Congresswoman Lesko Asked CDC to Explain Its Tracking Of Americans’ Locations, Movements

Congresswoman Lesko Asked CDC to Explain Its Tracking Of Americans’ Locations, Movements

By Corinne Murdock |

Last Friday, Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-AZ-08) joined a letter asking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky what legal authority her agency had to purchase Americans’ location data.

The CDC reportedly shelled out $420,000 for one year of phone data from at least 20 million Americans’ phones. The CDC’s transaction and its purposes were exposed through documents obtained by VICE through open records requests. 

The CDC documents outlined plans to use the data to not only track COVID-19 curfew and quarantine compliance but visits to places of worship, K-12 schools, pharmacies, neighbors, parks, gyms, weight management companies, grocery stores; as well as the movements of Navajo Nation peoples, K-12 bus route users, and college students, to name a few. According to the documents, the CDC purchased the geotracking data from the controversial data broker SafeGraph. In doing so, the CDC relied on the same type of data currently being scrutinized for its use to track potential ballot harvesters, or “mules,” as highlighted in the controversial documentary “2000 Mules.” 

Lesko joined 18 other legislators led by Congressman Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) to demand answers from the CDC. They expressed concern over the legality of the CDC surveilling Americans, citing a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that determined that mobile location information fell within a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

“This violates the rights of Americans!” tweeted Lesko. 

The congressman asked the CDC to explain what legal authority they had to acquire location data (especially concerning places of worship and its relation to the First Amendment), whether they obtained legal advice in order to do so, and whether they informed Congress of their intent to do so; if they’d requested Congress within the last five years to enact legislation specifically authorizing the purchase or acquisition of location data; what specific appropriation line item funded the purchase of the location data, and if they conducted an internal review to ascertain the compliance of their purchase; what form they purchased the data and if it included any personally identifiable information or it was in an aggregate, anonymous form; whether the data had been deleted or was being repurposed for other uses; what conclusions, analyses, or other methods were the results of their data acquisition; whether this was the only instance of them purchasing location data; who decided to purchase the data; and who has access to the data.

This wasn’t the first time that the CDC relied on SafeGraph. Throughout the 2020, they relied on SafeGraph information to conduct their reports on Americans’ compliance with stay-at-home orders. According to the documents obtained by Vice, the CDC continued relying on SafeGraph’s public data until the company no longer provided their data for free last March.

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

Ducey Lifts COVID-19 Emergency As Carmona Cites Future Preparedness

Ducey Lifts COVID-19 Emergency As Carmona Cites Future Preparedness

By Terri Jo Neff |

After more than two years, Arizona is finally out from under the COVID-19 Declaration of Emergency ordered by Gov. Doug Ducey on March 11, 2020.

“Today I am terminating the state’s COVID-19 State of Emergency. Thanks to the hard work of many — health care workers, businesses, public and private sector employees — COVID-19 is no longer an emergency in Arizona,” Ducey said Wednesday of his action which takes effect immediately.

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) reports that suspected COVID-19 cases now represent less than 1.5 percent of emergency room visits and  hospital admissions. Ducey noted that while COVID-19 is not gone, the availability of the vaccine and other measures has allowed Arizonans to be better positioned to manage and mitigate it.

“COVID-19 challenged us in ways we never could’ve imagined. No corner of our state – no corner of our country or the world – was spared,” he said. “But we met that challenge head on by prioritizing lives, livelihoods and individual liberties. The time is right to move forward.”

ADHS’s website shows 29,268 death in Arizona attributed to COVID-19 since the pandemic started in 2020. Less than 400 COVID deaths were reported across the state in the last week.

Dr. Richard Carmona, who is serving as Ducey’s special advisor for public health preparedness, expressed confidence Wednesday that Arizona is prepared to address an expected future increase in cases due to virus mutations.

“We now have the experience and tools in place to address what may be to come while public health continues doing what we do best: infectious disease surveillance, prevention, and control,” Carmona said.

The termination of the public health state of emergency does not mean the end to various tracking of COVID-19 cases. According to ADHS, information about immunizations, deaths, hospitalizations, and lab results will continue to be gathered.

Ducey’s announcement allows each of the state’s 15 counties to continue any emergency declarations they currently have in place. The same is true for any cities and towns.

In response, the chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors formally ended the county’s own emergency declaration from March 2020. That won’t stop the county from expending millions of dollars of American Rescue Plan Act funds to address the ongoing economic impact COVID-19 has had on Maricopa County residents, businesses, and schools.

