ELOY — Monday the Eloy City Council received an update on the coronavirus situation at the local CoreCivic detention facilities and voted to mandate wearing face coverings in public.
“I know the council, as well as the public, are concerned about the recent spike in COVID-19,” City Manager Harvey Krauss said. “The state of Arizona is experiencing a surge in cases and of course Eloy is not immune to that. We have several new cases in Eloy, unfortunately, as well as in the prison complexes.”
A CoreCivic representative told Krauss that the company is following CDC guidelines while being monitored by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has reached out to other facilities across the country to get tips on different measures being taken to curb the spread of the virus.
Additionally the company agreed to set up a weekly meeting with Krauss as they monitor the situation and will give him weekly updates so he can inform the council and the public about what is going on at the Eloy Detention Center and La Palma Correctional Center, which are the two facilities with the most cases.
The council approved issuing a proclamation requiring the public to wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible.
“Why are we doing the mandating over the strongly encouraging? Because the numbers here are at such a magnitude I think it’s important to send a message to the community that it’s important to wear a face covering,” Krauss said.
Krauss told the council that the proclamation is similar to what Maricopa County, Pima County and city of Casa Grande have issued.
A face covering will be required in all public spaces such as grocery stores, restaurants, bars and retail stores.
The exceptions are for children under 6, individuals exercising outdoors, when eating or drinking at a restaurant and in a setting where it is not practical such as the dentist or while swimming.
Krauss added that the city hopes to achieve voluntary compliance by handing out masks, but enforcing the mandate will be a last result only when some one continuously refuses to wear a face covering.
“We’re not going to achieve 100% compliance,” Krauss said. “It won’t be perfect. … We have a good policy, and the message to the public is to wear your face mask when you can’t have six-foot separation. Let’s not make it optional and encourage people to do it. The only way we’re going to achieve close to maybe 90% or 80% is if we say it’s required.”
The city decided to go with the term face coverings in the proclamation rather than face masks, which allows more flexibility. The public does not necessarily need to wear a face mask, it can be a scarf, a bandana or a face shield.
To go along with the proclamation, Councilman Andrew Rodriguez suggested that the city hand out signs to businesses stating that face coverings are required in the city.
“I’m afraid that other businesses will change the wording,” Rodriguez said. “We can give them the proclamation that the city passed so they fully understand and so all the business community can be on the same page.”
Councilman Georges Reuter added that he’s glad that the city took some initiative in this decision and was not the last one to require face masks.
“COVID is everywhere, and it is in Eloy,” Reuter said. “We have two options. Either we wear face coverings or we risk another shutdown and for all our businesses that could be very dangerous. We have to explain to people that it is for the good of everyone. It’s not just that people can get sick and could die. It’s literally our economy that could take a huge hit again. A shutdown for a city like ours that is not full of big business, it could mean death for businesses.”
ELOY — The construction of the new Eloy Police Department building might be the one thing that COVID-19 has not slowed down.
Construction began earlier this year and if things continue to go smoothly, Police Chief Chris Vasquez and the rest of his department expect to move into their new home in mid-September.
Anyone who has ever been in the current police building knows it can cause a bit of claustrophobia. Trying to walk through it is like trying to find your way through a maze.
The new building is made up of the old City Hall, City Council chambers and finance department buildings.
“This space right here is about 1,000 square feet bigger than the space they’ve got right now,” Project Manager Regis Reed said. “We left the buildings, but you won’t see anything, other than the brick and the ceiling. You won’t see any of the old building here. We kept the footprint of this building; we kept the ceiling of this building.”
Additionally, the department's old building will be torn down and B Street behind the building will be closed.
“Just the holding facility alone adds almost 1,200 or 1,500 square feet that they don’t have now,” Reed said. “I don’t know how they do it. When you go in there you go, ‘OK. I never want to get arrested; this is crappy.’ This is worse than just going to jail. It’s really bad.”
Some of the key factors include having a separate area to hold detainees instead of having them handcuffed to a chair in the hallway, which sometimes happens in the current office.
“Ideally, if we can, we’ll cite and release everybody out of there, so we don’t have to hold them for long periods of time,” Vasquez said. “If not, we’ll get in there, process them and then get them to Florence as quickly as possible, because we don’t want to keep people over there for any long periods. In case something bad happens, you have court people over there and we don’t want to jeopardize them if someone escapes from there.”
