How Arizona Is Coping With The Coronavirus: Checking In With Communities
Across Arizona, small communities are feeling the effect of the coronavirus pandemic and community response.
KJZZ is checking in with cities and towns outside the Phoenix area to see how they are faring.
Click on a community to find out how the residents are coping, and check back for updates.
| | Ajo | Apache Junction | | Bisbee | | Chandler | | Clifton | | Douglas | | El Mirage | | Gila Bend | | Glendale | | Globe | | Guadalupe | | Kingman | | Navajo Nation | | Nogales | | Pinetop-Lakeside | | Scottsdale | | Wickenburg | |
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.
“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.
April 20: The population of Apache Junction doubles every winter as snowbirds from around the country pull into the city in RVs and take up residence in vacation homes. Many visitors have decided to weather the COVID-19 storm in Arizona by extending their stays and the city is doing it’s best to provide essential services to everyone during this trying time.
Many businesses in the East Valley city have been forced to close or at least curtail their operations this past month.
And some city services, such as parks and recreation and libraries, have scaled back as well.
Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell says his biggest concerns moving forward are the unknowns.
“I recognize we will bounce back. It’s just a matter of like, when and how long is this going to go on?,” Powell said.
Apache Junction’s main revenue source is the city sales tax , but Powell says it won’t know how much its budget will be impacted for a few more weeks.
He says major street projects are continuing because they were funded by state grant dollars, and the city is moving forward with a much-needed upgrade to Apache Junction’s dispatch center.
65% of the population of Apache Junction is older than the age of 55.
Cheri Debree is the director of community initiatives for Horizon Health and Wellness. She oversees a program called Apache Junction Cares that ensures vulnerable communities in Apache Junction have access to goods and services.
“So, it’s by delivering free coronavirus care packages, which would include groceries, toiletries and cleaning supplies,” Debree said.
Debree says many winter visitors who live in RV parks and senior centers have decided to stay in place due to the threat of the coronavirus.
“That being said, that need for the elderly, not to go out, because they are more susceptible, creates an even larger need than what would be normally happening during this time of year,” Debree said.
She says Apache Juntion Cares has served more than 130 residents in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon in the past two weeks, and those efforts will continue until there is no longer a need.
April 20: The Greenlee County Health Department is on a mission. It intends to furnish 8,500 masks, one for every resident of the southeastern Arizona county.
The county has only two coronavirus cases, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services data late last week, but still, county officials were calling for masks March 30, even before the CDC issued its guidelines.
Amanda Gray with the Gila Health Resources clinic in Morenci has been pushing the homemade mask drive.
"I’m very good at a lot of things, and one of those is organizing people. I can’t sew, I can cut, but I definitely can organize people," Gray said.
She led mask drives all last week, where hundreds more masks were produced.
And up in the Mile Mountains, Bisbee Mayor David Smith commended the internet service company Sparklight with providing free mobile hotspots throughout the city.
"People can be easily spaced out over a very large area, and these are large parks which have walls where people can sit on and some benches and some things like that," Smith said.
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.
April 23: Like other Arizona cities, Chandler is struggling to predict how the coronavirus pandemic will affect its future.
Chandler is meeting later this week to plan its 2020-2021 budget, but Management Services Director Dawn Lang said the city’s economic outlook is hard to predict because this pandemic is different from past recessions.
“Our permits are actually up right now, contracting is actually going strong in the community, planned developments are still moving forward, but it’s interesting to see that those type of things are still moving along which is very different than a regular recession and downturn," she said.
But Lang said the city is sure of one thing: it will end its fiscal year with about $10.5 million less than originally projected.
“Beginning July 1, we are looking at and already incorporating into our proposed budget a $20 million reduction in revenues and corresponding expenditures," she said.
The city is already implementing some cost-saving measures, like keeping some vacant positions open and suspending travel, Lang said.
Meanwhile, the Chandler Police Department is offering a new service for businesses that have reduced their hours or closed due to the pandemic. Sgt. Jason McClimans says whenever possible, officers will patrol businesses that sign up.
“It’s something that we decided to go ahead with, give the business owners who have those restrictive businesses right now some peace of mind," he said.
The program is model off of another service the Chandler department offers to residents who are out on vacation and need someone to keep an eye on their homes. McClimans said the department hasn't decided yet if it will make the Business Watch program permanent.
Another thing the department is doing to deter crime is having officers work on paperwork from parking lots throughout the city, McClimans said.
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.
