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Reopening too fast could backfire, Pinal board told
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — As citizens around the country hold demonstrations to reopen the economy, doing so too soon could backfire, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors was told.

Dr. Shauna McIsaac, Pinal County public health director, said according to White House guidelines, communities shouldn’t begin to relax restrictions until they’ve seen a reduction in cases for 14 days, there’s sufficient testing and monitoring, and hospitals are able to treat all patients.

The supervisors heard updates from McIsaac and other top county staff April 22 on how the county might accelerate economic recovery while following public health guidance.

McIsaac told the board the county had 283 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths.

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said waiting for 14 straight days of improvement “seems like a long time, and we’re still increasing. And I want to get things opened up faster than later. This means we’re at least 16 days away from the next phase; is that how you’re interpreting that?” he asked McIsaac.

McIsaac said 14 days of improvement are important “because if we make a change today, we won’t see the effect for 14 days, because of the infectious period.” Although quick action can be a good thing, “in this case it could backfire, and lead to unintended consequences of increasing numbers of cases, and then we have to go back to where we are now.”

House asked if the public must wait 12 to 18 months for a vaccine, “before we return to the new normal?”

McIsaac said reopening will not be the same as returning to normal as long as COVID-19 is circulating in the communities.

“We do not anticipate returning to normal until we have a vaccine and have achieved herd immunity.”

She said herd immunity is achieved when so many people have been vaccinated or have recovered from the infection, that when the infection reappears, it can’t spread far.

As far as Pinal County’s readiness to meet the challenge, it’s in the same position as the rest of the state, McIsaac said.

“Significantly, we have issues with testing, mainly due to the lack of the swab,” she said.

Some symptomatic individuals can’t readily find a test in Pinal County. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and governors throughout the country are speaking to the importance of adequate testing, McIsaac said.

“We’re also having significant issues with personal protective equipment.”

The state ordered over $1 million in PPE that should be arriving perhaps next week, McIsaac said.

Supervisors Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, asked if the coronavirus would follow the seasons similar to the flu.

“I don’t know if there’s a lot of hope that we would actually see a decrease through our summer,” McIsaac said. “I don’t know if we’ll see an increase in the fall. I think there’s a possibility that it will just be continuing — more of a steady situation that we’re dealing with, more than a waxing and waning one.”

She said it’s still unknown why some people show no or mild symptoms, while others become seriously ill.

Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said it appears the coronavirus is here to stay and public officials will be responding to it for years to come.

“I think it will be like many of the other infectious diseases that we have vaccinations for,” McIsaac replied. “Once we have a vaccination for it and people routinely take that vaccination I think we can look forward to it not being front and center in our lives after that point.”

Pinal County impact fees on new homes headed down
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — Pinal County’s impact fees — charges assessed on new construction to help growth pay for itself — are set to decrease in 2021.

During a Board of Supervisors meeting last week, Supervisor Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, asked if charging more to other types of construction, like commercial and industrial, reduced the burden on residential.

Ben Griffin, a senior analyst with financial planner Tischler Bise, said the parks fee is part of the answer because nonresidential development wasn’t previously paying this fee. Pinal County charges impact fees for streets, public safety and parks and open space. But the change is mostly due to streets, Griffin said.

Pinal County Manager Louis Andersen elaborated, “A lot of it has to do with tightening up the street costs and amount of growth attributed to streets,” in keeping with the most recent state law. “So we really tightened up our street lane-miles and our street costs, and revised that, which caused most all of the overall fees, commercial, residential and industrial, to reduce.”

The proposed impact fee on a single-family home in the south-central part of the county will be $2,405. The current fee on a home between 1,501 and 2,100 square feet is $3,469. In the north-central part of the county, the fee will be $3,896, down from $8,666.

Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said, “Overall I’m pleased to see the decrease in some of these fees,” and he questioned why commercial construction must pay. “I’ve always felt like commercial generates revenue for us with sales tax, jobs, payroll tax.” He said impact fees are hard for a homebuilder to explain to a customer. “You’re not getting a granite countertop.”

Miller said a $16 parks and recreation fee on hotel rooms also seems odd. He said hotels serve “a transient population with a very small burden on our facilities and services.” This is not a recurring tax on the room, but a one-time fee on construction.

“I think our hope in Pinal County is that we’ll develop our tourism to the point that we’re making quite a bit of money and it becomes part of our economic development picture,” and there’s a growing demand for hotels, Supervisors Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, said.

The board will hold a public hearing June 3 on the land use assumptions and infrastructure improvement plan behind the fees before voting whether to adopt those documents on July 15. The board will hold a public hearing on its new development fees on Aug. 26 and vote on them on Sept. 30. The new fees are scheduled to take effect on Dec. 29.

The supervisors also heard a presentation on the county’s 2020 Five-Year Transportation Improvement and Maintenance Program, which they’ll be asked to approve on May 27.

The public may read the plan and submit project requests at pinalcountyaz.gov/PublicWorks. Under Menu on the left side of the page, select Transportation Improvement & Maintenance Program.

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Florence group makes 1,800 face masks
 mstaude  / 

FLORENCE — Capitalizing on the power of friendship and teamwork, a group of Florence area women has made more than 1,800 face masks that it’s donated to Pinal County essential workers and other organizations.

