Authors Articles byBob McGovern

Bob McGovern

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Yvanira Kelly Barbosa MHS 2020
Yvanira Kelly Barbosa smiles as she receives her diploma on Thursday morning from Patti Coutre, a school board member.

After a year that culminated in so much disappointment for many Maricopa High School graduates, the Class of 2020 and its accomplishments were celebrated Thursday during a drive-thru diploma distribution.

Amid blowing of car horns, thumping music, blowing balloons and cheers of congratulations, graduates clad in red caps and gowns were presented diplomas in their cars in a driveway at the high school, accompanied by family and friends. It began at 10:30 a.m. and was scheduled to last about four hours.

It was an effort by teachers, staff and administrators to give this year’s class of 512 graduates the best send-off they could – for now – as social distancing remains important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Tracey Lopeman, superintendent of the Maricopa Unified School District, was helping to cheer on graduates in a year that they had virtually none of the traditional trappings of senior year.

“We’re trying to let our Maricopa Rams know how proud we are of them, and that we know that this is not what we had hoped for, but it’s only just the beginning, and their best is yet to come,” she said, greeting cars as they rolled toward the diploma distribution station.

“I would like for them to use their horns more so we can wake up the neighborhood, and make this the proper moment,” she said. “We’ve got to let them know: the Rams are graduating. We’re proud of them.”

“Make some noise,” she yelled to one car. “Congratulations!”

‘Really thoughtful’

Many graduates were grateful for the show of support.

“I think what they did was pretty nice, because currently we have to keep social distancing from each other,” said Alexandra Cuellar, 18, as she and her family waited to take photos at one of the backdrops set up in the student parking lot.

“The drive-thru was pretty nice, having the support of our staff and our teachers. It was nice to see them at least one last time,” she said. “Then, putting up these booths to take a picture with our families in front of our school, I thought that was really thoughtful and good of them.”

Her dad, Ricardo Cuellar, said he agreed with his daughter about the festivities, adding simply: “I am very proud.”

As he waited to take pictures with his family, Derek Blakely, 17, wore his red gown and mortarboard over a T-shirt and black Converse sneakers. He wore a tassel on his cap given to him by his sister, Rachel, who graduated from Maricopa High School in 2017. “I just broke the ’17 off,” he said, laughing.

He said the school year was a bit surreal.

“It was pretty weird,” Blakely said. “The weekend that we started spring break was the weekend that Disney and everything shut down and it all felt real. The whole coronavirus thing.

“For a while, it just felt like we never came back from break. At one point, we were going to come back, but then we just don’t.”

He said he was grateful for the pomp around the diploma drive-thru – attended by his parents, grandparents, his sister and her boyfriend – but conceded it was bittersweet in some ways.

“It’s so almost-something, you know,” he said. “It’s like a reminder about how real it could have been.”

“Like it’s nice and I appreciate it, obviously. You can see how much effort and love everyone put into this,” he said, before adding it was also “a reminder that, oh yeah, I didn’t get senior week, I didn’t get prom, I didn’t get so many things….”

GraduateTruck MHS 2020
A graduate waves from the back of a pickup truck during Thursday’s celebration of the Class of 2020. Photo by Kyle Norby

Quick and patient, with social distancing

Before 10:30 a.m., vehicles were lined up along North Taft Street and back onto Honeycutt Avenue in front of the school. Teachers and staff cheered from stations under canopies as cars waited. As the students entered the school grounds, they were greeted by a DJ blaring “Hey Ya” by Outkast and “Fire Burning on the Dance Floor” by Sean Kingston.

Many cars were decorated in black-and-red, with messages of congratulations and good luck next to their graduate’s name. Some were festooned with red, black and Spongebob balloons.

As graduates took their diplomas, they could move into the student lot to take photos at one of three backdrops to digitize the memory. The most popular backdrop, featuring a pattern of recurring MHS Rams and Adidas logos, was set up under a tree. A sign reminded: “Please be quick. Be patient. Respect Social Distancing.”

Most families were following the rules, taking their photos quickly and moving aside for the next group. Patience looked to be in good supply.

Nearby, two signs on cars summed up the difficult year, their traditional messages carrying more meaning this time around.

One read: “Class 2020 Class that Made History.”

The other: “The Tassle Was Worth The Hassle 2020 You Did It!”

Derek Blakely MHS 2020
Derek Blakely, a graduate of the Class of 2020 at Maricopa High School, poses for a photo with his diploma. Photo by Kyle Norby

‘Doing as much as they can’

The school’s efforts to make Diploma Day special did not go unnoticed.

“I appreciate it. It’s better than nothing,” said Nadia Chacon, 17, sitting in the passenger seat of a Chevy Traverse as she moved through the line. “They could have just sent me my diploma.”

Yvanira Kelly Barbosa, 17, was taking a positive view on a challenging year.

“It was a good year,” she said, simply. “It was fine.”

Her father, Jose Barbosa, said he appreciated the celebration being put on by the high school.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “The kids can come in and enjoy. I mean, they work all year. This is what we do for them.”

Graduate Aidan Di Maria picked up his diploma with two friends, Isaac Barrett and Brandon Ortega, who had much different experiences when they graduated in 2019.

“It just sucks that we can’t even have a trip, which I get,” he said. ““They are doing everything right. They can’t do much, so they are doing as much as they can.”

BrianWinter MHS2020
Brian Winter, outgoing principal at Maricopa High School, calls in the next graduate headed to the diploma station at Thursday’s distribution. Photo by Kyle Norby

The group wondered, though, if spreading out the distribution over a couple of days would have allowed graduates the opportunity to have more friends and family join them.

“There was other options than a drive-thru,” his mother noted. “And not in December.”

Outgoing principal Brian Winter greeted graduates, passing along his congratulations before radioing the student’s name 70 feet down the driveway to the folks grabbing diplomas and handing them out.

He said the event had one focus: the students.

“It’s about the kids,” he said. “It’s a difficult time, obviously. This group has lost a lot. And so anything that we can do to help celebrate the situation we want to do. And obviously the full-blown ceremony in December is going to be important as well.”

Then he turned to greet another car, another one of his graduates: “Congratulations!”

 

Ross Reopening May 2020
Shoppers wait in line on Wednesday afternoon to get inside the Ross Dress for Less store in Maricopa. The store was having a reopening sale. Photo by Bob McGovern

The sale was on Wednesday at Ross Dress for Less and shoppers waited in line for close to an hour to get inside for the bargains.

They would wait again for the chance to get back outside with their goods.

“My mom said they had opened and there was a big sale today,” said Jenny Gomez, 39, of Maricopa, standing with her mother, Julie Gomez, on the sidewalk outside the retail store. “So we decided to come check it out.”

About 1:45 p.m., the Gomezes were last in a line of about 40 shoppers waiting to get through the front doors. They were nonplussed about the 45-minute wait ahead, about half of which would be spent under the midday sun.

The crowd at the reopening sale was no mystery to them.

“People have been cooped up,” said Jenny, who admitted they shopped often at Ross before the pandemic.

With dozens of cars in the parking lot, store security was letting shoppers inside only as others came out. About half of those in line outside wore coverings over their faces. Some practiced social distancing, while others didn’t seem to care.

Dresses that typically cost $30 were selling for $3 to $6. Chaise lounges were discounted by about 66%.

Inside, shoppers queued up with their purchases – some with multiple carts – funneled into one of eight-or-so cash registers. It was about another 40 minutes from getting in line to paying for merchandise.