The closing of B Street will allow all department personnel to have secure parking and will also provide a secure port where two vehicles can come in with a person in custody and not worry about them escaping.
“When I first started, a guy escaped from the back, and we ended up catching him in someone’s backyard. We don’t want that to happen,” Vasquez said. “If we get someone for a very serious and violent crime and they escape from us and they get into somebody’s house, we could have a hostage situation.”
During the transition from the department’s current building to the remodeled one, officers will use the two cells at City Court when needed.
The department will also provide a safe place for victims to give statements without being in a small interrogation room.
“It’ll have a couch and some nice comfortable chairs to be a pleasing environment, so when victims come in, we want to make them comfortable so they can kind of relax,” Vasquez said. “They’re already traumatized, so they can tell us what happened in a nice comfortable setting. Basically, we don’t have that right now.”
Other features include a sergeant’s bullpen, evidence room and gymnasium.
Vasquez believes that the department has been in the same building since he was a kid and he would go to the Fire Department next door to see the fire trucks.
“I remember this building when I was a teenager,” he said. “I remember the entrance wasn’t here, it was at the side around the corner, so they’ve done remodeling inside for various reasons. This building has been here since I can remember.”
Construction is scheduled to be fully completed by May 2021.
ELOY — It’s been more than six weeks since Vice Mayor Micah Powell took over mayoral duties after Joel Belloc underwent back surgery.
On May 11 the Eloy City Council approved the transfer on an interim basis to Powell and also excused Belloc’s absence from the previous two council meetings.
During the following council meeting, on May 26, Belloc participated via telephone and has continued to do so.
“I want to express to the council my appreciation for the support and prayers, and also the staff,” Belloc said during the May 26 meeting. “I am happy to be back home and resting. Thank you very much for the time, and I appreciate it.”
Before the May 26 meeting, Belloc had missed the previous two meetings. According to the city code, if a council member is absent for more than two consecutive regular council meetings without the consent of the other members and it is recorded, then that member will no longer be a city official.
The council approved Belloc’s absence, and he since has participated via telephone.
As for the other mayoral duties, Powell has continued to fill in.
City Manager Harvey Krauss told PinalCentral that technically Belloc is still in charge.
“We have taken documents to him and get him to sign them, but sometimes it’s just easier for Micah to do it since he’s here,” Krauss said.
The council will hold a special meeting next week and depending on how Belloc is feeling, he may participate in person.
Powell and Belloc are running against each other for mayor in the August primary election.
ELOY -- Before the coronavirus pandemic began causing shortages of face masks and other supplies, 15-year-old Ruby Brown and Aryana Salazar, 21, had never used a sewing machine.
In the few months since, they’ve sewn more than 3,000 cotton face coverings, many of which have been donated.
“We were sewing so many that we broke my grandmother’s sewing machine and had to buy a new one,” Salazar said.
And the pair are still sewing.
Earlier this week, the duo donated dozens of masks to the Court Appointed Special Advocates program so that children in foster care can safely visit with their advocate, said Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court Services program administrator.
“CASA needed masks for foster children and these young ladies came to the rescue,” McBride said.
Brown, a sophomore at Casa Grande Union High School, said that for her, the donation was personal. She was once in the foster care system and was later adopted by Norma and Tim Brown, Salazar’s grandparents.
“This was one way for me to give back,” Brown said. “When I was little, I was adopted. I had been in foster care. I’ve been through the same things some of these foster care kids are going through, so I wanted to help.”
In early March, Brown researched mask-making patterns and enlisted Salazar to help make as many face coverings as possible.
“It was the first week of quarantine in March and Ruby looked up YouTube videos on how to make the masks,” Salazar said. “There were shortages, and we wanted to help. We’d never sewn anything before.”
Brown and Salazar, a student at Northern Arizona University who hopes to become a speech pathologist, learned to sew while creating their first few masks.
Since then, they’ve been through hundreds of yards of fabric.
Each mask is made with 100% cotton fabric using a pattern that includes a nose piece and a pocket to insert a filter. Rather than elastic, the masks are made with nylon hose material to secure the face coverings behind the ear.
