/ Modified mar 18, 2021 3:57 p.m.

News roundup: State vaccine appointments opening up, unemployment claims approaching pre-COVID levels

Recent coverage impacting Southern Arizona, March 18.

Arizona COVID-19 cases: 7 days

Map shows COVID-19 cases and case rates over the week preceding the last update.

Credit: Nick O'Gara/AZPM. Sources: The New York Times, based on reports from state and local health agencies, Census Bureau. Case reports do not correspond to day of test.

Cases 834,607 | deaths 16,645

On Thursday, March 18, Arizona reported 284 new cases of COVID-19 and 59 additional deaths.

State vaccine appointments to open up on Fridays


The Arizona Department of Health Services is working to streamline the registration process for COVID-19 vaccinations at the four state-run sites around Arizona. The department announced Wednesday that appointments for the following week's vaccination slots will now become available every Friday.

In Tucson, that means roughly 12,000 appointments at the state clinic on the UA mall for next week will open up at 11 a.m. on Friday. The new policy also applies to the state pods in Glendale, Phoenix, and Gilbert.

Vaccinations are now available for anyone age 55 and older.

Unemployment leveling out at pre-COVID levels


New weekly unemployment claims in Arizona for regular and pandemic unemployment were nearly equal last week at just over 1,300 new claims each.

A year ago, at the start of the pandemic, new claims for regular unemployment were at about 1,800. The pandemic unemployment program was not begun by the federal government until later in 2020.

Continuing claims for both unemployment programs have shown a downward trend over the last month.

Learn more here.

Mayor Romero marks one year since COVID emergency declaration


Tucson Mayor Regina Romero issued a video Wednesday marking one year since she declared a local emergency, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The mayor noted the lost jobs, closed businesses, and canceled events that marked the past year, but also pointed to the hope that the pandemic will recede and life will return to normal.

That hope is bolstered by economic forecasts that show the area's economy rebounding.

Learn more here.

Local Arizona officials expect tent-like migrant facilities


Local officials in Arizona say Tucson soon could be home to large tent-like facilities to house unaccompanied migrant children and families after the Border Patrol gives them court dates and releases them into the U.S.

Comments this week by officials in Yuma and Tucson come as local authorities grapple with an influx of migrants being released at the border with Mexico.

The facilities are expected to be operating by mid-April.

Migrant arrivals began spiking in recent weeks along the Southwest border. That's led Republican politicians to criticize President Joe Biden for reversing some of Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies.

Learn more here.

Ducey Criticizes Biden Immigration Policies Ahead of Border Tour

Fronteras Desk

Gov. Doug Ducey will tour the Arizona-Mexico border Friday in response to a spike in border crossings across much of the 2,000 mile long international boundary.

In a statement Wednesday, he said he’s concerned about the growing number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border and about the spread of COVID-19 among asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants crossing the border illegally.

Customs and Border Protection has warned community leaders that it may release newly arrived immigrants into rural communities.

Ducey also criticized the Biden Administration, saying its policies are responsible for what he deemed a crisis. Similar spikes in migration have happened in previous administrations.

Arizona signs Barnes to contract extension through 2025-26


Arizona has extended women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes’ contract through the 2025-26 season. The deal must be approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.

Barnes is Arizona’s all-time leading scorer and she returned to coach her alma mater in 2016. She has transformed the Wildcats into a top-10 team after nearly a decade of struggling.

Arizona was poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005 last year before the season was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. The Wildcats won 16 games during the truncated 2020-21 season, had their highest ranking in The Associated Press poll at No. 6 and spent 13 weeks in the top 10.

Learn more here.

Maricopa County begins providing vaccinations to inmates


PHOENIX — Arizona's most populous county on Thursday began providing COVID-19 vaccinations to willing jail inmates who are 55 or over.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office announced that the county Correctional Health Services Department received 400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the county Public Health Department earlier this week for administration to inmates.

The sheriff's office said the county’s five jails have 318 inmates who are 55 or older.

Also Thursday, the state announced the availability of 5,000 COVID-19 vaccination appointments at two large state-run sites in metro Phoenix and reported 284 additional confirmed cases and 59 more deaths.

Learn more here.

Arizona bill would shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits


PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers have advanced legislation shielding businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Republicans backed the measure Wednesday in a party-line vote in the House Judiciary Committee, setting up a vote in the full House. The measure has already been approved in the Senate.

The bill would raise the bar for successful pandemic-related lawsuits against businesses, health care providers, nursing homes, nonprofits, governments, churches and schools.

Business interests say the measure is necessary to protect against frivolous lawsuits. But trial lawyers and consumer advocates say it shields bad actors from consequences. They point out that there have been very few lawsuits related to COVID-19.

Learn more here.

Arizona Border Merchants Cautiously Optimistic About Prospect Of Border Opening

Fronteras Desk

Top Mexican officials are going to push to ease pandemic restrictions between Arizona and Sonora, which have been in place border-wide for nearly a year.

On Tuesday, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that he would raise that prospect with his American counterparts this week, given that Sonora is considered green — or low risk — on the federal government’s COVID-19 scale.

Evan Kory, whose family runs two stores near the border in Nogales, Arizona, said he and other border merchants have seen business collapse over the last year, with many of their Sonoran customers barred from entering by the rules, which have been extended monthly since last March.

Learn more here.

Forecast for spring: Nasty drought worsens for much of US


Government forecasters say the spring in the United States looks like it will be dry and warm with little flooding.

Thursday's spring outlook is bad news for the West, which has been under a megadrought for more than 20 years. About two-thirds of the country is now abnormally dry or under drought conditions.

Forecasters say that's only going to get worse. They expect water use cutbacks, dangerous wildfires, low reservoir levels and damage to wheat crops.

Forecasters expect nearly the entire country to be warmer than normal for the next three months, and that worsens drought.

Learn more here.

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