Brian Davis, 39, of Maricopa, was standing in line outside to kill time while he waited for his wife’s car to be tinted. But he did have a goal: new shoes.

“There is nowhere to buy them,” he said.

He had already waited about 20 minutes, and had at least that long to reach the doors, but the New Jersey transplant exuded a coolness and patience that befitted his military training as a member of the National Guard.

“I’m used to waiting,” he said. “I stand in a line until it goes away.”

Kylia Simmons, 17, was waiting in line for two.

Eleven weeks pregnant, she passed the time outside so she could buy clothes – roomier clothes – inside.

“My stomach is starting to grow,” she said with a smile.

A big Ross fan who has missed shopping there the past two months, Simmons said she wasn’t that worried about staying safe out in public.

Like many other retail stores deemed non-essential, Ross shuttered its doors in March when Gov. Doug Ducey declared a stay at home order to stem the spread of coronavirus. Wednesday was its official reopening.

The store, which opened in July 2018 at 20595 N. John Wayne Parkway in the Edison Pointe shopping center, is open all week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Codey Foy charges
Codey Foy, 43, faces new criminal charges after Friday's incident, according to Maricopa police. Photo: Pinal County Jail

Codey Foy, the defendant on bail from charges of aggravated assault and endangerment after a police manhunt in Tortosa on May 8, is facing new criminal charges.

Foy, 43, was arrested about 7 p.m. Friday and charged with prohibited possession of a firearm, disorderly conduct, unlawful discharge of a weapon and related charges, according to Maricopa police.

Officers had responded Friday to Foy’s ex-girlfriend’s home on North Toledo Avenue in Tortosa, after the woman’s neighbor called police to report a disturbance.

On scene, the ex-girlfriend, identified as Jennifer Drown, told police that Foy became upset when she wouldn’t let him drive her vehicle to the store, because he is on medication, police said.

Drown said Foy allegedly began throwing things in the garage and threatening to go to the home of the U.S. border agent who shot him in the left hand during the May 8 manhunt to ask him why he shot him, according to the statement of probable cause.

Drown also told police that on May 14 Foy allegedly discharged a firearm on her back porch, and showed officers where the bullet struck the patio and ricocheted into the back of the home, police said.

Foy told police the weapon discharge was accidental, occurring when a silver 9mm Derringer fell and struck the patio while he was taking off his boots, police said. Foy said the hammer on the gun was faulty, causing it to fire.

Foy allegedly admitted to officers that he was prohibited from possessing firearms, but said he had to carry the gun for protection. He told police he had since discarded the weapon, but it has yet to be recovered, the probable cause statement indicated.

In the May 8 incident, Foy sustained a non-life-threatening wound in the hand after he was shot by an off-duty border agent while police searched for him in the Tortosa neighborhood.

Foy had been wanted in connection with a stolen truck earlier in the day, and Pinal County Sheriff’s Office had issued a “be on the lookout” notice.  When a report of a man matching Foy’s description came in that afternoon, personnel from the Maricopa Police Department and Pinal County Sheriff’s Office descended on the development, closing off traffic from Honeycutt Road at the roundabout by Santa Cruz Elementary. For hours, authorities searched door to door, calling in a Department of Public Safety helicopter, but Foy could not be found until after 6 p.m.

Foy was shot near a home on Picasso Street, taken into custody and transported to a local hospital for treatment of his injuries. The border patrol agent involved was unharmed, authorities said. Foy, who had previous warrants out for his arrest, according to authorities, was released on bail after charges stemming from that incident.

He was being held without bail at Pinal County Jail after Friday’s arrest pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for today on the latest charges, according to court records.

Amanda Stanford Pinal County
Amanda Stanford resigned in April from her position as Pinal County Clerk of the Superior Court. Photo courtesy of Pinal County Clerk of Superior Court Office

The search for an interim appointee as Pinal County Clerk of Superior Court has been extended.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey will fill the vacancy created by the April 26 resignation of Amanda Stanford, a Republican elected as clerk of the court. She took office in January 2015.

Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. on May 29 for the $63,800 position. A copy of the application and instructions for applying can be downloaded at www.bc.azgovernor.gov.

To qualify for appointment, applicants must be eligible to vote, a resident of Pinal County, and a registered Republican.

The Governor’s Office will review applications and interview qualified applicants in order for Ducey to make an interim appointment, until a clerk can be elected during the next regular general election in 2022.

The office of the Clerk of the Superior Court maintains the accuracy and integrity of judicial records for the Pinal County Superior Court.

Cat Klinzing and her son, Jacob, play games on Friday morning during the reopening of the UltraStar Multi-tainment Complex. Photos by Kyle Norby

As the first customer through the doors Friday morning at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center, four-year-old Jacob Klinzing was headed to play games in the arcade.

With a card loaded up by his mother, Cat, he was ready to play the Walking Dead video game and skeeball.

The Klinzings, who live in Acacia Crossing, were one of several families who visited UltraStar as the entertainment complex reopened after being closed for two months to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The complex welcomed a handful of bowlers, diners and others with procedures in place to safeguard the health of patrons and employees, including physical distancing, sanitizer stations and matching face masks for workers.

“When I said we were going out, he was so excited, grabbing his shoes,” said Klinzing, who said her family had been “really good” following Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order, which expires today. She said she had been particularly careful about her son’s health, staying at home and out of the grocery store, for example.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel safe,” she said.

At the Ten Pins Down bowling center, the first two bowlers to check in at the counter – under an electronic sign that said “We’ve Missed You!” – immediately reached for the hand sanitizer.

Peggy Whitaker, 66, and her husband, Jeff, 64, wore masks on their faces as they prepared to bowl after a long hiatus. They had their lane for an hour.

The Whitakers, who live in Cobblestone Farms, said they typically bowl 3-4 times weekly and play in leagues at UltraStar.

Peggy Whitaker bowling
Peggy Whitaker of Maricopa chats with an employee on Friday morning at the bowling alley at UltraStar.

“This is wonderful,” Peggy said. “It opened just in time. It’s a great time to come.”

Still, they were taking necessary precautions. “We are taking care of ourselves,” she said.

But she added that others remained concerned about being out and about during the pandemic.

“All the women I know are scared to death, because they are in my age bracket,” she said.

Peggy was especially looking forward to rolling the ball again – with her left arm.

A natural lefty kegler, she had replacement surgery on that shoulder 18 months ago, and spent much of her rehabilitation bowling instead with her right arm. On Friday, she was ready to try out the new shoulder.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said.

Alyssa and Mili Kajtaz saw the reopening as an opportunity to get their two young sons out of their Maricopa Meadows home.

Bentley Kajtaz, 8, bowls at UltraStar on Friday.

“We thought we would let the kids have some fun,” said Mili, father of Bentley, 8, and Liam, 6, as they prepared to bowl. “I love the bowling alley,” the younger boy said.

The family stayed home during the governor’s order and the boys had “no interaction with anybody,” Mili said.

In the 347 Grill, which was greeting diners after being closed since mid-March, the Charli and Nick Kaltved were celebrating their son, Kekoa, 11, for Student of the Month honors at Pima Butte Elementary School. Two of their six grandchildren, Matt and Jake, were helping them celebrate.

As the Maricopa family – with face masks in their pockets – waited for lunch to arrive at their table, Nick said he and his wife have been working essential jobs through the stay-at-home order. They prioritize their family’s safety, he said.

Earlier this morning, gamblers lined up for the reopening at the adjacent Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino.

As a television chopper overhead broadcast live images, a couple hundred people waited in the sun for the doors to open at 9 a.m.

