COVID-19 in Arizona: Gila River hotels, casinos close for two weeks after worker death

PHOENIX – Gila River Hotels & Casinos has shut down for two weeks to review safety standards and disinfect properties after the COVID-19 related death last week of a security employee.

“The decision came after a careful evaluation of the growing enterprise’s current safety plan with the Gila River Indian Community Council and feedback from its community and team members,” according to a statement made by Gila River Hotels & Casinos, which operates three properties in metro Phoenix: Wild Horse Pass, Lone Butte and Vee Quiva.

The closure began Thursday.

The family of casino security worker Robert Washington told that he had diabetes and was uneasy returning to work in May, but he felt he had no choice because he otherwise couldn’t afford his insulin.

“He was absolutely fearful for his future,” Washington’s daughter told the station. “There was no social distancing as he explained to me, there was no active sanitation.”

All employees of Gila River Hotels & Casinos will be on paid leave during the shutdown and will continue to receive benefits.

“Nothing is more important to our community than the well-being of our team members and guests, children, elders and families,” Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said in a statement. “Like our sister tribes and businesses all over Arizona, we tried to do what is best for all, while processing new information and new guidelines about the pandemic with little in the way of definitive guidance.”

Lewis said all of Washington’s co-workers who were in direct contact with him have tested negative for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

He also issued an executive order Thursday afternoon to mandate wearing masks on community lands and allow tribal government employees to seek paid leave for up to 60 days if they have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

As of Thursday, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 43,443 cases of COVID-19 and 1,271 deaths in the state. It said 517,666 tests for COVID-19 have been completed as in public and private labs in Arizona, and 7.5% of tests have come back positive for the virus.

Arizona nurse raises concerns over recent spike in COVID-19 cases

Leigh Bowie is an Arizona travel nurse who worked at Westchester Medical Center in New York before COVID-19 emerged in the U.S. Once cases began to mount, she found herself overwhelmed by the number of patients she cared for on a daily basis. Bowie now is back home, and she fears Arizona now is where New York was a few months ago, 12 News reports.

Mesa Public Schools to share plans for reopening in fall

Mesa Public Schools, the state’s largest district, will host virtual meetings for staff members, parents and students this week and next as they discuss plans for students who may want to continue to learn online in the upcoming school year, the East Valley Tribune reports. Officials also will discuss plans for the possibility of schools closing again because of COVID-19.

County, city leaders work to implement mask policies

Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday declined to issue a statewide mandate to wear masks in public, instead leaving the decision up to mayors and county boards of supervisors. ABC15 reports that Phoenix and Tucson have already announced mask policies and other cities are considering them. The Yuma Sun reported San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez has adopted rules for wearing masks, while Yuma County officials still are considering one. Health officials are concerned about rising cases in counties along the border with Mexico.

News Broadcast Producer, Phoenix

Derrick Smith expects to graduate in December 2021 with a degree in journalism and a minor in digital audiences. Smith, who has interned with Hart Talent Management, is working in the Phoenix News Bureau.