March 31: About 80 miles east of Nogales, the town of Douglas is also facing a sharp economic and social toll from the coronavirus.
“It’s an overwhelming disaster. Because every small business in Douglas, every small business lives paycheck to paycheck," said Robert Uribe, mayor of the small border town, about a two-hour drive from Tucson.
Douglas is doing everything possible to slow the virus’ spread, Uribe said, but it’s a tough road ahead for the city’s economy.
Like in Nogales, travel restrictions mean businesses here have been cut-off from their customer base in Mexican.
It doesn’t help that the community is remote.
“It’s like we’re an afterthought," Uribe said. "That’s how I’ve always seen it."
He fears both medical and economic aid might be exhausted before it ever reaches rural, border communities like his. And language and cultural barriers could make it harder for local business owners to access new relief funding and loans, he added, saying that he's trying hard to advocate for Douglas at the state and national levels.
But despite the fear and uncertainty many people are facing, Uribe says his community is resilient.
“I’m just proud of Douglas and Agua Prieta, because we’re just one community. And we always rise above whenever we face any difficulties," he said.
That sense of unity would have been the theme of a cross-border performance in Douglas-Agua Prieta last Saturday. But like so many events, it was called off two weeks ago.
“We realized, OK, we need to think of the communities first," said Ammi Robles, an artist and production coordinator with the cross-border group Las Fronterizas.
She said the performance, called Mis Amores Fronterizos, was a love letter to Douglas and Agua Prieta through dance, theater and digital arts.
"I can tell you, we've never seen anything similar to this, as big as this was going to be," she said.
Now, Robles, who lives in Agua Prieta, can’t even cross the border to see friends and colleagues on the other side. Many others are separated from family.
"It’s hard as communities, being separate," Robles said. But she hopes after this is all over, their project will take on an even deeper meaning.
“Separate we’re not as good as we are together," she said. "That’s the whole point of our project."
And it’s a message we need now more than ever.
April 30: Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, El Mirage Mayor Alexis Hermosillo was one year and half into her term with big plans to transform the city of roughly 35,000 residents.
"We are moving into a direction that's more innovated," she said. "I say that we are tiny, but we are mighty. I think we are going to be more up and coming than people are used to when it comes to the city of El Mirage."
But now the future is unclear. Hermosillo said the city’s sales tax revenue hasn’t been heavily impacted and it doesn’t depend on hotels and sporting arenas like it’s neighboring cities, but El Mirage is expecting to lose state-shared revenue.
“We can’t plan long term as best as we can so we don’t have a definite perspective of what things will look like in a year and so I really worry about our community and how everyone will adjust," she said.
Annie Ansell is the executive director of the Dysart Community Center. Her organization provides after school and adult programs in the El Mirage and Old Town Surprise areas.
A majority of the children it serves are Hispanic youth living below the poverty line. Ansell said some children have parents who don’t speak English or are living with grandparents because their parents were deported. The center has intervened after realizing some of these students are struggling with online learning because they and their guardians don't speak English or aren't tech savvy enough to know how to download classwork and turn it in.
“We communicated with the school on their behalf," she said. "We were able to get a different method of them downloading their work and to let their instructors that they are actually working on their work pack, they just don’t understand how to download and attach files.”
Ansell said the center is also helping students with their homework over the phone or in-person when they come to the center to pick up food donations.
April 20The town with just one ZIP code recently got some good news. State data showed no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gila Bend, among those who’ve been able to get tested.
Town Manager Katherine Valenzuela says her staff wears multiple hats on a good day.
"I heard an expression once that it feels like you’re laying down the tracks while the trains come in," she said as she laughed. "That’s very much how it feels."
The pandemic has piled on jobs like distributing bleach and food-bank items to residents. Officials also have to learn the rules for unlocking federal aid money. And it’s budget season.
"We’re internally planning different scenarios showing 30% loss, 40% loss, and trying to come up with ways where we’re able to trim the budget and not affect services for residents," she said.
Valenzuela says informal polling of local businesses shows a sharp drop in their revenue. Retail and restaurants are Gila Bend’s biggest industries. People also work at nearby dairies and in hospitality. Valenzuela estimates that 25% of the population lost their jobs in the last month.
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.
April 27: The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is rippling through city and state governments across the country. In Glendale, the loss of spring training, the rest of the Coyotes season, and the prospect of future event cancellations is cause for concern.
Mayor Jerry Weiers, who has been in office since January 2013, says the city’s fiscally conservative spending allowed it to develop a budgetary safety net.