Asked what brought her to Harrah’s to wait in line, Liz Taylor of the Phoenix area responded quickly: “Gambling.”

“We haven’t been able to gamble since March 17,” her friend, JoEllen Geary, added.

When the doors finally opened, the crowd cheered.

Harrah's Ak-Chin reopening
A line of gamblers waits for the doors to open on Friday morning at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, which was closed two months ago to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Gamblers at Harrah’s will play slots and blackjack on a casino floor reconfigured to promote  social distancing. Banks of slot machines have been arranged to keep players at least six feet from one another, the casino had said earlier. There will be limited seating at blackjack tables.

Other protocol includes hand-sanitizing stations available throughout the casino floor, masks for all employees and increased cleaning service.

The vast majority of gamblers waiting to enter the casino did not wear face masks.

The resort and hotel tower guest rooms will open Friday evening.

Not all amenities will be open, including The Poker Room, Keno and Bingo. Some venues remain closed as well, including the Events Center, Valet and the Spa and Fitness Center.

Some casino eateries will be open with social-distancing protocols in place, including Chop Block & Brew, Agaves, Copper Cactus and Dunkin Donuts.

Kaltveds_347Grill
The Kaltved Family celebrates Friday with lunch at the 347 Grill. The restaurant and some other attractions at UltraStar were open for business.

UltraStar Multi-tainment Center
The UltraStar Multi-tainment Center has been closed since late March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It will reopen Friday. Photo by Bob McGovern

After weeks in the dark, some attractions at the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center at Ak-Chin Circle will reopen their doors on Friday.

At 11 a.m., the 347 Grill restaurant and Ten Pins Down bowling alley will open for business, as will the Play ‘N Win Game Center arcade and Urban Arena Laser Tag, management said. The movie theater is not reopening at this time.

The center has updated and enhanced its protocols and procedures to safeguard the health and safety of both guests and employees, according to the announcement of the reopening.

Copper Sky pool, gym to reopen on Saturday

“We continue to monitor and review guidance that comes from state and federal government and public health agencies, and we will adjust our plans as necessary to adhere to changing guidelines,” it said.

UltraStar said it has made the following employee changes:

  • Employees will be checked before symptoms before their shifts.
  • Employees will follow a new “20-20 Rule,” requiring them to wash their hands at least every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
  • Where appropriate, employees coming into contact with food will wear gloves and masks.

In addition, all employees have been re-certified to new safety, sanitation and social distancing standards.

The 347 Grill and bowling alley are regularly and rigorously sanitized, according to management. And the restaurant has changed its floor plan to provide appropriate social distancing and will adopt use of one-time menus. Sanitizer dispensers have been installed in all open areas of the Multi-tainment Center.

The Movies Under The Stars program in the Amphitheater is scheduled to return May 25.

After approval from the tribal council, Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino announced earlier this week that it would roll out its reopening at 9 a.m. Friday.

Both the entertainment center and the casino gradually closed down its amenities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in March. The council has kept employees on payroll during the shutdown.

The casino floor has been rearranged to allow social distancing. The Poker Room, Keno and BINGO will not be open. The Events Center, Valet, Spa and Fitness Center will also remain closed at this time.

The slot machine banks are arranged “to allow for proper social distancing and with limited seating at Blackjack tables,” according to the casino’s information. There will be hand-sanitizing stations throughout the casino floor, masks for all employees and increased cleaning service.

The resort and hotel tower guestrooms will also open, beginning Friday evening.

Some of the casino eateries, including includes Chop Block & Brew, Agaves, Copper Cactus and Dunkin Donuts, will welcome diners – with social-distancing protocols in place. The Buffet, Oak & Fork and Laurel Lounge are not yet scheduled to reopen.

Raquel Hendrickson contributed to this story.

Copper Sky pool
A lifeguard watches over swimmers at the Copper Sky lap pool. File photo by Kyle Norby

This was updated May 14 with additional information from the city.

The competition pool at Copper Sky Multigenerational Center in Maricopa will reopen on Saturday with restrictions.

The pool will be open from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturday and Sunday for lap swimming only, and then from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. starting Monday. An announcement will be made in the future about open swimming.

Also reopening Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., is the fitness floor and indoor track. Gym patrons can expect reduced capacity, fewer pieces of equipment and potential wait times for access due to compliance with social distancing and sanitization guidelines, the city said. If the facility reaches capacity, patrons will be admitted as others leave.

Public restrooms at Copper Sky (and Pacana) parks will be open. Gym restrooms will also be open, but showers and locker rooms will be unavailable, so patrons should be prepared to change offsite. Childwatch, group fitness and activity rooms not be unavailable.

Upon their first return visit, patrons will have to check in to Member Services to reactivate their membership and can utilize self check-in thereafter.

There is no evidence, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, that coronavirus can be spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.

But when Copper Sky and other public pools in Maricopa reopen, swimmers will be expected to stay at least 6 feet away from others, refrain from touching eyes, nose or mouth, and use hand sanitizer when getting out of the water. In addition, they should leave their face mask with their towel when in the pool so they have no problems breathing in the water.

People at higher risk for severe illness – including adults 65 and older and those with serious underlying medical conditions – should avoid visiting pools.

Patrons should also be prepared for the following modifications:

  • Patrons are required to comply with staff and posted signage, which will provide direction for social distancing and hygiene practices in accordance with state and federal guidance.
  • Patrons are required to thoroughly wipe down gym equipment prior to and after use with provided cleaning supplies.
  • Patrons at higher risk for severe illness are asked to stay home.
  • Upon leaving the gym, use hand sanitizer. When you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

If patron exhibits visible symptoms of COVID-19 listed below, they may be asked to leave facility. Persons displaying the following signs are asked not to enter the building:

  • A cough (defined as new onset of cough within previous 14 days)
  • Fever over 100.4°F
  • Shortness of breath
  • Contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 within the past 14 days
  • A household member with respiratory or fever symptoms

On Tuesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that gyms, pools spas and massage therapy can begin today with implementation of public health protections and CDC guidelines.

Ducey said Wednesday his stay-at-home order will expire Friday because pandemic data indicates declining symptoms, declining percentage of positive tests, adequate hospital capacity and expanded testing.

It will be replaced by a new executive order (pdf), “Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger,” that focuses on vulnerable individuals, he said.

Copper Sky Swim Girl
Copper Sky lifeguard Rebecca Montes plays with Emilia Perez. The city expects to announced Wednesday its reopening plan for the pool at gym at the complex. File photo by Victor Moreno

Gyms and pools can reopen on Wednesday with implementation of public health protections and CDC guidelines, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced in a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Arizona is headed in the right direction, Ducey said.

“This is a green light for the way to move forward to being out of the pandemic,” he said. “We are going to proceed with caution.

“The objective is to return stronger as a state,” he added, noting that the idea of social distancing is not going away.

City of Maricopa officials are working Tuesday afternoon on evaluating guidelines for a reopening plan of the gym and pool at the Copper Sky Multigenerational Center, according to Ellen Buddington, communications and events manager in the city’s Community Services Department.

The city plans to announce Wednesday a response and timeline for reopening of the recreational complex and aquatic center, she said.

Lee Feiles, owner of ATA Martial Arts Studio, said while he wasn’t completely surprised at the announcement, he said gyms “were given no warning ahead of time.”

He had already set a goal of May 25 but may accelerate his game plan by a week or so to prepare his gym to meet all guidelines. That means limiting the number of clients to 10 at a time and maximizing social distancing. He said they will also be sanitizing before and after each group training.

