How Arizona Is Coping With Coronavirus: Ajo, Bisbee, Clifton, Gila Bend, Globe, Kingman

By Rocio Hernandez, Michel Marizco, Matthew Casey, Bret Jaspers
Published: Tuesday, March 17, 2020 - 10:09pm
Updated: Monday, April 6, 2020 - 1:10pm

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Copper Queen Library in Bisbee, Arizona
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
The Copper Queen Library in Bisbee, Arizona.

Across Arizona, small communities are feeling the effect of the coronavirus pandemic and community response. KJZZ checked in with cities and towns outside the Phoenix area to see how they are faring.

→ Read The Latest News On The Coronavirus Disease  

Gila Bend

Katherine Valenzuela
Town of Gila Bend
Katherine Valenzuela

April 6: People in Gila Bend can’t find bleach. It’s gone as soon as it hits the store. But the local government buys its own extra-strength bleach in bulk. So officials diluted some and put the word out for residents to drop off plastic containers with their name and phone number on them.   

“So with bleach being so important for disinfection, we thought it was an important service to provide for free," said town Manager Katherine Valenzuela.

Valenzuela’s team has triaged other problems, like delivering meals to elderly people who rely on them but can no longer gather at the senior center.

It’s all happening so fast that Valenzuela said it’s hard to track the cost. One big expense is sewer maintenance caused by people flushing things other than toilet paper.  

“In a shortage of toilet paper, it’s hard to give directions because there’s really not a lot of options,” she said.

The old normal was thousands of cars passing through Gila Bend on their way to and from Mexico or California. Valenzuela said the new normal is a town with streets that are mostly bare.

March 17: Gila Bend sits in the southern portion of Maricopa County, about 70 miles from Phoenix. The population of roughly 2,000 people doesn’t make much money. 

Town Manager Katherine Valenzuela said Gila Bend’s local shopping options include a meat market, a Dollar General and a Family Dollar. 

“They sell dried goods and some frozen goods, but not a lot of fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Valenzuela said residents have struggled to find what they need at those stores because people from other places are coming to Gila Bend to shop. 

“Buying out the stock of things such as toilet paper, and cheese, and eggs, and milk,” she said. “I feel like it’s an unfair burden for our residents to be wiped out by members of other communities.” 

Those who can’t get the groceries they need in Gila Bend face a 40-minute drive to Buckeye or Maricopa. Valenzuela said living in Gila Bend means a lifestyle that’s far away from essentials, and it’s imperative that the goods that are in town go to local residents. 

Clifton

March 17: Near the state’s boundary with New Mexico, the town of Clifton issued an emergency proclamation Monday, one that only impacts City Hall. 

Mayor Luis Montoya said the rules follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines about minimizing crowds and handwashing. 

“Outside of that, as far as private business is concerned, small restaurants, the few small restaurants that we have here, all we do is make recommendations,” he said.  

As of Tuesday afternoon, Montoya said business hadn’t changed.

“The customers still are going through, I guess is my most simple response,” he said.

Bisbee

March 17: In the southern Arizona town of Bisbee, the Copper Queen Library decided Monday to close through the end of March.

The choice has led to some novel ways for the library to continue reaching out into the community, said assistant coordinator Allison Williams. She’s looking into temporarily lifting copyright rules on authors’ books so she can record readings and give children virtual story times.

“There are a lot of questions from librarians across the country about how to address this and make that available,” Williams said.

Globe

April 6:: The city of Globe is located in Gila County, about 88 miles east of Phoenix. Gila was one of the last Arizona counties to report a coronavirus case, but Mayor Al Gameros decided to close Globe’s movie theater, restaurants and bars on March 26 before they were required to under Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order.

Waggin
Waggin' Vineyard and Estate
The Waggin' Vineyard and Estate's owner converted their 1969 Dodge van into the Waggin' Wagon to deliver wine to customers.