“We went from zero eight years ago to pretty close to $44 million in our reserves to cover our short falls, and that covers our general fund," he said. "General fund basically covers pretty much most of the day-to-day activities in the city, and that includes our public safety, which is our number one priority right now."
The Glendale city manager's proposed budget for the next fiscal year that Weiers says will be pretty similar to last years, with few concessions for lost revenue.
"We're not going to turn our backs on the critical positions, we know those will be covered," he said. "It’s pretty early right now to try to guess if we have to cut anything. Our intention is to try to make certain that we provide all services and not have to cut our basic funds or functions.”
Temporary freezes on hiring for non-essential positions and non-critical spending have helped in the interim, Weiers says — but he thinks now is the time for the city to begin planning to reopen.
"Right now it's not a matter of shutting things down," he said. "It's a matter of trying to figure out how we start gearing up and doing it wisely."
Over the last few months, Weiers cited the positive work done by nonprofits in Glendale as cause for optimism. A blood donation program through Vitalent saved lives, he said. And the city's Glendale Works program, which provides day labor opportunities for those struggling with money, is quickly expanding.
“Something I never thought I’d live through was something like this, but we got people stepping up and making huge differences in people's lives, and really that’s what our city does," he said.
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.
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.
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 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.
April 29: The tiny town of Guadalupe is struggling. It faced economic hurdles before the virus arrived, but the town’s leaders were moving forward to spur economic development
"We thrive based on our businesses. Huge part of how we pay our bills," said Guadalupe Mayor Valerie Molina. Now, the town is at a standstill. Its small businesses are struggling.
"And they don’t necessarily have the means to help themselves and the town doesn’t have the means to help them in terms of getting the paycheck protection, the small business applications, those types of things."
But it's not just the businesses that are hurting. Young people have faced some tough adjustments since schools closed last month.
"And we know that not everybody in our community has the internet and we know not everybody in our community had the technology," she explained.
Ricky Vital is Guadalupe’s vice mayor. He also runs Lutu’uria, a youth organization geared toward kids in middle and high school. He says a lot of his kids are strugglin
"And a lot of our kids are high achieving kids, and if they’re struggling, imagine how the rest of them are doing and dealing with it," he said.
Before the pandemic, Vital said he wanted Guadalupe to be there for his grandchildren. While both Vital and Molina are hopeful, so much about the future remains uncertain.
April 20: Like many municipalities in the state, city offices in Kingman are closed to the public and the private sector continues only in a limited capacity.
As a result, frustration for residents who want things to return to normal is peaking.
“I think people keep hearing this word ‘peak.’ Peak. When are we going to hit our peak? When is that? Oh, is that at the end of the month? Oh, and then after that is rural Arizona going to get hit after metropolitan areas in Arizona. What does that look like? How many is it? What’s the magic number?” said
Coleen Haines, the city’s public affairs coordinator.
And while politicians of all stripes are eager to get the economy rolling again, especially in a state where its governor has consistently repeated the mantra “Arizona is open for business” prior to the coronavirus shutdown, the reality is city budgets are being re-written.
“You know, if someone wanted to remodel their office or buy new furniture that’s done with next year," Haines said. "Tentatively, because our budget hasn’t been voted on as with most everyone else in the state, we’re looking at big ticket items that we are looking at cutting.”
Haines says the city will not institute a blanket hiring freeze. For example, the current police chief is retiring, so that’s a necessary position to fill.
“But I think every position moving forward this year and also into next year, it will be weighed very heavily of the priority of that position if and when it will be refilled."
Haines says it will be up to the city manager and department heads to decide on those priorities.
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.
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.
April 13: Shanna Yazzie is tired. She’s tired of making sure her elderly mother doesn’t leave the house, of driving great distances to pick up supplies and of holding down a job. She says she thought she had more time.
“Then came the children’s school, the online courses, preparing meals, and then also caring for my mother,” Yazzie said. “I think I’ve kind of exhaust myself where I don’t even eat. I’m just making sure my family eats. It catches up with me where I start to get headaches.”
On the Navajo Nation, the number of coronavirus cases continues to multiply, and they haven’t even reached their peak. The tribe has been self-isolating for three weeks and it’s especially challenging for tribal members without electricity or running water.
Yazzie drives 50 miles to haul their drinking water and dump their trash in Tuba City. The Navajo leaders ordered a weekend lockdown so on Friday afternoon everyone was out getting essentials.
“It was like a long line,” Yazzie said. “And there was like an hour left and I didn’t have the patience of staying there plus I needed to get back and cook for my children.”