Feiles said about half of his clientele continued to participate through his online program on a temporary basis. However, some have been without jobs, and he’s uncertain when they will be able to take classes again. Others, he said, “fell off the face of the earth.”

So, he does not know how much of his clientele he will have to rebuild.

Though he can open his doors tomorrow and knows some gyms in town are ready to do so, he wants to be measured and cautious. That is an echo of an approach espoused by the governor.

“This is a green light to continue going forward on the way out of this pandemic,” Ducey said. “It is not a green light to speed. This is a green light to proceed, and we’re going to proceed with caution.”

Spas and massage therapists can also reopen starting Wednesday.

There is no evidence, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, that coronavirus can be spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas.

But when Copper Sky and other public pools in Maricopa open, patrons will be expected to stay at least 6 feet away from others, refrain from touching eyes, nose or mouth, and use hand sanitizer when getting out of the water. In addition, they should leave their face mask with their towel when in the pool so they have no problems breathing in the water.

People at higher risk for severe illness – including adults 65 and older and those with serious underlying medical conditions – should avoid visiting pools.

Pool operators are required to maintain physical distancing, to the extent possible, and provide additional space between pool chairs at community pools to promote distancing. They also most provide access to soap and water for handwashing or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer at stations around the pool for use by employees and clients. Pools should require lifeguards and other employees to regularly wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.

Ducey said his stay-at-home order will expire Friday because the data indicates declining symptoms, declining percentage of positive tests, adequate hospital capacity and expanded testing.

It will be replaced by a new executive order (pdf), “Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger,” that focuses on vulnerable individuals, he said.

After Friday, there will be a limited reopening of major league sports, but without fans, again with the implementation of public health protections and CDC guidelines, the governor indicated.

With a hint at how future economic data may play out, Ducey said there has been a “complete crush on the system” in unemployment claims and said the state was trying to fix the system to get out from under being overwhelmed. At the same time, he said 80% of Arizona’s workforce did not suffer job loss or a decrease in pay.

Castigated on the subject in a previous news conference, the governor and Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state’s health department, said there is a focus on long-term care facilities and prisons.

After a “testing blitz,” which started slowly three weeks ago, the state has watched the percentage of positive cases decrease the last two weeks. The blitz had aimed for 20,000 tests per weekend but had only about 5,400 the first weekend. Christ said that was followed by 20,000 and then 30,000 when the previous weekly average had been about 11,000.

In Arizona, 562 people have died as a result of COVID-19.

Raquel Hendrickson contributed to this report.

Joe's Barber Shop Maricopa reopens
Leonel Tapia, 2, holds a baseball meant to distract as Joe Templin, owner of Joe's Barber Shop on Honeycutt Road, cuts his hair on Friday. The shop reopened with safety protocols after being closed for weeks due to the state's stay-at-home order. Photos by Bob McGovern
Joe's Barber Shop Maricopa
Al Erickson has his hair trimmed by barber Frank Moreno on Friday at Joe’s: A Barber Shop on Honeycutt Road in Maricopa. Photo by Bob McGovern

Barbers and cosmetologists in Arizona were permitted to reopen their shops Friday after being closed for weeks due to the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

At Joe’s: A Barber Shop on Honeycutt Road just before noon, owner Joe Templin and four other barbers were busy snipping the hair of customers – young and old – from behind face masks.

The appointment-based businesses could welcome back customers as long they established and implemented safety protocols and best practices, including the use of face coverings for employees and customers, maintaining physical distancing, operating by appointment only and following protocols as directed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Labor Division of Occupational Safety and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

When Gov. Doug Ducey announced a stay-at-home order on March 30, there were 1,200 statewide cases of coronavirus and 24 deaths. It closed all non-essential businesses. The order remains in effect until Friday, May 15, but Ducey is relaxing restrictions on retail operations, barber and beauty shops, and restaurants.

As of Friday afternoon, there have been a reported 10,526 cases of the virus and 517 deaths in the state.

Non-essential retailers could also welcome in-store shoppers on Friday as long as they followed public health protocols, including “strict physical distancing requirements” and adherence to CDC guidelines, including such as reduced occupancy, screening for symptoms before employees’ shifts, comprehensive sanitation protocols and options for curbside or delivery. Stores were encouraged to provide face masks to both employees and customers.

There are still restrictions against large gatherings.

On Monday, restaurants and coffee shops may resume dine-in services with operators establishing and implementing safety protocols and best practices, including reduced occupancy, face masks for staff, physical distancing measures and dining parties limited to 10 people. According to CDC guidance, restaurants should sanitize customer areas after each sitting with EPA-registered disinfectant, including tables, tablecloths, chairs and booth seats, table-top condiments and condiment holders and any other surface or item a customer is likely to have touched.

A week ago, the City of Maricopa reopened some parks and recreation facilities, including the dog park, ramadas and shade structures, playgrounds and the skate park, tennis and pickleball courts and some athletic fields.

Ross Still Closed May 8, 2020
The Ross Dress for Less department store in Maricopa was not among retail businesses welcoming back shoppers on Friday. A note on the door said the store was working to reopen as soon as possible.

Honeycutt Paving Traffic
Traffic on Honeycutt Road at Plainview Street was reduced to one lane on Friday morning as a repaving project begins. Photo by Bob McGovern

Workers on Friday began prep work for the resurfacing of Honeycutt Road between Plainview Street and the bridge over Santa Rosa Wash.

Traffic is reduced to one lane on Honeycutt heading east from John Wayne Parkway as manholes and water valves are lowered ahead of milling of the asphalt surface expected to begin Monday and continue through Tuesday.

Paving of the roadway will be done from Wednesday to Friday, with striping set for Saturday, May 16, according to the city’s schedule. Utilities will be adjusted along the roadway on May 19.

The second phase of the project will pave Honeycutt Road from the Santa Rosa Wash bridge to White & Parker Road. A schedule for that work will be provided by the city at a later date.

Honeycutt-Road-Santa-Cruz-Wash
Vehicles heading east on Honeycutt Road cross the bridge of Santa Cruz Wash. The bridge may require repairs that would close down the roadway. Photo by Bob McGovern

A Honeycutt Road bridge may not get repairs for some time.

The soil under the east and west approaches of the bridge, which crosses Santa Cruz Wash just west of the Rancho Mirage development, has consolidated, or changed, probably due to moisture infiltration from irrigation or stormwater runoff, according to Maricopa City Manager Rick Horst.

The City has yet to conduct geotechnical testing to confirm the source of the problem, but has included funds for testing in its proposed long-range capital projects budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which begins July 1, according to Horst. Funds are also earmarked for the preparation of design criteria to repair the foundations of the approaches, if necessary. The council discussed the project as part of a recent budget meeting.

The two-lane, 30-foot-long bridge, which carries an average of about 8,100 vehicles daily, was built by Pinal County in 2007 as part of plans approved for the construction of the Rancho Mirage subdivision to provide for a dry crossing of Santa Cruz Wash without heading south of town, said Horst.

There are no current concerns about the safety of the bridge, he said.

Honeycutt Road serves as the main vehicular artery for residents living in the easternmost HOAs of the city – Rancho Mirage, Sorrento and Tortosa – so the city will have to complete another road project before starting any work needed on the bridge.

With a bridge repair likely to require a full closure of Honeycutt Road, the city’s official detour would be Bowlin Road, which is currently undergoing improvements due to be completed in FY 2021, Horst said.

