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Tucson considers curfew to slow spread of coronavirus

December 1, 2020 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Tucson’s mayor called Monday for a nighttime curfew to prevent the spread of COVID-19, saying the virus is spreading rapidly and hospitals in southern Arizona are on the verge of a crisis.

Democratic Mayor Regina Romero invited a confrontation with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who earlier this year issued an executive order barring cities and counties from enacting public health measures more stringent than his own.

Romero said she’ll ask the City Council on Tuesday to approve a three-week curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. She said it’s critical to act swiftly to avoid more punishing mandates down the road, such as business closures or a “shelter in place” order.

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“If we don’t take these types of steps now we will absolutely end up in a catastrophic place in terms of overwhelming our hospitals,” Romero said during a virtual news conference.

Arizona, along with most of the rest of the country, has since September seen hospitals fill up as the coronavirus spreads with new ferocity. The top doctor at at Banner Health, Arizona’s largest hospital chain, said last week that forecasts showed its medical centers would exceed 125% of their licensed capacity on Friday.

Arizona health officials on Monday reported 822 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and five additional deaths. The number is unusually low compared with recent daily tallies topping 4,000, but experts have said reporting would be erratic due to the Thanksgiving holiday. The number of actual infections is thought to be far higher than the confirmed numbers because many people don’t get tested.

Pima County, which includes Tucson, has just under 40,000 confirmed cases and 691 deaths, according to state data.

Hospitalizations continue to rise with more than 2,500 virus patients statewide occupying beds. More than 300 of them are on ventilators, according to the state dashboard. Just under 90% of the available intensive care beds were in use, a third of them by patients with COVID-19.

Romero and other Democratic mayors have repeatedly feuded with Ducey and pushed him to enact tougher measures to contain the spread of the virus. He has resisted a statewide mask mandate, though as cases surged over the summer he did loosen his executive order to allow local governments to impose their own face-covering requirements.

“We have waited and waited and waited for the governor, and despite a huge surge we have not seen any meaningful action from Gov. Ducey,” Romero said.

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Ducey’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Pima County last week adopted a voluntary curfew, and officials said Ducey’s preemption order blocked them from imposing a mandate. Rankin, the Tucson attorney, argues Ducey lacks the authority to tie the city’s hands.

Tucson will focus on educating people about the curfew, reserving criminal charges for those who refuse to comply, said City Attorney Mike Rankin. Those facing charges will be given a chance to avoid a conviction through a diversion program, which allows prosecutors to dismiss charges if the defendant stays out of trouble.

Romero is also asking the City Council to approve money for businesses that would be hurt by the curfew. She said the city still has millions of dollars left in federal coronavirus relief funds.

In the Phoenix area, five of the 30 schools in the Scottsdale Unified School District were closed Monday due to a staffing shortage. District officials notified students and their families on Sunday that there were not enough staff and substitutes to cover for teacher absences.

Superintendent Scott Menzel said this was not due to a COVID-19 outbreak but the possibility that some staffers who traveled for the holiday may have been exposed. Menzel also urged any families who traveled to quarantine their children as a precaution. The canceled day will be made up at the end of the school year.