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Ducey, Hoffman announce 2-week extension of school closures

PHOENIX — Arizona children won’t be going back to school before April 13.

In a new directive, Gov. Doug Ducey and Kathy Hoffman, the state schools chief, have decided to extend by two more weeks the closure announcement they made just this past Sunday. The pair said they believe the extension is necessary to be sure that conditions are safe for students to return.

Gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak said that since the original two-week closure was announced, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out with new protocols to protect health. He said following these protocols would preclude schools from reopening as scheduled on March 30.

But Hoffman said the question of spreading the COVID-19 among classmates is only part of the issue. There’s also the question of who would watch the children.

“Staffing would be very challenging at this time,’’ she said. And then there’s the possibility that teachers could spread the virus among themselves in meetings.

Whether schools will reopen before the end of the semester remains an open question.

“Our goal is to get kids in the classroom as soon as possible,’’ said gubernatorial press aide Patrick Ptak.

“We believe that’s the best place for them,’’ he said. “We’re going to continue to reassess the situation in order to safely do that.’’

Hoffman said she also intends to “keep monitoring and evaluating the situation.’’ But she told Capitol Media Services that it would not be the end of the world if schools did not reopen before the summer break.

She pointed out that this is the beginning of testing season.

“This is the time of the year when there would be a lot of reviewing and strengthening those foundational skills to get ready for the state tests,’’ Hoffman said.

“And during the testing window there typically is not any instruction,’’ she continued. “So if I had to choose for a quarter for this to happen this is honestly the best quarter because the majority of the instruction has already been completed.’’

That doesn’t mean there will be no learning involved if schools remain shuttered.

Legislation approved unanimously Thursday by the House and Senate sets up procedures for school districts to provide educational opportunities for students through the end of the semester. Options include online instruction, sending home assignments and even having staffers read with younger students over the phone.

Ptak said the governor is looking forward to signing the measure.

Hoffman, however, said she’s not optimistic that this plan is going to make up for the lack of actual classroom instruction.

“To be completely honest, I know that kids are not going to learn in the same way and learn as much as they would if they were in our classrooms with our teachers,’’ she said. And Hoffman said the fact remains that not everyone is going to have access to interactive online instruction.

“We know across the state that there are families that don’t have computers or don’t have internet,’’ she said. “There’s going to be significant challenges in trying to provide equal opportunity for kids to access learning.

And that doesn’t even consider students with disabilities and other special needs.

“How are they going to learn?’’ Hoffman asked. “These are going to be immense challenges.’’

Ptak acknowledged that the decision to delay reopening schools for two more weeks comes more than a week before classes were slated to resume. But he said the governor believes it’s important to get scheduling information into the hands of parents as soon as possible to allow them to plan.

With resumed classroom instruction looking ever less likely, Hoffman said she is focused elsewhere.

“What we have been prioritizing in recent weeks is, first and foremost, making sure that kids are fed,’’ she said. “Having access to food is important.’’

Hoffman said she also wants to be sure that school staffers will continue to be paid.

That problem appears to be taken care of with the new legislation awaiting Ducey’s signature. It provides continued state aid to schools to keep paying staff — both instructional and support — as long as schools continue educational programs in whatever alternative format they can.

Still, there are other issues.

One is that extended closure — or scrapping the rest of the semester — leaves no opportunity for testing students to see what they’ve learned for the year.

Those standardized tests also are important to schools, as they are graded on their performance and improvement. And there also are financial benefits in the form of additional state aid.

“Everything has to be figured out in a different way,’’ Hoffman said. “So we’re just taking it day by day.’’

Hoffman said her department is working to help educators be “as creative as possible’’ in finding ways to continue providing instruction given the unique situation created by the pandemic.

“But there’s no way we could achieve what we could in a typical school year,’’ she said.

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CG woman stuck in Germany while visiting daughter
 jheadley  / 

Verna Douglas with daughter Rose Marie Lewis and her grandson Lachlan Brent Lewis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series examining the lives of five Pinal County residents during the COVID-19 outbreak. Those participating in the project have agreed to share their lives with PinalCentral readers, and we will revisit them periodically during this health emergency.

ROSE BARRACKS, VILSECK, GERMANY — Verena Sullivan-Douglas went to Germany to help her daughter have a baby and she is now having a hard time getting back because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Sullivan-Douglas, 52, is married and lives in Casa Grande. She is a retired paramedic, and her husband was a law enforcement officer and is now retired. She attends Catalyst Church in Casa Grande and started a homeless ministry there a few years ago called Angels Unaware.

“We moved to Casa Grande two years ago. He wanted to be in the warm desert and it doesn’t get much warmer than there. We moved to Casa Grande from Oregon but I was born and raised in California,” she said.

She ended up in Germany, stuck on an Army base, because she was trying to help her daughter.