SEE ADHS COVID-19 DASHBOARD HERE

Bill Would More Than Double State Lawmakers’ Pay While Offering More Lobbying Transparency

Bill Would More Than Double State Lawmakers’ Pay While Offering More Lobbying Transparency

By Terri Jo Neff |

A last minute bill which could give voters the chance to significantly increase the pay for Arizona’s 90 lawmakers and double the length of terms for state senators is set to be heard Monday.

The Arizona Legislature is in session at least 100 days each year starting in early January. Under current law, voters have the final say in setting the annual salary for the state’s 30 senators and 60 representatives.

That rate is $24,000 a year which has not changed for nearly 25 years.

However, Sen. David Gowan and Rep. Regina Cobb are supporting legislation under Senate Bill 1180 which would ask voters in November to set legislators’ pay at 60 percent of the governor’s salary. The governor’s annual pay is currently $95,000, meaning lawmakers would be paid $57,000 a year starting in January 2023.  

But it is not only pay that would double for a state senator like Gowan, who represents all of Cochise and Greenlee counties, as well as southern Graham County and a portion of Pima County.

SB1180 includes language asking voters to change the length of Senate terms from two years to four years. And although state representatives would still serve two-year terms, all lawmakers would be allowed to serve up to 12 years in each chamber, for a total of 24 years if a lawmakers runs between the two chambers.  

The current limit is eight years in each chamber, or 16 years total as a lawmaker.

To get the bill heard at this point in the session, Cobb has introduced an amendment to strike all the language of Gowan’s current SB1180, which was a COVID-19 expenditure reporting bill already passed by the Senate. The “strike everything amendment” is 25 pages that if cleared by the Legislature would put the provisions in front of voters in November as Senate Concurrent Resolution 1018.

Among the provisions is an overhaul the reporting system for lobbyists who make campaign contributions or expenditure on behalf of a state lawmaker.  

According to SB1180, the current quarterly reporting of such expenditures would be replaced with a new mandate that those expenditures be reported within five business days. It also significantly increases the type of gifts to a state officer or employee or a member of the officer’s or employee’s householdwhich would have to be publicly reported.

Currently there is a long list of exemptions to the gift rule, allowing some public officials and employees or their families to accept travel, lodging, and speaking engagement fees without the “gift” ever being reported to the public.

The new transparency rules related to lobbyist activity would also require a new web-based digital platform application to allow for real-time entry of information and public accessibility. SB1180 would allocate $10 million to the Arizona Secretary of State to cover that cost.

On Monday, Cobb’s House Appropriations Committee will hear SB1180’s strike everything amendment. If it passes, the new version of the bill would go back to the Senate for approval because the language varies from what the Senate passed last month. 

Gowan has been a strong advocate for ensuring more Arizonans can afford to run for the Legislature, particularly those who live hours away from Phoenix.

In the 2021 legislative session, he spearheaded a bill to change the per diem rates for lawmakers from outside Maricopa County. Those rates -which had equaled $60 a day for housing and food since 1984- were raised to $207 a day for the first 120 days of session.

Future rates will be adjusted based on the federal winter per diem rates set annually by the U.S. General Services Administration. Per diems are separate from pay or travel reimbursement.

The per diem bill became law when Ducey utilized a rare procedural maneuver to allow the legislation to take effect without a governor’s signature.

Tucson Requiring Election Workers to Be Vaccinated

Tucson Requiring Election Workers to Be Vaccinated

By Corinne Murdock |

The city of Tucson will require proof of vaccination for individuals wishing to serve as election workers for the upcoming special election in May. According to emails obtained by AZ Free News, individuals are required to bring their COVID-19 vaccination cards along with their social security cards and contact information if they would like to be a paid election worker.

Multiple studies on the demographics of the vaccinated show that the majority of vaccinated individuals self-identify as Democrats. As of press time, the FDA has authorized three booster shot brands for the COVID-19 vaccine: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen-Johnson & Johnson. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ protection wanes after five months, while the Johnson & Johnson version wanes after two months. 

In less than a year after the FDA initially approved the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccine, some have received as many as three additional boosters on top of their initial shot. On Tuesday, Pfizer-BioNTech petitioned the FDA to approve a fourth booster. Full FDA approval of one of the vaccine brands, Pfizer-BioNTech, came at the end of August — about seven months ago.

