COVID-19 in Arizona: Detainees call for immigration courts to halt in-person hearings

PHOENIX – A group of immigrant detainees have filed suit against U.S. officials, alleging federal inaction during the COVID-19 outbreak endangers those in detention and violates the Constitution.

In a lawsuit filed March 30, four Cuban asylum seekers and one green-card holder facing deportation accused the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review and Immigration and Customs Enforcement of violations, KJZZ reports. The plaintiffs argue that the organizations are ignoring warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the risks of in-person court hearings, according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs argue immigration courts should follow the precedent set by prisons, which halted in-person court hearings, to minimize the possibility of infection.

“The Executive Office for Immigration Review has not taken the same measures, and most immigration courts remain open for in person business, putting the health and safety of individuals in immigration detention and their attorneys at risk,” court documents said.

KJZZ also reports that there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, where three of the suit’s plaintiffs are held.

As of April 2, Arizona health officials reported 1,598 cases of COVID-19 in Arizona, and 32 deaths, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. As of April 2, the department said, 22,709 tests for COVID-19 have been completed in public and private labs in Arizona and the results of 21,278 tests were negative.

Grand Canyon park closes

Grand Canyon National Park will be closing to address COVID-19 related concerns, Cronkite News reported Wednesday. Before now, the park has been open and was not charging entry fees, despite urgent requests to close from Coconino County officials, the Navajo Nation and state lawmakers.

A letter from Coconino County health officials cited the 82 reported cases of COVID-19 in the county and stringent limits on public gatherings implemented by county health officials as reasons the park should close.

The park will remain closed indefinitely, according to a press release from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Potential visitors can instead take a virtual tour of the Grand Canyon through the National Park Service’s website.

Statewide community spread increases

At least one confirmed case has been reported in every county in Arizona, the entire state is experiencing “community spread,” the Arizona Republic reports. Community spread is a form of transmission in which the source of infection is unknown, and Arizona health officials now consider it “widespread.” Cases of COVID-19 had been most commonly associated with travel or close contact with an individual with a confirmed case.

“We have to work under the assumption that anyone that we encounter could potentially have this particular infection and could potentially spread it to us,” Joe Gerald, a public health professor at the University of Arizona, told the Republic.

Arizona leaders call on feds to help stop price gouging

Two Arizona Democrats in Congress are calling for the Federal Trade Commission to stop a company from overcharging the Phoenix Police Department and Fire Department for N95 face masks, Arizona Family reports. Reps. Greg Stanton and Ruben Gallego, who represent Phoenix, said the company also is requiring payment for masks before delivery. In a letter to the FTC, the lawmakers called the unidentified company’s behavior shameful and un-American and suggested the company may be gouging other fire and police departments across the nation.

Valley Metro changes bus route schedule

Starting April 6, Valley Metro will run fewer Express and RAPID bus trips in the Phoenix area because of the coronavirus outbreak in Arizona, KTAR reports. The light rail, local buses and circulator buses will continue to run normally. The new bus schedules can be found on Valley Metro’s website.

Mesa public facilities likely to be closed until October

Mesa’s public facilities that were closed to slow the spread of COVID-19 likely will remain closed, according to the Mesa Tribune. The city’s public parks, museums, libraries and the Mesa Arts Center were included in the closure order. All summer programming and cultural activities scheduled throughout the season have been canceled, and Mesa City Hall is only accessible to those with appointments.

ASU to hold graduation ceremonies online

Arizona State University announced Thursday morning that all spring graduation ceremonies will be held online. “Sun Devil Nation is going to celebrate,” ASU President Michael Crow said in a statement, pledging the school would hold online ceremonies in May. Spring 2020 graduates will be allowed to participate in in-person graduation ceremonies in December 2020 or in May 2021, Crow said. Students will not receive a refund for their graduation fees, according to The State Press. Students can get refunds for their caps and gowns as long as they are unopened.

ASU offers nonrefundable credit to students who move out of dorms

In an email to students, ASU said it will offer a $1,500 nonrefundable credit to on-campus students who choose to move off-campus by April 15, and who have accommodations elsewhere, The State Press reports. Students who move out before the 15th and out-of-state students who moved out after April 1 are eligible for the credit. Residents halls will remain staffed for students who choose to stay, housing officials said.

Maricopa County animal shelters suspending certain in-person services

Maricopa County Animal Care and Control is temporarily suspending certain in-person services, including vaccinations and pet surrenders, Arizona Family reports. Although some shelters are halting adoptions for short periods of time, others have seen a spike in adoptions, according to Cronkite News. Certain shelters, including Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, have moved to appointment-only adoptions.

Gasoline prices decrease across the Valley

For the first time since 2016, the national average price of regular gas has fallen below $2, KTAR reports. Arizona’s gas prices are included in that drop, although the average price of gas statewide is $2.44 – 53 cents lower than the year before.

New technology could help COVID-19 patients breathe

Technology invented by two University of Arizona professors has the potential to help patients that experience complications due to the coronavirus, the Arizona Daily Star reports. The technology is a helium-oxygen respiratory assist device called Hespiro, and a Tucson startup called SaiOx Inc. is working on producing the device.

Local company fundraises for Arizona coronavirus relief

Arizona shirt company X-treme Apparel is raising money for the Arizona coronavirus relief fund, FOX 10 reports by selling shirts with uplifting and humorous messages, such as “Straight outta toilet paper” and “Together we will prevail.”

How to Help: Volunteers needed across the Valley

As cases of coronavirus rise in Arizona, more volunteers are needed in the community. Pima County is looking for volunteers to help with the anticipated rise in COVID-19 patients, according to KJZZ’s Fronteras Desk. Nurses with emergency and intensive care experience are especially needed. People Who Care, a nonprofit that assists adults who no longer can drive, is looking for volunteers to help in Chino Valley, Prescott, Prescott Valley and Dewey, the Daily Courier reports.

Grace Lieberman

Health Reporter, Phoenix

Velvet Wahl

Next Gen Reporter, Phoenix

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