The Bowlin project would create a raised crossing over the Santa Cruz Wash south of the Honeycutt Road bridge. The $978,000 project between White & Parker Road and Anthony Boulevard in Rancho Mirage would include a temporary surface treatment to smooth travel over the dirt portions of Bowlin, officials have said. The crossing is needed to improve “vehicular connectivity, improve response times of the fire department and provide relief to congestion on Honeycutt Road,” the city has said.

“With the new signal at Honeycutt and White & Parker, and the addition of the connection along Bowlin Road, there will be adequate travel lanes in support of the growing population in the eastern segment of the City,” Horst said.

In a separate project, resurfacing of Honeycutt Road – from Plainview Street to North White & Parker Road – will begin Friday. The first phase will be from Plainview to the bridge over Santa Rosa Wash. The city has announced the schedule of work for the first phase:

Friday, May 8: Lower manholes and water valves

Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, May 12: Milling of the asphalt surface

May 13, 14 and 15: Paving

May 16: Striping of the road

May 19 – Adjust utilities 

Phase II will from the bridge to White & Parker. A schedule for this work will be given at a later date.

Map: City of Maricopa

The busy intersection of North White & Parker Road and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway in Maricopa will close at midnight Thursday as work continues on a road widening project.

The intersection will be shut down through the end of the day on Monday, the city announced.

Drivers heading north on White & Parker may detour west on Peters & Nall Road to North Porter Road and follow the detour from Porter north to return to Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, officials said.

The project, which started Jan. 6, is widening a stretch of Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway between Porter Road and White and Parker Road to four lanes. Paving will continue through Saturday, with striping planned for May 11-13 ahead of opening.

The primary purpose of the project is to “increase traffic capacity” on the 1.7-mile stretch. New left-turn lanes at both ends of the expansion are also part of the project. ADOT is in charge of the project.

The project cost about $3.6 million, mostly from Federal Highway Administration funding. Matching funds of 5.7% from the City of Maricopa came from the half-cent County Road Tax Fund.

The widening project includes a new traffic-control system at White and Parker Road. According to the city, that is scheduled for completion May 7.

As the MCGH project draws to a close, the City is gearing up a project to install a traffic signal on White and Parker Road at Honeycutt Road. That is expected to be completed by June 30.

Any closure of the intersection requires most traffic in East Maricopa to use Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway to reach the west side of town.

Police search in Tortosa
A Maricopa police vehicle blocks the entrance to the Tortosa HOA on Tuesday afternoon as authorities searched for a man who fled police. Photo by Kyle Norby

The Tortosa HOA was under lockdown this afternoon as authorities conducted a live search for a man who ran from police.

Police are searching the Tortosa area for a man identified by police as Codey Foy. Residents should not approach him but call 911 immediately. Photo courtesy, Maricopa Police Department

Officers blocked off the entrance at Honeycutt Road and North Costa Del Sol Boulevard as city police and county sheriff’s vehicles could be seen searching the neighborhood shortly after 3 p.m.

Law enforcement officials are looking for a suspect identified as Codey Foy, a white male, 5-foot-9, 140 pounds, last seen wearing blue jeans, a flannel shirt and ball cap, police said.

“We received a ‘be on the lookout’ (BOLO) from the Pinal County Sheriff’s office in reference to this individual being a subject in connection with a stolen truck this morning,” MPD Spokesperson Ricardo Alvarado said. “At about 2 o’clock we received a call about a suspicious vehicle parked in that new park that’s over by Santa Cruz Elementary. When we went to go check what was going on, the individual exited the vehicle and took off on foot.”

Alvarado stated that officers were able to identify the individual as Foy before he fled.

Police do not believe he is armed, but cannot be positive. Foy has multiple warrants out for his arrest. Residents should not approach Foy, but call 911 immediately. They are also asked to stay out of the Tortosa area.

Alvarado confirmed a Department of Public Safety helicopter was dispatched to aid in the search.

Kyle Norby contributed to this report.

347Grill Coronavirus
Restaurants like the 347 Grill at UltraStar will be able to welcome back eat-in diners beginning May 11.

Dine-in restaurants in Mariocopa and elsewhere in Arizona will be able to reopen beginning next week.

In his weekly news conference Monday on the state’s response to coronavirus, Gov. Doug Ducey put restaurants on notice that they will be able to welcome back dine-in patrons next Monday, May 11. The governor’s stay-at-home order is currently set to expire May 15, but could be extended.

Parties will be limited to 10 diners and restaurants will operate at reduced occupancy and capacity, Ducey said. Restaurant employees will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before the start of every shift.

Ducey said he is working with the industry to provide proper guidance on implementing public health protections and guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, including physical distancing and limiting areas where employees and customers may congregate.

In addition, restaurants would need to implement comprehensive sanitation protocols.

Restaurants are encouraged to continue delivery and curbside service.

Barber shops and salons may reopen beginning Friday, using the same guidance on public health protection and CDC guidelines, and comprehensive sanitation protocols.

In addition, shops and salons will be required to provide cloth face coverings to employees and customers. Waiting and service areas should promote appropriate physical distancing.

The state also recommends operating by appointment only to manage occupancy levels.

“Get your haircut, get something to eat, and head home,” Ducey told residents on Monday. “That’s where it’s safest.”

A new executive order by Ducey requires long-term care facilities to notify next-of-kin for any resident who tests positive for the virus, or has been exposed to somebody who is positive. It also requires facilities to disclose any previous or active COVID-19 cases to any approved applicant from a prospective resident.

According to media reports, relatives of some nursing home residents had complained that the facilities refused to disclose information about incidences of coronavirus among residents and employees.

Maricopa Waste & Recycling Center
The Maricopa Waste & Recycling Center at 46250 W. McDavid Road accepts bulk trash, recyclables and electronic waste. The city took control of the facility in late January. Photo by Bob McGovern

Expanded hours are likely soon at the Maricopa Waste & Recycling Center, which the city took over three months ago.

The facility at 46250 W. McDavid Road, managed by Right Away Disposal (RAD) until Jan. 27, collects trash and debris, recyclables, vehicle tires and batteries, electronic waste and water-based paint. The city took control from RAD after determining it could eventually provide more services than the Apache Junction-based trash hauler. RAD still collects trash for some city HOAs.

“We have been paying RAD a flat rate, and that flat rate is excessive to what the benefit being realized is,” City Manager Rick Horst said. “So our goal is to take over and do the same thing they’re doing right now, but ultimately, to do more.”

In the near future, the city does anticipate adding service hours, according to Mike Riggs, director of public services for the city. Currently, city and Pinal County residents can drop off materials only on Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For now, however, there will be no change in services or collection fees.

Transfer station staff are surveying users to determine if a second day of operation would be beneficial, according to Riggs, who said the increase in landscape waste during the summer months may help to determine additional operating hours.

Riggs said savings to the city, which could be as high as $120,000 annually, will allow more pick-up of illegal dumping in the community and increased pursuit of illegal dumpers. The city leases the property from Pinal County but is in the process of purchasing the site.

The number of drop-offs at the collection center before and after the city takeover is similar, said Riggs, noting that the standing stay-at-home order during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis make straight comparisons difficult.

“We are excited to have any bulk waste brought to the center if that helps to slow illegal dumping in the city and county,” Riggs said.

The city is open to partnerships with Pinal County on scheduling special materials collection days at the site. Information about such arrangements would be provided to city and county residents, he noted.

In another move to provide strict oversight of solid waste management under its Strategic Plan, the city in the fall began looking into a single citywide trash collector after Heritage District residents complained about the high prices they were paying haulers. The Heritage District, the oldest part of Maricopa, does not have an HOA.

