MARICOPA — The Maricopa City Council logged onto Facebook Live on Friday evening to live stream an address to the community members and business owners about COVID-19.
Until this point, things have slowly been shutting down with the implementation of Mayor Christian Price’s “Fifteen Days to Make a Difference” plan that was sent out via email earlier last week.
Price began his speech with a recognition of the amount of feedback he has been receiving from concerned community members on different sides of the issue, those local business owners losing profits due to closures, and community members worried about the health of their families should the city continue working/going out in public.
“There’s been a little bit of confusion. A lot of people believe that everything should be shut down entirely, and I understand that. We understand that, the city understands that, but there is a reason and rationale by which we have not done that,” Price said. “I have people that contact me every day that say ‘We should shut everything down and everybody should be locked down in their homes.’ I also have people that contact me every day and say, ‘Why are we doing this? This isn’t here. There is no reason for this, this is government overreach.’ … We want to do something that is best for everybody.”
Up until Friday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey had merely made recommendations for shutdown of certain businesses in the state. Dissimilarly, several states have ordered a mandatory shutdown and all residents to shelter in place including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York.
Price explained that his reasoning for continuing to allow business to operate is due to the number of local small-business owners nearing collapse due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“There are so many people in this city that have invested their life savings and now, through no fault of their own, they find themselves in complete dilapidation because the economy around them is crumbling,” Price said. “They are being forced into stopping their business ... this is a real challenge for them.”
On Friday, Price moved forward with announcing a state of emergency following Ducey’s orders to shut down all inside dining at businesses that are located in a county that has confirmed cases. Those restaurants affected still have the option of curbside pickup. As of press time Monday, Pinal County has 17 cases of COVID-19.
He briefly clarified that other cities declared a state of emergency due to legal limitations involving the closures of city hall and other public spaces, whereas Maricopa does not have those limitations and was able to implement those changes without declaring. Price then introduced a proclamation to declare a state of emergency.
“We’ve reached a time by which we’ve crossed from pure recommendation into mandate,” Price said. “Because of those mandates, we need to be able to align the recommendations of the City of Maricopa, and to do it in a fast and orderly fashion.”
As of Friday, all restaurants, movie theaters and gyms closed in the city with the exception of those restaurants offering curbside pickup or take out services. Grocery stores will remain open and will receive support from the National Guard to continue stocking shelves and selling necessary products.
The Maricopa Public Library will shutter; however some services such as family reading time will move online. Curbside pickup will also be available for books and movies from the library, sanitized and delivered directly to vehicles.
City Hall and Copper Sky Regional Park facilities will both close, with most staff on payroll working from home. The actual park will remain open. Concierge service will also be available for city needs at city hall — just call in and someone will come out to the vehicle.
“I want to leave you with this: We understand it’s a scary time, we understand there is a lot of fear. But I also want to leave you with the fact that, despite all this, we will come out of this,” Price said. “The sun will come up tomorrow. This too shall pass and, in the end, we have great things happening in this city.”
A Tuesday city council meeting was almost deserted, with only three community members in attendance due to the spread of COVID-19 and instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit groups to no more than 10.
The agenda was light, with many items being moved to later dates including a commendation to Mike Richey, former owner of Ace Hardware, and a women’s proclamation, both postponed to next month.
During the meeting, Price read out a city press release recently sent out via email to community members detailing the city’s plan to fight against the spread of COVID-19.
He also announced the cancellation of the next city council meeting schedule for April 7.
“It’s just to give us a little more time in between what’s transpiring here,” Price said. “City code says we need to have at least one meeting a month.”
MARICOPA — Amid mass uncertainties over the health implications of the COVID-19 outbreak, local schools are preparing for financial consequences as well.
At a Maricopa Unified School District board meeting March 11, Mike LaValley from Stifel, Nicolaus & Company Inc. gave a presentation on the effects the stock market’s historical lows might have on MUSD’s 2020 bond measure, should they decide to continue with it.
The district sought a bond in 2019 that would mostly be used to fund a second high school, but the measure failed at the ballot box. They have indicated they would like to pursue one again this year.
Total assessed valuation improved greatly this year and is likely to remain the same until August.
“Last year your 10-year averages, because of 10-11 years ago brought a lot of negative decline, caused the 10-year averages to be pretty low,” LaValley said. “Now they’re up, and that’s helpful because if you were to have an election, when we print the voter pamphlet we put in a debt service schedule, we’re allowed to grow your tax base using the 10-year average.”
MUSD is currently growing at about 6.8% over the last five years, which is also helpful in their pursuit of bond funding.
Based on current calculations, MUSD’s bonding capacity is close to $50 million, but with debt payoffs and assessed valuations that number will raise to $60 million.
“As a reminder though, you’re not limited to this number in terms of what you ask for in an election. You can go lower, of course, but you can also go higher if you need to,” LaValley said.
He then suggested three separate scenarios based on the size of the bond election the district may want. Scenario one at $40 million would cost $64.02 for a homeowner whose home was tax valued at $100,000. Scenario two, $45 million, would tax homeowners $71.82 per $100,000. The final estimation was $55 million, with $80.34 taxation per $100,000 home value.