The May 22 special election will have voters determine whether to approve Proposition 411, introduced by Mayor Regina Romero and the city council, to authorize a 10-year extension of a half-cent sales tax for travel infrastructure. 

AZ Free News reached out to the city of Tucson for comment, and to ask whether they would grant exemptions to individuals who can’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. They didn’t respond by press time. 

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

Phoenix Hispanic Man Denied Life-Saving COVID Treatment for Identifying as ‘White’

Phoenix Hispanic Man Denied Life-Saving COVID Treatment for Identifying as ‘White’

By Corinne Murdock |

As the government continues to struggle retaining a totalitarian grasp on all things related to the pandemic, including Americans’ health care options, Arizonans should be aware that their skin color will determine their ability to access life-saving treatment. One Phoenix man shared with AZ Free News how his decision to identify himself as “white” because of his skin tone, rather than Hispanic, nearly cost him his life, in the hopes that his experience will spread awareness and serve as a cautionary tale to fellow Arizonans.

Michael Myers explained that he made the mistake of marking his race as “white” on medical intake paperwork rather than “Hispanic” — in part due to his complexion, mixed with the fact that he was raised to not think of himself as Hispanic. 

“Had I put that I was Hispanic they probably would’ve gave [the monoclonal antibodies] to me,” said Myers. “I lost four days [of treatment] getting sicker and sicker. I put down ‘white’ even though I was sicker than a dog.”

Even though race doesn’t weigh heavily on Myers’ mind, it does for the government. AZ Free News inquired with the health system that treated Myers, HonorHealth, about their adherence to any federal or state guidelines that limit or prohibit COVID-19 treatments based on high-risk categories that factor race or ethnicity. They explained that they “follow CDC guidelines when it comes to COVID-19 treatments.” The CDC cites the FDA as the reference for guidelines on treatments for individuals with “high risk of disease progression.”

In supplemental information on their emergency use authorization (EUA) of monoclonal antibodies, the FDA acknowledged that race and ethnicity “may also place individual patients at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19,” therefore rendering them valid determinations of eligibility for monoclonal antibody treatments. That’s a conclusion that the state of Minnesota drew explicitly in their “Ethical Framework for Allocation of Monoclonal Antibodies during the COVID-19 Pandemic” published last month.

Last summer, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) lauded Michigan and Maryland for incorporating equity in their decisions to administer monoclonal antibody treatments.

Also last month, the CDC published a report suggesting that “equitable” use of treatments factoring race was critical in combating the disproportionate numbers of certain races being adversely affected by COVID-19. The CDC also has a page which argues for equitable approaches to health care because COVID-19 impacts minorities disproportionately. 

Equity looked like health care providers ignoring the entirety of Myers’ condition and focusing on one characteristic: his reported race.

Myers was diagnosed with COVID-19 exactly two weeks before Christmas Day. Based on Myers’ condition, his health care providers at HonorHealth gave him the option to either receive monoclonal antibodies at their FastPace emergency room nearby or wait for their Scottsdale infusion center’s next available appointment. Myers told AZ Free News that he was so sick that he opted for the emergency room.

After waiting over two and a half hours, Myers was admitted to a room. Just as the IV was placed in Myers’ arm, a pharmacist intervened. The pharmacist informed Myers that he “didn’t qualify” for the monoclonal antibody treatment because he wasn’t “high-risk” enough. Confused and upset, Myers left. 

He said he was shocked when, on Monday morning, HonorHealth called him for his appointment to receive monoclonal antibodies. When Myers informed the nurse that he’d been disqualified by their FastPace center, the nurse was dismayed and insisted that he receive the treatment based on his deteriorating condition. By that point, Myers had begun to cough up blood. The infusion center’s earliest available appointment was on Wednesday; Myers said he barely made the drive from Glendale to Scottsdale safely because his coughing had worsened and he nearly didn’t have the strength to steer the wheel.

“Within 24 hours I felt I was getting better. It took me a week and a half to get back to some normal,” said Myers. 

Weeks later, Myers told AZ Free News that he received a $1,500 bill from FastPace — even though they refused to treat him. Myers said his entire ordeal was entirely unnecessary, relaying frustrations at how he believed politics got in the way of his health care.

“It’s political b******t really. I got sicker when I could’ve recovered faster, and it cost me thousands of dollars in medical bills and me being off of work,” said Myers.

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