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Some local businesses hiring extra workers during pandemic

CASA GRANDE — While some local businesses are closing their doors during the coronavirus outbreak, others are in need of more employees just to keep up with demand.

Walmart is hiring for both its store and the distribution center in Casa Grande.

"Walmart is hiring 150,000 new associates through the end of May, including more than 3,700 associates across Arizona, to work in its stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers,” said Leslie Sonnenklar, a public relations specialist who has been contracted by Walmart.

According to Walmart’s website, employees at distribution centers can earn between $17 and $18 an hour. Some of the positions at the store and distribution center will be temporary but many will be turned into permanent positions.

The company is also expediting its hiring process so that people can be hired in as little as 24 hours compared to the two weeks that it normally takes, Sonnenklar said.

Papa John’s on Florence Boulevard is looking to hire 10 additional delivery drivers, according to Matt Quick, who works at the shop.

Grocery stores such as Fry’s, Food City and Safeway are also advertising open positions as they try to meet customers’ demands for products and keeping shelves stocked.

On Site Shooting created and rapidly filled two positions to help control the crowds of customers at its door as the demand for ammunition and gun purchases has increased.

Allied Universal, a security company, is looking to hire more than 300 security guards in Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson. The company will cover the cost of the guard card registration fee for applicants that complete the hiring process.

New hire job titles in the Arizona market include security officer, security shift supervisor, transit-dispatch security officer, armed security officer, security site supervisor and more.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security also started accepting applications for unemployment benefits for employees who were laid off as a result of the coronavirus. More information on how to apply for the benefits can be found at www.azui.gov/.

A new website set up by the state specifically for businesses, families and individuals looking for help, more information on the coronavirus and ways to volunteer or donate during the outbreak can be found at https://arizonatogether.org/.

In a related matter, a trio of local agencies are teaming up to hold a teleconference on how small businesses can find the resources they need during the coronavirus outbreak.

The teleconference will be held at 9:30 a.m. Thursday by the city of Casa Grande, the Casa Grande Greater Chamber of Commerce and the Central Arizona College Small Business Development Center. Business owners who are interested in attending should call (425) 436-637 and use access code 250258#.

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Video: CG teachers parade through neighborhoods to stay in touch with students
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CASA GRANDE — For some area students, the extended break from school due to the coronavirus is a scary and confusing time.

They miss their teachers and the teachers miss them. But some schools are finding unusual ways of staying in touch with their students while still practicing social distancing.

Desert Willow and Ironwood elementary schools scheduled mini parades with teachers and school staffers driving through the neighborhoods in which their students live.

When the processions were scheduled to pass by, students were invited to wave to their teachers.

“It’s a way for the school teachers and staff to maintain their relationships and sense of connectedness with their students,” said Michael Cruz, communications and marketing specialist for the Casa Grande Elementary School District.

On Wednesday, staff and teachers with Ironwood Elementary School met in the school parking lot at 12:30 p.m. and spent more than an hour driving through the neighborhoods of Ironwood Commons, Highland Manor, Monterra Village, Tameron and G Diamond Ranch, waving to their students.

“We’ll be driving around your neighborhoods with lots of smiles and waves,” a Facebook post announcing the mini-parade read.

Teacher parade

On Monday, Desert Willow teachers did the same, also driving through the neighborhoods in which their students reside.

“For a lot of the students, they don’t understand the what’s happening and why they have to stay home, and that leads to some anxiety,” Cruz said. “Some of students spend a lot of time at school. They see their teachers every day so these drive-throughs help to reduce their anxiety.”

At Casa Grande Middle School, staff and teachers put together a “reaching out” video for their 740 students.

“We wanted to make sure we sent out this video from all of us here at CGMS to let you know we miss you and we’re looking forward to seeing you again,” school Principal Christopher Laughlin says in the opening scene of the video.

He goes on to urge students to take care of themselves and wash their hands and stay safe.

The nearly 10-minute video features various teachers at home, many with pets, also wishing students well and offering messages of hope and encouragement. Some teachers in the video urge students to wash hands, read and do math.

“It lets the students know the teachers are thinking of them,” Cruz said.

The video can be found on the Casa Grande Middle School Facebook page.

Cactus Middle School also posted video messages on its Facebook page from its principal and teachers, reaching out to students and reminding them to stay connected virtually.

Villago Middle School announced on its Facebook page that the student council will host a virtual spirit week March 30 through April 3. The virtual event features themes such as Meme Monday, Social Distancing Twinning Tuesday, Binge Watching Wednesday, Quarantined Thursday and Flashback Friday, all aimed at having students post theme photos and videos every day.

