Arizona Department of Health Advises Indoor Masking Again

Arizona Department of Health Advises Indoor Masking Again

By Corinne Murdock |

Two years and nine months after “15 days to slow the spread,” the Arizona Department of Health (AZDH) is again asking Arizonans to mask up. 

On Tuesday, AZDHS issued a blog post advising indoor masking due to the high levels of COVID-19 infections in eight counties: Apache, Cochise, Gila, Greenlee, La Paz, Navajo, Pima, and Yuma counties.

AZDHS noted that the remaining seven counties have medium community levels. 

The renewed guidance follows several years of scrutiny over the efficacy and safety of prolonged mask wearing.

Last April, State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) highlighted studies expressing concern over the safety of the graphene coating present on masks. Some, but not all, masks contain graphene. The presence of the carbon atoms isn’t distinguished by any color or design on a mask, and manufacturer labels don’t always disclose its presence. 

This past legislative session, lawmakers passed several bills to prohibit mask mandates. HB2616 requires schools to defer to parents when it comes to children wearing masks in schools. HB2453 prohibits government properties from requiring mask wearing on the premises. 

Current COVID-19 case breakdowns are as follows: Maricopa County, over 168,000 cases; Pima County, over 41,800 cases; Pinal County, over 16,300 cases; Yavapai County, over 8,100 cases; Apache County, over 7,700 cases; Navajo County, over 7,300 cases; Mohave County, over 7,100 cases; Coconino County, over 6,300 cases; Yuma County, over 5,800 cases; Cochise County, over 5,300 cases; Gila County, 3,000 cases; Santa Cruz County, over 2,100 cases; La Paz County, over 500 cases; and Greenlee County, over 300 cases.

These case totals are less than the spikes that occurred in June and July. Weekly case totals are about 54 percent of what they were this time last year, and about 41 percent of what they were this time in 2020. 

The highest number of cases week-over-week occurred throughout January earlier this year. 

There have been over 31,700 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. That’s about 962 deaths per month. The most deaths occurred between mid-December 2020 and the end of January 2021. 

72 percent of all COVID-19 deaths occurred in those over the age of 65. 15 percent of deaths occurred in those between the ages of 55 and 65. Eight percent of deaths occurred in those between the ages of 45 and 54. Five percent of deaths occurred in those between the ages of 20 and 44. Approximately zero percent of deaths, a total of 73 persons, occurred in those under the age of 20. 

Compared with pre-pandemic years, Arizonan deaths in 2020 and 2021 increased by an average of 10,600 both years. From 2012 to 2019, Arizona deaths increased every year by an average of over 1,600. 

There were 60,100 deaths in 2019, 75,700 deaths in 2020, and over 81,400 deaths in 2021. It appears that this upward trend won’t continue this year. So far, there have been over 60,700 deaths (present data goes through October): a decline of over 5,000 compared with this same time last year. If death counts for November and December amount to the yearlong average of 6,000 deaths every month, then this year’s total deaths would amount to 72,900.

Nationally, the total number of mortalities increased by 17.6 percent in 2020 nationwide. In 2019, there were over 2.8 million deaths; in 2020, there were over 3.3 million deaths. 

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 weren’t the sole cause of the spike. Of the near-504,000 difference, COVID-19 deaths accounted for over 345,000. Heart disease deaths increased by over 31,800; unintentional injury deaths increased by over 19,100; stroke deaths increased by about 9,000.

Deaths attributed to chronic lower respiratory diseases, cancer, and suicide decreased by nearly 8,700 altogether. Deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases accounted for the greatest decline: over 5,300. 

Prior to 2020, year-over-year death increases averaged over 35,500 from 2015 to 2019, or about 1.2 percent every year.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

August Bankruptcy Filings in Arizona Hit Highest Mark Of Year

August Bankruptcy Filings in Arizona Hit Highest Mark Of Year

By Terri Jo Neff |

Financial eyes are focused on data recently released by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Arizona showing August had the highest number of new filings this year, while also being the first month of 2022 to have more new filings than the same month in 2021.

Bankruptcy filings are considered a lagging indicators of financial stress and economic health, and the number of new filings goes up and down from month to month. However, billions of dollars from various federal stimulus programs have ebbed in 2022, meaning no more Paycheck Protection Program, no CARES stimulus checks to individuals, and the end of the federal foreclosure moratorium.

Some Arizona families and businesses may no longer have a lifeboat, according to commercial debt collection company ABC/Aemga.

“Companies that have struggled throughout the pandemic, but were kept afloat by stimulus money and generous lenders, may face trouble during the rest of 2022 and into 2023 once those funds run out, as the Fed continues to tighten its ultra-loose monetary policy by reducing asset holdings and raising the Fed Funds Rate target, and credit conditions start to tighten,” the company warns.

Sectors such as retail, construction, health care, and certain manufacturers adversely affected by higher raw material and labor costs remain particularly vulnerable, while travel, hospitality, commercial real estate, consumer goods, entertainment, midstream oil and gas, and power and other energy infrastructure also face pressure and uncertainty, according to ABC/Amega.