The city has since determined that with individual HOAs managing their own trash contract fees and lengths, it was not feasible to buy out those existing contracts with haulers like Waste Management and RAD.

“The city will continue to monitor these services for future opportunities to help reduce the trash collection costs to the citizens,” Riggs said.

Meanwhile, the city has been working with trash haulers to provide a Heritage District collection fee, said Riggs.

“We hope to determine if we can provide a benefit to the residents of the Heritage District before the end of May and present this to the Heritage District Committee,” he said.

The Medicaid agency in Arizona will help sustain health care providers during the coronavirus pandemic by advancing more than $41 million in scheduled payments.

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, which administers Medicaid for the state, will make the payments to hospitals, primary care providers, behavioral health outpatient providers and justice clinic providers who participate in its Targeted Investments (TI) program, according to the office of Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Arizona’s hospitals, doctors and behavioral health professionals have supported those in need during the COVID-19 health emergency and well before,” Ducey said in a statement. “AHCCCS is providing these payments ahead of schedule so we can ensure these health care providers and professionals can continue to serve Arizonans without interruption. My thanks to frontline workers and health care professionals across the state working around the clock to protect public health and safety.”

More than 100 providers were scheduled to receive previously allocated funds in the fall. They will get a portion of that funding – expected in early May – for demonstrating enhanced care coordination as part of the five-year TI initiative supporting the integration of physical and behavioral health services.

More than 106 provider organizations will receive a portion of the funds they were scheduled to receive in the fall of 2020 as a part of their successful participation in the five-year Targeted Investments initiative, which supports providers as they integrate physical and behavioral health services. The program rewards participants for meeting certain quality metrics demonstrating enhanced care coordination within and across providers and clinic settings.

As of January, more than 1.6 million Arizona residents received Medicaid, according to Medicaid.gov. As of this month, 79,781 Pinal County residents qualified for the medical assistance, according to healthinsurance.org.

The agency has taken other steps to lend financial support to health care providers in the state, including $5.3 million in additional payments to critical access hospitals.

Maricopa City Councilman Vincent Manfredi

Maricopa City Councilmember Vincent Manfredi was elected in January to the executive board of the Rural Transportation Advocacy Council.

He will represent the city as a Central Arizona Governments (CAG) alternate to the council, which was established in 2001 to protect and promote rural and small metropolitan transportation interests.

Its executive board, which includes elected representatives from each member Council of Government and Metropolitan Planning Organization, meets monthly to discuss transportation issues.

“With important projects like the 347 and the East-West Corridor, it’s important for us to have someone on RTAC that can advocate, not only for the whole region, but also for Maricopa,” Manfredi said. Those two projects are particularly important to the city and its future growth.

“Without expansion of the 347, it’s hard to foresee growth the way we want it to happen,” he said.

Members of the RTAC executive board and transportation experts from around the state will get the opportunity to learn more about related projects and issues in Maricopa during the AZ Rural Transportation Summit 22nd annual conference from Oct. 14 to 16 at Harrah’s Ak Chin Hotel and Casino in the city. The gathering will be hosted by CAG and the Sun Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Vincent Manfredi is minority owner of InMaricopa.

Maricopa Magazine Covers
Every month, InMaricopa magazine features stories about the people of our city.

I’ve lived in Maricopa for nine days.

But I’ve been around the block. As a journalist.

I came here from Pennsylvania for an opportunity to return to my professional roots: hyperlocal news.

My first job out of college (not counting the three shifts I lasted unloading trucks for UPS in the middle of the night) was for a weekly newspaper in Hatboro, Pa., a small town just over one mile square. Population: about 7,500. Then and now.

About 25 minutes north of Philadelphia, the village was settled by an English hatter in the early 1700s. Revolutionary War soldiers came there to get their headwear.

In the late 1980s, I found the borough a welcoming place. I loved its history, and the people were kind and generous, with a strong sense of community. They loved and supported my newspaper, Today’s Spirit, the name a holdover from earlier days as a daily newspaper.

They appreciated our coverage because it started with chicken dinners and Girl Scout cookie sales. Plus comprehensive coverage of town councils and school boards. And honor rolls.

It was the kind of place where readers could stroll in off the sidewalk and tell you why your account of a council meeting only told half the story. Or congratulate you for your fairness on an important community issue. It was the kind of place where I could be heard as a young editor setting up photo assignments, asking, “And what time will the Easter Bunny be arriving?”

Our Wednesday publication was literally part of the town’s fabric. And had been for more than 100 years. When I arrived, it was in the care of a wonderful editor, who took this green journalism grad and shared everything she knew about community journalism. She was innately qualified for the role: she lived, worked and shopped in town, her husband coached Little League for years, her children attended the schools. Her greatest skill? She listened. No matter who you were in town. It informed everything she did as editor.

She groomed me to replace her, but there really was no replacing her. Though I did succeed her. All told, I spent seven years at the Spirit. It was the best job I never knew I had.

I eventually moved onto daily newspapers, including two big city newspapers. But I never forgot that little newsroom and all I learned there, even as hyperlocal journalism came and went in many newsrooms, a failed business experiment deemed too expensive.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when the owners of InMaricopa.com found me in the Philadelphia suburbs, still looking for a job months after I was laid off from a digital news site in the city. When I learned about their company – and the core values which every day shapes its mission to serve readers and advertisers where it counts – I knew this was my big chance to return to real community news with people who understood its value and had remained committed to it for 16 years. (I didn’t quite realize at the time that my opportunity to join the company as the new associate publisher would come in time to help cover the biggest news story since World War II.)

The coronavirus pandemic – and its effect on the Maricopa community – has been Job One for our tiny newsroom for weeks. Life has changed dramatically almost overnight – and for long into the future, maybe forever. From kitchen tables and home offices, we are committed to making sure you are informed, safe and prepared. In recent weeks, we have written dozens of stories: from breaking the latest school-related developments to the eye-opening account of a fellow Maricopan’s horrible ordeal with the virus to inspiring tales of a community coming together to care for each other at this difficult time.

To that end, we have joined arms with a national foundation to enlist your support to bolster our coverage during this life-altering crisis.

The Local Media Association and its foundation is helping independent and family-owned organizations at a time when the pandemic is shaking the already-shaky economic foundations of the news industry. Nearly every day it seems more newspapers and digital news sites are closing down or scaling back print schedules. Hundreds and hundreds of news staffers nationwide have lost their jobs since the onset of the virus. Others have been furloughed or their pay slashed.

InMaricopa.com wants to be here for you, for another 16 years and longer. If you read our free monthly magazine and check out our online site, please consider making a donation.

I came here – more than 2,000 miles – because I could see that Maricopans have a local news organization that genuinely cares about them and works hard on their behalf every day. It’s a fairly rare thing these days and I wanted to be a part of it.

I hope you do, too.

We ask our readers to help with a tax-deductible donation at InMaricopa.com/LocalCoverage and thank those who have already contributed.

The skatepark at Copper Sky is fenced off like many other play areas. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

When coronavirus became a public health concern weeks ago, municipalities across America took action to close down recreational programs and facilities that could not operate safely within prescribed social distancing guidelines.

So while trails, fields and the disc golf course at Copper Sky and Pacana Park could remain open with people carrying on safely at a six-foot distance from others, some facilities had to close, including the Multigenerational Complex as well as the outdoor basketball, tennis and pickleball courts.

The skate plaza at Copper Sky, an open, fully lit expanse of undulating concrete that opened about six years ago, also had to be shuttered.