The Waggin’ Vineyard and Estate winery in the heart of the city had been opened for two months when it had to close down. It’s owned by Daisy Flores and her husband, Timothy Trent.

“People would come in for wine tastings or just have a glass a wine in the patio. Your average Saturday, Sunday we would probably have about 15-20 people just sitting on the patio, enjoying the great weather and unfortunately we can’t do that,” Flores said.

They’ve also cancelled scheduled events and suspended plans to open a petting zoo in the 7-acre property because of the closure.

The winery is offering drive-thru and pickup services at this time. Flores said the couple also converted their lime green 1969 Dodge van that resemble the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine into the Waggin’ Wagon to deliver wine to local customers. 

“We’ll ride it out. We have lots of wine ready to sell when folks are ready to come back and it’s just going to take a little bit of time and I’m certain that we’ll be back and going strong here shortly,” Flores said.

As the pandemic continues, Globe residents are finding ways to support one another. Noelle Anderson coaches the Globe Unified School District’s robotics team. Some of her students are making face shields to donate to their local hospital using 3D printers.

“The first day we managed to get 11 of the face shields printed and figured we could do about one per day to reach 100,” Anderson said.

Rainbow G in Globe
Rich Kruger
City of Globe officials painted the giant letter G on a hill overlooking the city in rainbow colors to spread hope to the community.

Globe’s economic development director Linda Oddonetto learned about a New York movement where people were painting rainbows around their neighborhoods. Oddonetto decided to bring that movement to Globe to spread hope to her neighbors so and other city officials painted the giant letter G on a hill overlooking the city in rainbow colors with paint donated by their local ACE Hardware store.

“This is such a tough time that we are going through right now. To have even just a moment of escape from our day-in and our day-out is, I think, such a wonderful and positive thing to have,” she said.

The rainbow movement has now taken off in the Globe community.

“People are painting their business windows with rainbows,” Oddonetto said. “We have people putting out their Christmas lights again. We have a Globe rocks movement, you know painting rocks with messages and hiding them all over the community and so rainbow rocks are a new hit and they are popping up all over the community.”

March 17: Things were business as usual on Tuesday at the Gila County Historical Museum in Globe. 

The museum is run by volunteers, all of which are older adults. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older adults are at higher risk of developing serious complications from the coronavirus, but 69-year-old Carl Lopez said he and other volunteers weren’t afraid of working Tuesday morning because their community has no known cases of coronavirus at this time. 

“The reason we stayed open [is] everything else is closed and people, they’re going to be going through town anyways, traveling or something and need a place to go,” he said. “They could stop and look around.” 

Two visitors did stop by while Lopez was working. 

While the museum is staying open for now, Globe schools are not. Over the weekend, Gov. Doug Ducey and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman decided to close all schools statewide.

Globe High School
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Globe High School was built in 1914 and is one of the oldest high schools in the state.

Globe Unified School District Superintendent Jerry Jennex said when he heard the announcement, he worried about what the closure would mean for his students. Around 60% of the district’s 1,700 students qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

So the district decided if students couldn’t come to their schools for food, the district would go to them. It set up 13 food distribution sites across the Globe area, including in the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, where about one-third of his students are members. 

“Our schools aren’t necessarily located in the neighborhoods where the kids live, so we decided that we were going to go mobile,” Jennex said. “We worked with the Arizona Department of Education to certify some of our bus stops as mobile serving sites.”

The district distributed about 400 meals, but ran out before they could serve everyone. The district hopes to provide more meals on Wednesday.

Kingman

April 6: Kingman’s Public Affairs Coordinator Coleen Haines said the city is following Gov. Ducey’s stay-at-home order, although Ducey put out a long list of “essential” services that were exempt from the order. 

As a small city with limited bandwidth to monitor business gatherings, Haines said Kingman is asking firms themselves to make the call.

“And we are asking those businesses, please take responsibility,” she said. “Take responsibility for your staff. Take responsibility for your community. And if you really believe that you are not essential, then please close.”