LaValley reiterated that tax value is typically about 85% of market value on a home. Regardless of which scenario they choose, if they decide to go forward with the bond for this November they will need to notify LaValley by June.
He then went on to a new presentation regarding the possibility of refinancing in the district due to the dropping stock market. He told the board that his numbers from that Monday were already “stale” due to the rapid decreases in the market, which are still happening today. LaValley pointed to COVID-19 and Saudi Arabia’s decision to flood the market with oil as the reasoning for the quick downfalls.
“The market has come down to a place where we think there is an opportunity here for you to at least consider replacing old debt with new debt at lower rates, kind of like refinancing your home mortgage, to save taxpayer dollars,” LaValley said.
However, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company Inc. has struggled nationally in the past week to cope with the rapidly degrading stock market.
“What’s more concerning is — we just have a lot of dysfunction this week, we don’t really have a healthy market. There’s not active buyers and sellers right now. Thankfully I had a couple bond issues going, I moved one up to last week and locked in rates. I was so thankful because this week we probably would have had to postpone the issue,” LaValley said. “We’ve had to postpone issues as a firm nationally across our system — other firms too.”
MARICOPA – A Maricopa Navy veteran and mother of five with COVID-19 symptoms has been searching in vain for a test.
The 49-year-old woman, who wished to remain unnamed, has lived in Maricopa for five years. She spent six years in the military.
In addition to rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, she is currently receiving chemotherapy for an inoperable brain tumor.
Her sore throat started on March 4 and by March 7, she had started calling out of work. She began taking Prednisone as a precaution because she originally thought it may be a rheumatoid arthritis flare-up.
But at a routine doctor’s appointment at the Veteran’s Association hospital in Phoenix on March 11, she had her blood drawn and her doctor called to inform her the next day her white blood cells were significantly higher than usual.
After answering yes to having shortness of breath, a fever and a cough, she was told by the doctor she was exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19.
“I said, ‘OK, can I come in and see you?’” the Maricopa resident said to her doctor on the phone. “And she said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ I said, ‘You’re denying me service? I’m a freaking veteran. Are you kidding me right now?’ And she said, ‘I’m not denying you service. You can come to the veterans ER and sit here and wait.’”
The resident said the VA doctor was worried she may expose high-risk patients and the elderly to the virus if she came in. On Friday, she went to the local Dignity Health. The doctor who saw her there told her they didn’t have any COVID-19 tests yet, and diagnosed her with bronchitis.
“I get bronchitis every year and I feel nothing like I have bronchitis,” she said.
He prescribed antibiotics and sent her home to self-quarantine — a home which she shares with her partner and five children ages 10 to 19 years old. Though she is feeling slightly better, her symptoms have not improved.
“My fever is high, like 102 to 103. My fever will not break,” she said.
Most anxiety-inducing for her, though, is her job. Her employer writes up its employees if they accrue too many absences, and three of the front-end staff are currently battling cancer — putting them at greater risk if they contract the virus.
“There are always people hacking and coughing at my work. I’m not trying to throw people under the bus at my work, but I kind of am. We get written up if we have too many absences,” she said. “It’s kind of like, ‘If you don’t feel good, tough s—, come to work.’”
After five separate attempts to call Phoenix VA centers, PinalCentral received conflicting information. While one receptionist believed they did have test kits, an ER representative said they do not.
“The VA is not testing at this time,” the ER representative said via phone. “No word has come down to us yet.”
Despite the lack of testing, the Maricopa resident is happy with the care she has been receiving from the nurses at the VA.
“The nurses from the VA have been absolutely amazing, they call every day,” she said. “The first thing they asked me is, ‘can you please take your temperature?’ I take my temperature and then they ask, ‘How are you feeling? Do you still have shortness of breath? How’s your cough? Are you staying hydrated?’ As far as the VA has been, they have followed up with me every day, and that is impressive to me.”
Maricopa Banner Health has a centralized calling system, but PinalCentral was able to contact a representative who stated that test kits are available for patients, but only according to government guidelines.
“We are only testing per CDC guidelines. We would ask if you have fever, cough, shortness of breath, and we would also ask if you have traveled recently or if you have come into contact with someone that has had a positive test,” the phone representative said.
If a patient comes in exhibiting those symptoms but has not traveled recently or come into contact with someone who has tested positive, they will not test them, meaning community spread cases are not applicable for testing.
“We could treat them but we cannot test them … because there’s only a limited number of test kits,” the representative for Banner Health said.
PinalCentral then called Dignity Health to ask if they have or are planning on receiving COVID-19 test kits. The receptionist said, “As an urgent care facility, we don’t do that.” They currently have none and do not have future plans to stock them. She offered the state number for COVID-19, and when called, automated information stated the following:
“Physicians and other health care providers can now order 2019 novel coronavirus COVID-19 tests through a commercial laboratory for patients who are ill with signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19 who did not meet criteria for Arizona state public health laboratory testing.”
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.
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.”
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.