For the first eight months this year, there were 5,879 new filings statewide, down from 6,765 for the same period in 2021. Slightly more than 12 percent of this year’s new cases were filed pro se, or without legal representation.

If the August pace continues for the rest of 2022 the total filings for the year in Arizona will come close to last year’s total of 9,353. By comparison, there were 12,903 filings in Arizona in 2020 and 16,237 in 2019.

The majority of new cases filed in the state as of Aug. 31 this year were under Chapter 7 (4,803) followed distantly by Chapter 13 (1,029) and Chapter 11 (46). There has also been a lone Chapter 12 filing.

While households and businesses in Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties lead in filings of as Aug. 31 at 3,887, 896, 439 respectively, Yavapai and Mohave counties have similar totals at 151 and 146 respectively.

The three border counties of Cochise, Santa Cruz, and Yuma have 80, 42, and 106, respectively. Meanwhile, Apache (4), Coconino (29), Gila (28), Graham (17), Greenlee (3), LaPaz (7), and Navajo (44) represent less than 2.3 percent of all filings in the state as of Aug. 31.

Rep. Gail Griffin Receives Outstanding Service Award

Rep. Gail Griffin Receives Outstanding Service Award

By Terri Jo Neff |

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has recognized Arizona State Rep. Gail Griffin with the organization’s 2021 Regional Award for Outstanding Service. The award recognizes outstanding service at the regional or state level to electric cooperatives. 

Griffin (R-LD14) serves areas of Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Graham, and eastern Pima counties. She was nominated for the award by Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association (GCSECA) and Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative (SSVEC).

In nominating Griffin, SSVEC Chief Executive Officer Creden Huber touted the representative’s myriad efforts to assist Arizona’s Cooperatives, including her protection of the capital credits program, her willingness to work together to solve policy problems, and her understanding of cost and maintenance concerns involving pole attachments by cable and telecommunication companies. 

Huber also noted Griffin’s appointment as chair of House Natural Resources, Energy & Water Committee gives her responsibility for ensuring legislation that may negatively impact Cooperatives is addressed in committee. Griffin previously chaired the Senate’s NREW Committee.

 “For the past 20 years, your guidance, passion and dedication to the electric co-op family gained you a reputation as a great leader in the electric cooperative program,” NRECA CEO Jim Matheson wrote in the award notification. “Your strong commitment to the seven cooperative principles and work on advocacy, education and training had a profound effect throughout the State of Arizona.”

Griffin takes pride in being a strong proponent of Arizona’s electrical cooperatives throughout her time in the Legislature.

“They are consumer owned, not-for-profit entities that ensure their members are provided with reliable and affordable service,” she said upon receiving the award. “I will continue to champion electrical cooperatives for the vital role they play in strengthening rural Arizona.”

NRECA represents more than 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, public power districts, and public utility districts across America.

Rural Communities Stand To Gain From Water Project Funding Options

Rural Communities Stand To Gain From Water Project Funding Options

By Terri Jo Neff |

Tucked here and there among the $12.8 billion budget package signed into law last week by Gov. Doug Ducey are numerous water-related funding opportunities for rural counties across Arizona.

Among the budget items in SB1823, the general appropriations bill, are allocations of $3 million for water project assistance grants to cities and towns that provide water in Navajo and Apache counties. Another $2 million of water project assistance grants are available to irrigation districts in Cochise and Graham counties.

Those funds are in addition to $160 million moved from the state’s general fund on June 30 to the Drought Mitigation Revolving Fund. Of that, up to $10 million may be used for grants which facilitate the forbearance of water deliveries by June 30, 2025, while another $10 million may be used for Arizona State Land Department grants related to water use.

Ducey also signed into law changes to Arizona’s tax code which allow water utilities regulated by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) to deduct contributions toward construction from their Arizona gross annual income. This can be particularly beneficial for companies which serve smaller communities where it can be difficult to spread out the cost of construction projects.

In addition, the Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Gail Griffin (R-LD14) to provide $40 million for the Water Supply Development Fund for assistance to water providers for improvements to water infrastructure and projects located in rural communities.

The ACC is encouraging owners and operators of small water utility companies which are regulated by the Commission to take advantage of the funding, which can go as high as $1 million per project, to improve their water systems and benefit customers. There is also an option of a $100,000 grant which does not require repayment.

Eligible water utility companies must serve at least 15 customers or at least 25 people for at least 60 days of the year, be located outside of an active management area, and be within a county with a population of less than 1.5 million people. The funding can be used for myriad purposes, including acquiring water or water rights; purchasing or refinancing debt related to water supply development projects; conveying, storing, or recovering water; reclaiming or reusing water; capturing or controlling stormwater; and replenishing groundwater.

Utilities can apply for the WSD Fund loans or grants to the Arizona Water Finance Authority.

“I encourage every regulated water utility that qualifies for these funds to take advantage of them as expediently as possible for the benefit of their customers,” ACC chair Lea Marquez Peterson said last week.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-LD25) acknowledged the importance of the water funding allocations in a post-budget signing statement, calling the funding for infrastructure projects a “key to securing Arizona’s future, and one of our highest priorities.”