“We have some super-maskers in our group that have made hundreds of masks, but we also have some non-sewers who help in other ways,” said Cheryl Allain-Mee, a retired attorney who started MaskERaid, or Mask Emergency Response Aid, to help out with a shortage of face masks.

Since March when the group was formed, its nine members have sewn through 175 yards of cotton fabric and 700 yards of elastic, creating two styles of masks, some with elastic ear loops and others with fabric ties.

“Some prefer the elastic that loops behind the ears but some like the ones that tie, so we make both kinds,” she said.


Group logo

Members of the group include Allain-Mee along with Julie Sanborn, Barb Dwyer, Ashley Singer, Gayle Singer, Lori Beecher, Kathy Andre, Raeleen Lohse and Cheryl Cheek.

All live in Pinal County and most live in the Anthem Merrill Ranch area.

But Allain-Mee didn’t know any of them before she formed the group.

“I wanted to make some face masks to help out with the shortage and so I posted a notice on Next Door (a social media application) looking for people who wanted to help,” she said. “I knew we could do more as a group than with me working alone.”

The group makes each mask with double layers of cotton fabric cut into 9-by-6-inch or 2-by-7 pieces.


MaskERaid has used more than 175 yards of cotton fabric to make more than 1,800 face masks, mostly for Pinal County essential employees.

Most of the masks are donated to the Pinal County Emergency Operations Center and distributed to essential county employees. Some masks are delivered to area police and fire departments and other organizations.

“The county sends a National Guard member to pick up the masks each week and lately, they’ve also been helping us find fabric,” Allain-Mee said.

She said early on, the group wanted to focus on making masks for those who needed them but might be overlooked, such as essential county workers, grocery store employees, hospice workers and others who are continuing to work in essential jobs during the coronavirus epidemic.

“We think of ourselves as the fairy godmothers of face masks,” Allain-Mee said.

Allain-Mee is a retired attorney from Canada who moved to Florence several years ago. She enjoys sewing in her free time.

Much of the fabric the group uses is from their own stashes, but some is donated.

“We all share with each other,” she said. “We are a small but mighty group. Not everyone sews. Those who don’t sew help in other ways.”

Although many members of the group have never met one another, Allain-Mee said there are plans to host a lunch once the coronavirus pandemic passes.

“I’d love to host a lunch so everyone can meet each other and invite Pinal County and some of the people we’ve donated the masks to also,” she said. “We’re all friends now.”

The group can use donations of cotton fabric and elastic. It can also use more volunteers.

Those who would like to help may call 805-231-9946.

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Vehicle rally in Florence protests for release of state inmates due to COVID-19
 jheadley  / 

FLORENCE — About 50 vehicles filled with around 200 people held a rolling protest Friday calling for state prisons to release inmates as the COVID-19 health crisis grips the planet.

Butte Avenue was filled with vehicles in front of Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence late Friday afternoon.

Protesters in vehicles drove slowly up and down Butte Avenue honking and yelling for authorities to release the prisoners in the wake of the growing virus. Officials, including Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies and members of prison management, video-recorded the protesters as they rolled down the street with signs taped to their vehicles, bullhorns in hand, hanging out of open vehicle doors as the vehicles moved and making U-turns as they went back and forth in front of the prison’s main gate.

The event was organized by the Puente Human Rights Movement and is their second organized vehicle rally in their United for Freedom Caravan campaign.

Their mission is “to hold the AZ Department of Corrections and Governor Ducey accountable to the COVID-19 crisis inside detention centers and prisons demanding they release and empty these cages immediately,” according to one of the group’s recent press releases.

“We are coming out as impacted family members that have relatives incarcerated during a pandemic. We’re concerned about the lack of accountability that the Department of Corrections is taking, there is very little transparency. We are coming out and using our voices to uplift what is happening inside these cages,” said Erika Ovalle, a Puente member.

Prison Protest in Florence 4/24/20

Máxima Guerrero with Puente Human Rights Movement said the prisoners inside heard the protest.

“We did get a message Saturday from someone in the North Unit that said some folks were outside and able to see and hear us. They were outside cheering and feeling supported by what we were doing. They were able to hear us, and they feel that we should be keeping up the pressure. There were tears of joy from people inside when they heard us outside in solidarity with them,” Guerrero said.

As of Monday, 44 people in Arizona prisons had tested positive for the virus, with 30 of the cases in the Florence prison.

“With less than 1% of people incarcerated tested, it is evident the department is ill-prepared to keep everyone safe and flatten the curve. The COVID-19 virus does not discriminate against previous convictions when everyone’s lives are equally at risk, and we cannot sit idly until prisons become an epicenter of the virus,” a group press release states. “Our goal is to flatten the curve and we can’t do that with our folks in crowded, deadly prison camps. Being the state that holds the 5th largest incarcerated population in the nation, data predictions show a 99% infection rate inside AZ prisons. We need immediate action to free our loved ones.”

The Puente Human Rights Movement also said hygiene is a huge issue inside prisons.

“They don’t tell us anything about COVID-19, all we know is what we hear on TV. Soap is only provided if you ask for it or if you buy it in the commissary, and that nothing is provided to clean the cells. If martial law kicks in, we’ll be the first ones to die,” an incarcerated person inside the Florence prison said, according to the Puente Human Rights Movement.