“My daughter Rose Marie (Lewis) is a sergeant in the Army and is stationed over here in a little town called Vilseck, on a base called Rose Barracks. She was pregnant and getting ready to deliver and wanted momma here, so I flew out on Feb. 12 to come and stay with her for a few weeks while she delivered and recuperated from having the baby,” she said.

Sullivan-Douglas’s husband is still in Casa Grande.

“My hubby is still at home, hopefully quarantined very, very well. He is 67 and he has some underlying health issues. When I left in February, of course we all heard a little about the COVID-19 but it was nothing like what it’s ended up being. I wasn’t afraid to travel. I am a reasonably healthy person. I rarely get sick. I got over here and within about a week of the baby being born, a month ago today, we started hearing stories from the Army about quarantining and travel restrictions,” Sullivan-Douglas said.

She said the Army told all soldiers they could not travel outside the Bavaria area.

“Within a few days of that they said soldiers cannot even leave the base. Then a few days after that it was soldiers and their families can’t leave the base and they are shutting everything down. Now no one can get on base without being prescreened and only essential personnel. We are literary on lockdown now. No one can come or go from the base without being screened first. Soldiers and their families cannot leave at all,” she said.

Rose Barracks may just be an Army base but it has a population of 40,000 people.

The major Army training center has been described as the “school house” for the U.S. Army in Europe. Transition training and fielding of new equipment is its most visible mission. It is located about 30 miles west of the Czech Republic border and 50 miles northeast of Nuremberg.

The 409th Base Support Battalion is stationed on Rose Barracks at Vilseck, one of the most charming military installations in Germany.

“They’re doing the same thing here that they are doing in the States. They’re asking everyone to avoid non-essential travel. It is real easy to do with that new baby in the house. Her husband does the grocery shopping and any errands that need done,” she said.

Getting food and supplies “is the scary part,” she said.

“There is one commissary here on base. It is supplying all the food. All the groceries for every family here and it’s only stocked twice a week. The shelves are bare. There is nothing. There’s no meat. There’s no dairy. There’s nothing. No water. No bread. My daughter’s husband is actually friends with someone in shipping and receiving at the commissary. When they get a shipment, they call him so he can get down there immediately before everything is bought out,” Sullivan-Douglas said.

With a newborn in the house, the baby shower gifts have provided the child with all the diapers she needs for several months. The mother is breastfeeding, so that eliminates the need for formula.

“I am not afraid of getting COVID-19. I am afraid of societal breakdown. If the Army has a contingency plan for what to do if this all goes south, they are not cluing the soldiers in. The soldiers are not being very well briefed on what the plan is. That scares me,” she said, adding she is also very concerned about her husband at home in Casa Grande.

“My greatest fear is my husband at home, who I can’t get to. My flight out of here has probably been canceled. It’s hard to know because I can’t get through to anyone on the phone,” she said.

With the airport three hours away, her only hope was to ride a train to the airport and arrive the day of her flight, March 31.

On Friday, she was finally able to get through to the airline on the phone after being on hold for more than three hours. She was able to get a flight out of Frankfurt on Saturday to London. She will then be stuck in the Heathrow Airport overnight and then hopefully be able to fly back to the United States Sunday or Monday.

“How am I going to get to the airport? It’s three hours from here and my daughter and son-in-law aren’t allowed to leave base. I don’t even know if I have a flight. It is all very up in the air, undetermined and out of my control,” she said.

Sullivan-Douglas said the entire situation is very fluid and changing hour by hour.

“They have a tent city set up at the airfield here now where they are quarantining people. Some of these soldiers who live off base have come on base to do their job and have ended up quarantined on the air field. I haven’t been allowed to travel for two weeks, so I really don’t know what the outside looks like. I hear the streets are bare and the European Union has shut down its borders. This is the epicenter of the new breakouts. The streets are bare. All tourism is gone. The airports are empty,” she said.

Sullivan-Douglas said she remains concerned about the breakdown of modern society and still believes the pandemic is being blown out of proportion by the media.

“We need to make sure people are safe but there are other things that have come through that were much more deadly that we didn’t take these precautions over. Why this one, why now? I pray every day. I know God has me in his hands. Whatever he decides to do is what is going to happen. I have faith in that,” she said.

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Pinal food banks adjusting as needs increase
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — In a typical week, Andy Salazar of Caring Hands of Pinal County receives about five calls from area residents requesting help with emergency food or supplies.

In the past five days, he’s received more than 25 calls from people unable to find basic food or home supplies in the grocery stores.

“I had a call from a mother of an autistic child a few days ago,” Salazar said. “She wasn’t able to get to the store and when her friend went for her, she wasn’t able to find anything she needed because the store shelves were empty.”

Salazar turned to social media and collected the items the mother needed in about three hours. But, he said, the call was just the tip of the iceberg.

“The calls keep coming,” he said. “About 30% of the calls I’m getting are from elderly and others are from parents whose kids are home from school and they’re running out of food.”