Other cities and towns facing the same problem decided the best course of action was to fill their skateparks with sand. In Venice Beach, California, that meant moving sand a short distance from the beach.

Closer to home, however, the town of Queen Creek decided on a sandy shutdown of its facility at Mansel Carter Oasis Park after skaters bypassed temporary fencing to access the park, according to media reports. Subsequently, the municipality moved sand from volleyball courts in the park to discourage skaters.

But public outcry forced Queen Creek leaders to rethink that action and remove the sand.

Officials in Maricopa never seriously considered turning its skatepark into a sandscape, but Nathan Ullyot, director of the city’s Community Services Department, said there isn’t a perfect answer for such closures.

“We felt fencing the amenities allowed us to respond quickly and cleanly in a reopening effort, while sending a clear message that the park amenity was closed,” he said Thursday. “We don’t want to do more than is prudent and efficient with taxpayer dollars.”

The city installed the temporary fence on April 4, in accordance with Gov. Doug Ducey’s order of a day earlier. For the most part, residents are respecting the fence, but Ullyot said park staff has reported some breaches by skaters after 4 p.m., when the park is unsupervised.

“When it happens,” he said, “park patrons utilizing the park are calling the police department. The police come out to enforce the closure and then call maintenance to restore the fence if necessary. Most are respecting the closure, and incidents are an irregular occurrence.”

Ullyot said some residents have questioned the need for restricting the use of public facilities, but that most residents have accepted them as necessary.

“Most have understood the decision as a part of the process and in response to the governor’s order,” he said.

Parks and recreation facilities will only reopen in conjunction with national, state and county communication, he added.

Victoria Piceno, InMaricopa

Did you know wearing a face mask, even a very simple one, can keep droplets from your breath, coughs and sneezing from spreading in the air to other people?

A recent study of more than 100 patients infected with various viral illnesses demonstrated that a mask blocks nearly all viral droplets and some aerosol particles from lingering in the air – and being inhaled by people around you.

That’s why, as coronavirus continues to spread across the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people wear a face mask when out in public – so people who may have the virus and are asymptomatic do not infect others, especially those with higher risk of complications.

No, Arizona is not one of the seven states now requiring residents to don masks when they go out to do essential food shopping or pick up prescriptions at the drug store. But federal public health officials maintain they are an effective way to slow the spread of the virus.

And while some kind-hearted people in the Maricopa community are making masks and putting them in the hands of residents trying to adhere to CDC advice, others may need a mask to wear out in public.

On Wednesday afternoon, InMaricopa passed out dozens of free masks to families. Our next distributions will be Thursday and Friday in a drive-thru from noon to 1 p.m. each day in the parking lot of our offices at 44400 W. Honeycutt Road. Please enter the lot from the westernmost driveway, stay in your vehicle and proceed slowly to the canopy where an InMaricopa.com staffer will distribute masks to you.

A second distribution on Friday, from 5 to 6 p.m.

As part of its community effort to protect the community from the virus, InMaricopa.com reached out to Maricopa fire Chief Brady Leffler and Maricopa police Chief Steve Stahl to ask if they needed face masks for their firefighters and officers. Both responded their supplies of PPE are adequate for now.

InMaricopa.com encourages all residents who do not have face mask protection to pick up enough for your family members.


To continue to grow our local coverage of COVID-19’s impact on Maricopa in the difficult weeks to come while continuing our day-to-day newsgathering, we are partnering with the Local Media Association’s foundation to ask our readers to help with a tax-deductible donation at InMaricopa.com/LocalCoverage.

South America, 2019, Star Princess, Ushuaia, Argentina, Tierra del Fuego. Photo by Dan Miller. Travel brokers like Suz's Cruises are hoping people will have the need to get away once the pandemic clears. For now, they are seeking financial means to tide them over.

“It’s very important our local restaurants and businesses gain back the business as soon as possible. Hopefully by the end of April, the worst will have passed.” – Chris Scoggin, CPA

Suzie Miller’s travel agency is taking a hit from coronavirus.

“The travel industry is pretty much shut down right now,” she said.

Miller is the owner and lone employee of Suz’s Cruises, which has made cruise and vacation plans for Maricopans for 14 years. She is a 30-year veteran of the travel industry.

Her website asks prospective clients “Where Have Your Dreams Taken You Lately?” but now they are asking one central question: how far out will they be able to travel? It’s all guesswork at this point, with talk of social distancing regulations perhaps lasting until early 2022 in lieu of a vaccine for the virus.

The cruise lines have been shut down for weeks. Celebrity Cruises has suspended operations until May 11, while Royal Caribbean announced Thursday that it was hoping to resume operations for most of its ships on May 12. But Carnival said its ships are docked until at least June 26, with some specific ships canceling sailings through the fall. (All resumption of service dates should be considered tentative.)

Meanwhile, Miller is helping clients research future trips, but revenues will stagnate until travel restrictions are lifted, bookings begin and cruises set sail again.

 

THE LITTLE GUYS

The travel industry is just one of many sunk by coronavirus and the social distancing prescribed to prevent its spread.

And while the federal government prepares a bailout for airlines and cruise ship operators, the little guys like Miller are left to seek financial relief in other ways.

“DES is doing everything it can to get Arizonans their benefits.” – Brett Bezio, Arizona Department of Economic Security

The CARES Act, signed into law March 27 to buttress the sagging economy, includes a provision for temporary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) of $600 a week for any worker eligible for state or federal unemployment compensation (UC) benefits, for up to 39 weeks. That would be in addition to state unemployment compensation from the state of Arizona, where the average weekly benefit of $235 can be collected for 26 weeks, but that could be extended another 13 weeks under the CARES Act by the U.S. Department of Labor.

By early April, Miller had researched the CARES Act and knew that she was ineligible for federal loans because she has no employees. The legislation said self-employed and freelance workers may be eligible for the FPUC benefit, but she was still waiting for the Labor Department’s determination. In recent weeks, Miller has called the Department of Economic Security (DES) to seek information but was unable to get through.

Since Gov. Doug Ducey increased access to state unemployment benefits on March 20, the number of claims has risen sharply – by nearly 350,000 – as more businesses shut down temporarily. Fewer than 18,000 state residents were receiving benefits prior to the pandemic.

The surge represents an “unprecedented increase” in claims, according to Brett Bezio, deputy press secretary for the DES, that has overwhelmed customer service centers in recent weeks, with many callers getting a busy signal.

The agency has struggled to handle the unprecedented number of calls and has hired more staff in its call centers to meet the demand and get claims processed, Bezio said.

“DES is doing everything it can to get Arizonans their benefits,” he said.

‘PEOPLE HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS’

Chris J. Scoggin, Chaston Taxes and Accounting

On a recent Monday, the CPAs at Chaston Taxes and Accounting in Maricopa had a Zoom meeting for existing clients and anybody who wanted more information on coronavirus-related aid for businesses and individuals.

More than 40 people joined the virtual session, most of them small-business owners from Maricopa, according to Chris Scoggin, a longtime Arizonan and CPA for 28 years who joined Chaston six months ago.

“Our phones for the past couple of weeks have been ringing off the hook,” Scoggin said. “People have a lot of questions … There’s been a tremendous amount of legislation in the past three weeks. It’s complex and somewhat confusing.”

The Zoom meeting was a way to share information about the CARES Act and other loan programs and tax benefits for businesses hurting from COVID-19 and the process to apply for those benefits, including unemployment benefits and the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) for businesses, according to Scoggin.

