draw conclusions about where we stand with COVID. So I’ve been giving you several different assessments, from different sources so you can draw your own conclusions. Each is an average over time, not a snapshot of a single day. 

One of those sources is the Harvard Global Health Institute. To refresh your memory, these are the risk levels they base their advice on. 

According to the Harvard folks, two weeks ago, Pima County’s 7 day moving average was 23.3 daily new cases per 100,000, with 244 new cases per day. Last week that had improved to 15.5 and 162. We were still in the Orange, but the improvement was a hopeful sign. Here’s what their study showed for Pima County over the past weekend: 

We’re still in the Orange, but the numbers continue to improve. And Statewide last week there were 7 Counties in the Orange. Now there are 4. 

Another tool comes from the Arizona Department of Education. They have benchmarks showing whether a given County is ready to open schools. Here’s a table showing the school district benchmarks from across the State: 

There are only 4 that meet all 3 criteria. Pima County has met 2 of the 3 so far. I’ll close with the maps of raw data down below, but with the caveats, I listed above about ‘trends,’ (still 5x where we were when things shut down, and schools/businesses are reopening.) Things for now are improving as compared to July. 

 

This is a Be Kind, and a congratulations to our partners with MEB Management who run the Downtown Motor Lodge. Last week they received the Affordable Community of the Year Award from the Arizona Multihousing Association. It’s a project that is providing affordable housing, largely to vets who are struggling to get their feet on the ground. Our friend Maryann Beerling was instrumental in bringing the public along on the vision. 

In the run-up to getting the place open I know our Housing and Planning staff worked hard to be sure the historic, and the neighborhood compatibility complexities were all considered. Most importantly now, the project is serving the needs of vulnerable members of the community in a way that the AMA has paid a well-deserved tribute to. We’re proud to have them up and running in Ward 6. 

And another act of Kindness – this one from private firm security guard Jesse – he saved the life of a Sun Tran passenger. Here’s a tweet from Sun Tran management giving the whole story.  

We’re grateful to Jesse for his quick and compassionate thinking. 

COVID Raw Data 

With the understanding that daily counts are subject to revision due to lags in reporting, the raw numbers are still valuable in terms of measuring the magnitude of the COVID issue. Over the weekend I had a couple of students express some attitude over the notion of testing or wearing a mask. So these data still paint an important part of the overall picture.  

Here are the Statewide numbers for total number of cases, and fatalities. 

And this is what those same data points look like for Pima County. We’re about 15% of the State population and just over 10% of all the cases and deaths.  

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: 

Last week I gave kudos to Greenlee County for having held steady at 57 cases for two weeks in a row. They had one last week. Based on our student housing testing, that’s likely to be a target we’re quite a ways from meeting.  

 Here is the set of data links I refer to for some of the sections in the newsletter: 

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 find the Harvard data on this site: Harvard Global Health Institute Key Metrics   

The State Department of Health site is at this link: www.azdhs.gov

And track the advice on public schools through this link: https://www.azed.gov/communications/2020/03/10/guidance-to-schools-on-covid-19/  You can find all the dashboard information at the “School Reopening Public Health Benchmarks” spot. Let your school-aged kids play with it if you can’t find the data you’re after. That might save you some time. 

Sincerely,

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

 

City of Tucson Resources