As area residents settle into social isolation and adjust to a period of no school, few activities and limited options at grocery stores, some are struggling to find food. Area food banks remain open and organizations like Caring Hands of Pinal County are working overtime to meet the needs.

But at the Caring Hands food bank, supplies are running low.

“We do get a shipment in next week, but we can use donations,” Salazar said.

He’s hoping that area residents will donate spaghetti, noodles, macaroni and cheese, cereal and easy-to-prepare meals to help meet the needs of area residents who are struggling.

“There’s no telling how long these shortages are going to last or how long kids will be out of school. I know they’re saying two weeks, but that could change,” he said.

He said the uncertainty is worrying people.

“People don’t know what’s going on, and it’s stressful,” he said.

The Caring Hands food bank, which recently moved to a new location at 110 W. Main St., hosts food distribution days twice a month on Tuesdays. The next is from 1:45 to 6 p.m. March 24.

Salazar said he anticipates the food bank operating on its normal schedule despite current social distancing requirements being observed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We will only have 10 or fewer volunteers in the food bank at a time, and people receiving food boxes will pick them up outside,” he said.

The Casa Grande Food Bank at 235 E. Fourth St. also expects to continue operating with regular business hours, a spokesman told PinalCentral on Thursday.

Although the Casa Grande Food Bank does not have a food drive in place now, people may donate by contacting the organization at 836-1347.

Those who wish to donate to Caring Hands of Pinal County food bank may drop off items at Precise Motor Vehicle Services, 241 W. Cottonwood Lane, during regular business hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Those needing emergency food assistance may contact Salazar through the Caring Hands of Pinal County Facebook page or by calling 520-371-2005.

Special help for kids

Until area students return to school, there are some places they can go to receive a free to-go lunch.

Casa Grande and Eloy school districts are offering their free breakfast and lunch program to students at specific times and locations. For a list of times and locations in Casa Grande, visit the Casa Grande Elementary School District website at www.cgesd.org

  • .
  • Bubba’s BBQ Pit, 1645 N. Trekell Road, announced on its Facebook page on Friday that it would offer students in kindergarten through grade 12 a free sack lunch, consisting of a pulled pork sandwich and a bag of chips, from 11 a.m. to noon March 20-31. The student must be present to receive the lunch. For more information call 836-4770.

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Maricopa woman recounts abrupt trip to Paris amid coronavirus
 mstaude  / 

MARICOPA — Rosemary Quesenberry’s recent trip to Paris is one she won’t soon forget.

When she returned to the United States on Monday, she was met by health officials wearing head-to-toe protective gear at JFK International Airport in New York. Three days later, she received a notice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention telling her she should self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We are feeling well. We were advised to take our temperature twice a day for 14 days, but we can’t find a thermometer,” she said.


Rosemary Quesenberry received this message from the CDC after returning home from a trip to Paris.

Quesenberry and her husband, Eddie Rivera, were on a flight to Paris on March 11 when they learned that flights from Europe would be suspended for 30 days.

“When we landed in Paris, it was chaos,” she said. “No one had any details and people were confused and trying to get rebooked to go home.”

She said Charles de Gaulle Airport was crowded with thousands of Americans trying to fly home immediately, but despite the confusion, people were kind and considerate with one another.

“It was wonderful to experience thousands of Americans, all at high stress levels, but not arguing or crying — just Americans being Americans,” she said.

Because lines to rebook the flight home were long, the couple continued on to their hotel in the Parisian Latin Quarter and settled in for a long weekend.

“We couldn’t get a flight home right away, so we spent a long weekend in Paris, eating good food, drinking great wine and taking long walks to see the sites,” she said.

Because of concerns about the coronavirus, many tourist sites were closed and streets and cafes were not crowded.

“We were very careful. We used hand sanitizer and washed our hands a lot,” she said. “But the economic devastation the coronavirus is having on Europe was easy to see. There were almost no tourists on the streets or in the restaurants.”

Submitted photo 

Despite long lines at the airport and confusion among international travelers, Rosemary Quesenberry said people were polite and kind.

The trip to Paris, which was to include stops in Nice and Avignon as well as a visit to Spain, had been planned more than a year in advance. Rivera and Quesenberry are both retired and enjoy traveling.

“It’s too bad that the trip had to be cut short,” Quesenberry said. When the couple’s flight returned to the United States, passengers were disembarked one-by-one as health officials took their temperature and asked questions about their general health and well-being.

“It did feel a little bit like being in the Twilight Zone,” she said. “But I wasn’t angry or annoyed. The CDC was just doing their jobs.”

Because Quesenberry and Rivera did not have a fever, cough or other symptoms of coronavirus, they were sent home with instructions to self-isolate for 14 days.

Now, back home in Maricopa, they’re being careful to observe the self-quarantine period while looking forward to someday traveling to France again.

“I don’t know if we can do this trip again for a year or two, but we feel blessed that we got to spend a few days there, seeing historic sites, and now we’re back home and still healthy,” Quesenberry said.