The PPP is a business loan that can be used for payroll, mortgage interest, rent or utilities over an eight-week period. At least 75% must go to payroll. As long as the money is spent on just those four items, the loan is forgiven, Scoggin explained. Proceeds spent in other areas will need to be paid back over a four-year period.

“They can use the benefits issued by the federal government to continue to pay employees or rehire them back, to stay viable,” he said.

How soon businesses in Maricopa are able to rebound will depend on a number of factors, including how much support they get from customers both now and when social distancing regulations are relaxed.

“Ultimately, it’s about the consumer and whether they are comfortable going back to the businesses they have frequented, Scoggin said. “It’s very important our local restaurants and businesses gain back the business as soon as possible. Hopefully by the end of April, the worst will have passed.”

Meanwhile, he encouraged residents to support their local businesspeople now, however they can.

The Stagestop Marketplace has felt the business impact of COVID-19 in different ways. Photo by Kyle Norby

‘WE’RE JUST GOING TO HUNKER DOWN’

Will Dunn is the owner of three small businesses in Maricopa: the Cotton Blossom Flower Shop, the Stagestop neighborhood U-haul and the Stagestop Marketplace, all operated at 44301 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

The pandemic is affecting them all – but he won’t be asking the federal government any time soon for assistance in riding out the economic downturn.

A small-business owner in Maricopa since the early 2000s, Dunn said his U-haul dealership is considered an essential business. Every truck in and out gets disinfected to keep his customers safe, he said.

His flower shop , which employed eight contract employees before coronavirus, now operates with three contract employees and two of his college-age children, after a number of older employees elected not to work during the slowdown. Orders are taken online and delivery only.

(His daughter was attending university in hard-hit Italy and came home to Maricopa when the pandemic spread, Dunn said.)

“The mall is hurting,” he said, noting a number of businesses renting in the marketplace are shuttered. “We’re cutting back … and tightening up. We’re just going to hunker down.”

Still, he said he believes some will take the government aid whether they need it or not.

“That’s my biggest concern,” he added, “people taking advantage of these programs, when they don’t need it.”

For now, he doesn’t plan to take advantage of any governmental assistance, he said, acknowledging his current financial position is much different than, say, a mother working as a waitress with children at home. He said he understands somebody like that needing help.

But Suzie Miller said “people should be looking into taking advantage” of the financial assistance.

“This too shall end in the near future,” she said. “Meanwhile, it is important to help others who need it.”

The travel agent sees a silver lining in the gathering clouds of coronavirus.

“When this is over,” she said, “people will need to get away.”


To continue to grow our local coverage of COVID-19’s impact on Maricopa in the difficult weeks to come while continuing our day-to-day newsgathering, we are partnering with the Local Media Association’s foundation to ask our readers to help with a tax-deductible donation at GiveButter.com/inmaricopa.

A clogged pump that occurred a few months ago in the Global Water system (yes, those are Mardi Gras beads). Submitted

The run on toilet paper during the coronavirus pandemic is leading to another crisis – in the sewer system.

It’s actually a heightened problem all over America as panicky shoppers have descended on the paper-goods aisles in their neighborhood supermarkets, pharmacies and big-box stores and leaving nary a sheet of the precious paper behind.

Unlucky residents finding empty shelves are apparently reaching for alternatives, including wipes, paper towels, facial tissues, and cloth towels or rags, and flushing them down the toilet.

But wipes – including the “flushable” variety as well as baby and sanitizing wipes – and other cleaning materials clog pipes and pumps and can result in sewer system back-ups.

In Maricopa, the problem pre-dates the coronavirus outbreak, but one official says the ongoing crisis will likely serve to exacerbate the situation.

“This is always an issue, not just an issue at this point in time,” said Jon Corwin, vice president and general manager of Global Water. “We haven’t had a specific issue since the onset of COVID-19, but it’s likely just a matter of time.”

Designed to be stronger than your Charmin toilet paper, wipes and cleaning cloths do not break down in water. That means as wastewater travels through the sewer system, they can collect in a mass of wastewater debris, clogging pumps in the system and possibly damaging treatment equipment. (Costly repairs, of course, are passed onto rate payers.)

“We made a capital investment in 2019 to install some equipment to help screen wipes and other debris and that is helping protect some of our pumps and other equipment, but the screen doesn’t protect everything,” Corwin said.

By the way, there’s a good chance that all those non-toilet paper products being flushed don’t even make it to the wastewater collection system, causing blockages in the pipes in your homes. That nightmare scenario includes backed-up toilets, sinks and showers, and an expensive bill from the plumber you’ll need to call to stop the madness. (The average cost of unclogging a sewer main is about $550.)

You can avoid all that with one simple rule: only toilet paper gets flushed.

Everything else – all types of wipes, paper towels, feminine products, facial tissues, cloths and rags, included – gets pitched into the trash.

Pinal County Sheriff's Office and Adult Detention Center

While U.S. health officials say they expect the number of cases of coronavirus to climb dramatically in the coming days, Pinal County officials took steps months ago to prevent an outbreak of the virus at the Adult Detention Center.

To date, there have been no suspected cases at the Florence jail, according to Lauren Reimer, public information officer of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the facility.

Wexford Health Sources, the medical services firm contracted by the county to provide inmate health care at the facility, expanded regular flu screening and assessment protocols for early detection of COVID-19 in late December, when coronavirus was first announced. Its staff will continue screening for all respiratory viruses beyond flu season to the end of year, Reimer said.

All Wexford staff at the jail received extra training to help them recognize coronavirus symptoms, including cough, fever and shortness of breath, Reimer said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Symptoms can appear 2-14 days after exposure, and it can be fatal, especially in older patients and others with health complications. The source virus is a novel coronavirus first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Any Pinal County Adult Detention Center inmate – there were 546 as of Monday – who shows symptoms of the virus would immediately enter the protocol: donning an N95 respirator for effective filtration of airborne particles and entering a reverse airflow room to prevent spread of contaminated air. Meanwhile, jail officials would contact Pinal County Health Services for assistance with testing, investigating, quarantining and treatment, if necessary, Reimer said.

Wexford, which is paid about $3.8 million annually to provide medical care at PCADC, according to the county website, has staffers on-site 24-7. (The company also provides medical care at the Pinal County Juvenile Detention Center.)

Jail workers who experience symptoms have been told to stay home and contact their supervisor, Reimer said.

In addition, the sheriff’s department has intensified sanitizing efforts in high-traffic areas at the adult jail and is encouraging staff and inmates to follow now-familiar smart hygiene practices, including regular washing of hands, covering of the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and keeping living and working areas clean and disinfected, according to Reimer.

Inmates already have limited contact with outsiders. Since mid-2019, in-person visitation with inmates is limited to their attorneys and medical staff. PCADC uses an online video chat application for personal visits.

Procedure has been altered for the fewer than 20 inmates who are on work release, according to Matt Hedrick, PCSO deputy chief. If those inmates show symptoms, they are tested for coronavirus when they leave the jail each day and again when they return.

If it is determined that quarantine is warranted, the sheriff’s office will ask the court to determine how to proceed. A work release inmate’s sentence could be suspended to provide treatment, for example, Hedrick said.

Managing health issues at the jail is “really not that difficult,” he added, citing the ability to shut down the facility as soon as necessary. So far, that has not been necessary for the coronavirus.

Hedrick acknowledged that, so far, other areas of the country have had a more difficult time dealing with the virus.

“For us in Arizona,” he said, “it’s just how people are reacting (by making big) purchases. Otherwise, we are fine.”