On top of that, the hose that connects to their drinking water has cracked in the cold weather so the tank is leaking. She’s tried to replace it at hardware stores in both Tuba City and Flagstaff but neither has the correct size. So she ordered one but it won’t come in until the end of the month.
She’s recently decided to handwash their clothes to avoid going to the laundromat and practice social distancing.
“It’s a lot of work because I am doing laundry for a family of four,” Yazzie said.
And she discovered it’s a lot of water — about 50 gallons to wash clothes for her entire family.
After all of the things on her to-do list, she ran out of time and patience to get drinking water before the weekend curfew started. Luckily she has relatives who recently stocked them up with bottled water.
March 31: Across Arizona, communities are feeling the economic impacts of COVID-19.
For decades, the Navajo tribe relied heavily on the coal industry. But that’s changed since the Navajo Generating Station closed late last year. LeChee Chapter President Jerry Williams worked for the coal-fired power plant for most of his life. He’s one of the hundreds of workers who were redeployed to Phoenix.
"It’s hard as far as workers being relocated," said Williams, who can't go back to visit family in LeChee until the Navajo Nation is deemed safe. "A lot of our community uprooted and moved with their families down to Phoenix. I think the schools took a beating, too. A lot of kids had to relocate."
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said the tribe’s economic focus is now tourism. But on March 13, the president closed all Navajo parks and then asked visitors to postpone their trips to popular destinations like Antelope Canyon also located in LeChee across from the shutdown power plant.
"We rely on tourism here," Nez said. "So some of those dollars should be given to some of our tour companies, restaurants, our hotels, our gaming enterprises should be able to get some relief through this $2 trillion package."
The economic relief package signed into law by President Trump last week includes $8 billion for tribes. But Nez is concerned the Navajo Nation won’t see much of that money after it’s divided among the more than 500 tribes in the country.
March 31: Last Fall, Santa Cruz County Supervisor and Nogales businessman Bruce Bracker thought it might be a good time to wade back into border retail. The city’s ports were again fully staffed, raising hopes of increased visits from Mexican shoppers. So, Bracker opened a clothing store in November in the old Nogales Woolworth building to liquidate a California friend’s merchandise.
“Everybody was looking forward to a good spring,” he said.
But in response to the pandemic, the United States and Mexico negotiated a border shutdown that would allow commercial traffic to continue flowing northward. There would, however, be limitations on the sort of pedestrian and personal vehicle traffic that Nogales merchants depend on. It went into effect about two weeks ago.
“Right before those announcements came out, we had made the decision that it’s just not worth the health risk,” Bracker said.
But cross-border trade has continued flowing, including the multibillion-dollar Mexican produce import business of critical importance to Nogales. After the restrictions went into place, pedestrian and personal vehicle crossings appear to have more than halved at Arizona ports, while commercial crossings were basically unchanged, according to a tweet last week from Guadalupe Ramirez, CBP’s director of field operations in the Tucson Sector.
#CBPs Arizona ports of entry experienced reduced traffic over the weekend while commercial crossings remained the same.— Director of Field Operations Guadalupe H. Ramirez (@DFOTucson) March 23, 2020
Los Puertos #CBP de Arizona experimentaron una reducción en el tráfico general durante el fin de semana, mientras que el tráfico comercial se mantuvo igual. https://t.co/FP1H1zSkiW pic.twitter.com/K5ZhOQ5kJO
Jaime Chamberlain, president of the local port authority’s board, said produce loads have actually gone up. But after a surge in demand as people in the United States flooded grocery stores, “the last two weeks have been probably the worst that we've seen in years,” he said.
And with good growing conditions in Mexico, supply is only going to increase, potentially pushing prices down further.
"We’re looking forward to see … this week how we can survive,” Chamberlain said.
As both a county supervisor and third-generation border merchant, Bracker knows how much local government depends on shoppers from Mexico.
“A vast majority of that sales tax is from Mexican nationals crossing that border to shop in our stores,” he said.
In the wake of the shutdown, Nogales declared a financial emergency, and county department heads have been instructed to reduce all non-essential spending, according to Bracker. He’s hopeful that the federal stimulus package will help small local businesses and Nogales residents weather the hard months ahead, and prepare for whenever normalcy returns.
“But right now the priority is everyone needs to stay safe and healthy,” he added.
April 13: This was supposed to be a big weekend for families in Pinetop-Lakeside.