Ducey wants more flexibility in food stamp program during pandemic

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey announced a new series of orders, directives and requests Wednesday designed to deal with COVID-19.

The governor said he is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow more flexibility in its food stamp program.

In general, what’s known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program restricts what people can purchase, usually to certain foods for preparation at home. Ducey said he wants to allow eligible families to purchase prepared and hot meals that are available at grocery stores.

It would not, however, permit food stamps to be used at restaurants.

Ducey said he wants to allow the state Department of Economic Security, which administers the program, to approve applications without first conducting eligibility interviews. That, according to the governor’s office, should result in not just quicker services but also reduce the potential health risk to both the applicant and the state workers.

Citing the scarce work opportunities, Ducey also wants to waive the requirements that students be employed for at least 20 hours a week to keep their food stamp eligibility. And he wants families to be able to get a maximum allotment for up to two months, a move state health officials say could provide an additional $25 to $150 monthly.

Separately, Ducey said he has gotten permission from the federal government to ensure that none of the nearly 37,000 children enrolled in the KidsCare program lose coverage because a parent is unable to afford monthly premiums.

The program is an offshoot of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. It provides care to the children of the working poor, those who earn too much to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program — nearly $30,000 a year for a family of three — but may lack the resources to purchase health insurance.

KidsCare provides coverage for children in families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $43,440 a year. But it does require some financial input from families.

The federal government needed to grant a waiver as it provides most of the finances for the program.

Along the same lines, the governor said he was waiving requirements that a physician personally oversee the activities of certified nurse anesthetists, “freeing them up to provide other needed medical services.’’

Ducey also announced that Arizona has received more than $5.3 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help Arizona communities provide meals for older adults. The funds are part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act approved earlier this month by Congress.

Arizona mayors slam Ducey edict keeping golf courses open

PHOENIX — Municipal leaders criticized Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday over his decision to classify some businesses like golf courses as “essential” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayors of five different cities, including Tucson and Flagstaff, sent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey a letter saying his executive order should not have included golf courses and payday lenders in the definition of “essential services” that cannot be shut down in response to the outbreak. They also requested a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

Ducey agreed to pause evictions for 120 days for renters who are quarantining or struggling from the economic fallout. To qualify, renters must provide documentation that they’ve been ordered to quarantine, have a health condition that leaves them vulnerable or suffered a substantial income loss. They’ll also have to acknowledge in writing that their lease terms haven’t changed.

On Monday, Ducey outlined an expansive list of essential services that cities and counties are prohibited from shuttering. His action came after mayors took the lead in closing bars and gyms and prohibiting dine-in service at restaurants.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, sidestepped questions about why the list includes the state’s estimated 300 golf courses. “This order is about protecting public health and preserving critical financial lifelines for many communities across our state,” he said in an email.

Ducey was initially criticized by Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, for only ordering the closures of schools but seeming to drag his feet on businesses. The governor later adopted his own restrictions on businesses in all counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The mayors of Tucson, Flagstaff, Tolleson, Somerton and Winslow asked for “clear and direct guidance” on the closure of nonessential services and asked for “assurance that no Arizonan loses their home due to the economic hardship imposed by COVID-19.”

“We acknowledge that these are painful decisions with severe economic repercussions, but immediate action will save lives,” the mayors wrote.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said Ducey’s order gives the governor sole authority over closures and blocks cities from putting limits on crowded parks, golf courses and beauty salons.

While golf courses are open, some national parks are closed, and some facilities at others have been shut. National forests in northern and eastern Arizona, and outside the Phoenix metro area announced this week the closure of picnic sites, day-use areas and developed campgrounds. Some already had suspended the rental of cabins. Grand Canyon National Park suspended private, commercial and research trips on the Colorado River, starting Tuesday until late May.

Arizona had at least 326 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the state Department of Health Services. That is a jump of nearly 100 from a day earlier.

There also was a sixth death reported — a Coconino County man in his 50s with an underlying health condition.

Of the previous five deaths, no details were given by health officials about the last three. The other two were already reported to both be men above age 50 with underlying health conditions.

Navajo Nation officials announced the discovery of 10 more cases, bringing the total to 49 with most in Arizona and a few in New Mexico. The tribe has instituted a “stay-at-home” order as well and told nonessential businesses to temporarily close.

Northern Arizona University announced Tuesday that it was canceling its spring commencement ceremonies. School officials are inviting all May graduates — nearly 6,000 of them — to walk in a special Dec. 12 ceremony.

As worry about resources for a growing patient toll grows, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone on Tuesday suggested retrofitting a new Phoenix jail as a temporary medical clinic for the community if hospital bed space becomes scarce. The 1,500-bed jail hasn’t yet opened.

For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, older adults and people with health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.


Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.