Each mask takes about 15 minutes to make and the two work as a team, taking turns cutting and sewing.
“We’re usually working three to four hours a day,” Salazar said.
While the two have donated many of the masks to various organizations, medical personnel and people in need, they’ve also made some money selling them for $5 each. Much of the proceeds go back into the project and is used to buy fabric and other supplies.
“Everyone in our family has some of the masks and they’ve given a lot away,” Norma Brown said. “They’re sewing all the time. I’m so proud of these girls.”
While they plan to continue making, donating and selling masks throughout the summer, the next goal for the two is to learn how to make surgical caps to donate to medical personnel.
“A nurse told us that there is a shortage of surgical caps so right now we’re researching how to make those,” Salazar said.
The two also hope to reach out to homeless advocates to donate masks to the homeless and others in need.
Those who would like to place an order for masks or request a donation may contact Norma Brown through private message on Facebook.
ELOY — The Eloy Fire District has continued its solid reputation of assisting other firefighting agencies in the state during heavy activity.
EFD has had personnel working the Bighorn Fire in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Oracle and Tucson this month.
A crew was sent south with a type 4 fire engine, which is a four-wheel drive, one-quarter ton “utility truck” with a tanker, EFD Chief Kelly Weddle said Thursday.
“Our wildfire team has been very active the last eight to 10 years in that,” Weddle said. “There’s a core group of people who enjoy that. We get deployed each year several times.”
A full deployment for an outside crew lasts 14 days per state regulations, Weddle said. The same personnel can return to that fire location after a two-day respite, he added.
Weddle declined to identify personnel by name from Eloy who responded to the Bighorn Fire for local safety reasons. “For security reasons the guys don’t like their names in the newspaper when they are gone,” Weddle said.
A team of four Maricopa firefighters was also deployed to help fight the raging Bighorn Fire.
The four-person crew took the BR-575 truck, which is a type-3 wildland truck, to fight the blaze.
This team included an engine boss — a certification given to the leader of the group who is tasked with maintaining the safety of their crew.
“Their assignment can change from day to day. They have a regular briefing, where they’re given their daily assignment, and then they go and perform those tasks,” department spokesperson Chris Bolinger said. “They just let us know how they’re doing.”
The team will remain there to fight the fire until their help is no longer necessary, or the fire is extinguished.
Hundreds of firefighters made some progress Monday against major wildfires across Arizona.
Authorities said the human-caused Bush Fire outside of metro Phoenix was 42% contained as of Monday after charring 291 square miles since it started June 13 in the Tonto National Forest.
The lightning-caused Bighorn Fire of 91 square miles burning in canyons and on ridges in the Catalinas hovered around 16% containment. But fire officials said the blaze diminished as it reached vegetation at the base of Ventana Canyon.
Meanwhile, authorities said the lightning-caused Bringham Fire was 20% contained after burning 33 square miles in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest north of Morenci. That blaze continues to burn in steep, inaccessible areas.
In northern Arizona, improved weather conditions allowed firefighters to protect critical areas from the Mangum Fire burning in the Kaibab National Forest.
The blaze was 28% contained Monday at 108 square miles with its June 8 cause still under investigation. It has forced the closure of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park until further notice.
Two other Pinal County fire departments PinalCentral spoke with are assisting the wildfire season indirectly.
“We don’t have anyone who went directly to the wildfires, but we are backfilling positions of other departments that have some people there,” said Jeff Heaton, fire chief of the Arizona City Fire District.
The Florence Fire Department with a fulltime staff of 27 personnel also has been busy this year but has not left its firefighting area of responsibility, Chief David Strayer said.
“We have been responding to calls but just in and around Florence. We’re very busy but just in and near Florence,” Strayer said. “We don’t actually send personnel out like some of the departments. We’re actually working on expanding our program to get integrated to do that later this year or for sure next year.”
Strayer has the use of 10 to 15 reserve personnel for a combined crew of up to 40.
“We’re all dealing with a lot more than wildfires. We have (state Department of) Corrections here so we have our hands full,” Strayer added.
Fire department officials from Coolidge and Casa Grande were unavailable to provide information on their contributions to the state wildfire situation.
Staff Writer Katie Sawyer and The Associated Press contributed to this story.