“We’ve got thousands of filled Easter eggs and we put them out on the fields for the kids and we’ve had to cancel that,” said Keith Johnson, town manager.
Instead, the annual Easter egg hunt changed to a “drive-around” egg hunt. Families took a look at decorated houses from the safety of their cars.
Johnson said it was the closest the town could come to keeping some sense of normalcy, at a time when most things in the mountain community are not normal.
The mom and pop hotels and restaurants that drive the bulk of Pinetop-Lakeside’s economy are mostly empty during what would be the start of the high season.
“This is a hard time of year to be hit with this," Johnson said.
Johnson said his office has already furloughed some city workers in anticipation of big budget shortfalls as tourists stay away.
Some second-home owners have been showing up for the warm season, but Johnson says, that brings up a different concern.
“We’re worried they’ll bring more virus with them," he said.
Coronavirus cases have appeared across Navajo County, including in Show Low, Snowflake, Winslow, and Pinetop-Lakeside. It’s scary, but Johnson said he thinks back to all of the times he and his neighbors have braced for destructive wildfires.
“This is a resilient community," Johnson said. "They have bounced back from these disasters, they’ve come together. They’re tough.”
March 31: About 4,000 people live in the Navajo County community of Pinetop-Lakeside. Mayor Stephanie Irwin said many residents chose the town for the hiking, outdoor recreation and scenery. And Irwin said, the appeal of the mountain getaway is also what drives the town’s economy.
“If we don’t have tourism, we don’t have employees going to work who can’t go the grocery store and spend money or go to restaurants, so it’s just a huge ripple effect,” Irwin said.
Irwin said, as COVID-19 has spread, business for hotels and resorts in her town has come to a complete standstill.
“It’s going to hurt a lot of people up here, a lot of small mom and pop businesses," Irwin said.
Irwin said she worries it’s just a matter of time before someone in her community contracts the illness. She said in addition to the town’s economic slowdown, the community could also be threatened by the limited capacity of health care providers in the rural area.
April 28: Mayor Jim Lane said it’s still too early to tell exactly how much the pandemic has affected the city’s finances:
“But we do know that the fourth quarter of our fiscal year, is going to be hugely impacted,” Lane said.
Lane says the city relies heavily on tourism, sports, restaurants and entertainment venues, all which have been hit hard in recent months.
“Most of those, thankfully, had gone through the high season, and it had been a record year,” he said.
The city is currently under a hiring freeze and Lane says requests for salary increases have been withdrawn.
Sarah Ferrara is the aviation planning and outreach coordinator for the Scottsdale airport. She says the spring is generally their busiest time of year:
“Most of our operations are comprised from mid-sized business jets," Ferrara said. "And they can be owned by corporates, they can be charter flights or privately owned.”
Ferrara says corporate traffic was down 27% in March and they have experienced a significant decline in April.
She says the airport is expecting approximately a$157,000 from the CARES Act.
April 30: Winter is high tourist season in Wickenburg and April is typically when business starts to drop off. So the timing of the coronavirus pandemic means the town of about 8,000 isn’t seeing major budget shortfalls.
“We aren’t as impacted as other places maybe are,” said Town Manager Vincent Lorefice.
But so much has gone digital in the age of coronavirus, and that did cause a challenge for Wickenburg.
When schools closed in March, Wickenburg Unified School District immediately surveyed its 1,500 students and found about a third didn’t have internet access at home for online learning.
Some students were able to connect through free or reduced-price broadband plans from internet provider Cox. But district superintendent Howard Carlson knew high-speed internet infrastructure just wasn’t available in all parts of his rural community.
“There are definitely swaths of the school district where there is no internet connectivity and you have to look at something like a hotspot,” Carlson said.
In particular, Carlson noticed one cluster of about 40 families in Wickenburg who couldn’t connect.
Carlson teamed up with the town’s mayor to find a solution. They found it on a centrally located water tower.
“If there was an antenna on the water tower, then they were able to get point-to-point internet access,” Carlson said.
The town leased space on the water tower to a company called AZ AirNet, which uses radio microwave signals to provide internet over antennas. Installations are in progress and the signal will go live soon, Carlson said. A grant from a local charitable foundation will pay for the families in range of the new water tower antenna to access internet for two months.
Lorefice said Wickenburg now wants the antenna to stay even after social distancing regulations lift.
“We’re negotiating a permanent lease agreement so that way [AZ AirNet] can actually expand their services here in Wickenburg as well,” Lorefice said.
He said what was meant as a creative, temporary fix could benefit the school district and the town long-term.
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