More than anything, Haines said uncertainty hangs over their decisions. Kingman has some coronavirus cases, but like other cities, does not know how bad the virus will get.

“We’re not waiting for this magic number tomorrow,” she said. “It’s going to be months down the road where we can really feel like, did we do a good job or were we careless? I don’t know. I don’t know what that looks like.”

On the bright side, Kingman was able to bring some delight to one of its residents last week. 

A parent of a 5-year-old named Landon called the Police Department, asking for a birthday surprise. The department sent police cars to the boy’s home to wish him a happy birthday. 

Haines got the drive-by siren song on video and posted it to the city’s Facebook page.

“What we have here is this little guy’s birthday is today and he’s turning five. But his birthday party got canceled,” Haines narrates over chirps and blares from the cars. “And his party was police- and fireman-themed and so our police department and fire department has come to help this little guy celebrate.”

Just a small gesture to brighten up an otherwise gloomy time.

“It was a nice thing that Kingman can do amidst, you know, a pandemic,” Haines said.  

Kingman
Jackie Hai/KJZZ
Kingman, Arizona, in 2018.

March 17: The city of Kingman in northwest Arizona is a stop on historic Route 66. It’s close to Las Vegas, Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon. 

And American tourists continue to pass through town despite concerns about the coronavirus said Coleen Haines, public affairs coordinator for Kingman.

“I think we’ve seen [a] little bit of a downtick, I guess, in maybe some foreign visitors. But we’re definitely, I think, seeing some consistent numbers,” she said. “I think those people that aren’t traveling or able to fly overseas for their spring breaks are hitting the open road and going to the Grand Canyon and practicing social distancing in our national parks.”

Kingman has canceled City Council meetings in April, as well as a Citizens Academy. Callers to Kingman Dispatch will now be asked specific questions about health symptoms and recent travel history. 

Kingman Mayor Jen Miles planned to sign a declaration of local emergency on Tuesday, so the city could potentially receive any state or federal reimbursement for expenditures due to the outbreak.

And like other places, Kingman is seeing a lack of toilet paper in stores. That can lead to downstream complications — complications the city wants to prevent. 

Without toilet paper, people may resort to personal care products like baby wipes and paper towels, which can clog the pipes. 

“It’s definitely not a career highlight to tell people what they can flush down their toilet,” Haines said. “But it’s necessary. It really can affect wastewater treatment plants, it can cause flooding in your own home. Way down the line it can cause, you know, sewer issues.”

Only two things should be flushed down the toilet, Haines said: human waste and toilet paper. 

And that probably goes for people all across the state.

Ajo

April 6: In southern Arizona, the small town of Ajo, population 3,300, much of the central plaza has been closed. Some from the pandemic and some because Ajo can be a tough place to run a business. even in good times. Aaron Cooper is with the International Sonoran Desert Alliance. The alliance and others launched a fundraiser to help local businesses — fast.

Maria Singleton
Maria Singleton
Ajo resident Maria Singleton and her dog Coco.

“Making the decision to create this fund to accepting applications reviewing and making the first awards was a week,” Cooper said.

They call it Kickstart Ajo and it raised about $15,000 for 16 recipients.

Maria Singleton lives on Ajo’s main drive. She says she’s watching a constant flow of heavy trucks moving workers and equipment down SR 85 to Lukeville for ongoing work on the Trump administration’s border wall. At the same time, she sees many local residents gather for food bank donations every Thursday.

“So many people in Ajo live below the poverty line, are needing to get food from the food bank and yet on a daily basis we see all this government money go through town to build the wall and I find myself wondering what’s going to happen to Ajo when COVID-19 hits here,” she said.

The U.S. government has been pressing forward with about 90 miles of border fence construction in southern Arizona even as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the country.

Border wall
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Border wall construction has continued uninterrupted along Arizona's border with Mexico.

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