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COVID-19 moves into southern Navajo County

NAVAJO COUNTY — Two individuals in southern Navajo County were identified this week as having tested positive for COVID-19. One was a patient at Summit Healthcare Regional Medical Center who transitioned to a Phoenix healthcare facility. The other is a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe who is being cared for at Whiteriver Indian Hospital.

Health privacy laws do not allow detailed information to be released about patients who test positive.

“Now is the time for each and every one of us to do our part to slow the spread of the virus. We’re all in this together. We need to remain calm and take the necessary precautions to protect our loved ones,” said Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood in a press release regarding the Whiteriver case.

The case count Thursday in Navajo County was at 129 with about 622 people tested. Apache County had 19 cases with about 448 people tested, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services website. There have been 32 deaths in the state and one in Navajo County outside the Navajo Nation Reservation.

Statewide, Arizona had 1,598 cases. About two weeks ago, on March 14, there were only 12 cases reported across the entire state.

The appearance of the two cases in southern Navajo County came as Gov. Doug Ducey instituted a stay-at-home order that began on Tuesday, and after the state Director of Public Health Dr. Cara Christ, advised all Arizonans last week to consider that the COVID-19 virus is now widespread across the state. Schools across the state were ordered closed for the rest of the school year on Monday.

In an interview with WMITV this week, Assistant Navajo County Manager Bryan Layton said that people are starting to take the virus more seriously. But he said, they need to consider that geography is no substitute for taking precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.

“I think some folk mistakenly believe that if they know where a case is they can avoid that area. That mindset is not helpful, it’s not safe and it’s misguided. We all have to take precautions when we go out … you need to be protecting yourself,” he said. “We are seeing residents take it more seriously and that can be a good thing if it translates into more positive behaviors,” he said.

Contact tracing

Layton said that the county undertakes through contact tracing to phone people who may have been in contact with an infected person.

“When a physician calls us and says that they suspect someone has the virus and they’d like to test, we get involved right then. We don’t wait for a positive test. Our nurses get involved … they talk to that person, they find out where they’ve been, who they’ve been around, who they’ve talked with. If there’s risk of exposure, then they call that person, talk to them see how they’re doing. We give them instructions, and then a lot of times we follow up with them twice a day for about two weeks. So we’re in constant communication with people at risk of exposure or who have been exposed,” Layton explained.

Experts and officials continue to urge similar precautions in order to limit the spread the virus:

• Avoid people who are sick if possible.

• Wash your hand frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Maintain social distancing of six feet or more.

• Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.

• Cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve or elbow.

In a press release issued Wednesday, after the news of local cases broke, Show Low Mayor Daryl Seymore also urged precautions.

“To help slow the spread this virus, it’s important that all our community members follow Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order to “Stay home, stay healthy, stay connected. We encourage everyone to follow social distancing …” he added.

Photos by Amber Shepard  

Is that a rare White Mountain gorilla?

In St. Johns, people all across town are beginning to put out “animals” in their front yard or in their windows. Since everyone is encouraged to stay distanced, the kids have nothing to do. Now people are driving through the community to see their neighbor’s displays. This is something families can do while staying in their vehicles that cheers them up.

How are White Mountain businesses doing at social distancing?

WHITE MOUNTAINS – Prior to Pres. Donald Trump’s announcement to extend the social distancing guidelines on Sunday, March 29, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s March 30 stay-at-home executive order, not many people in the White Mountains were practicing social distancing. People out and about last week posted on Facebook and shared with others in emails and in person that many in line at retail establishments were not adhering to the six foot separation rule, and were still gathering in crowds of more than ten.

This week, it is a different story and many Mountain businesses have taken steps to ensure their employees and the public are safe from exposure to and from the coronavirus.

Evidenced by the traffic and parking lots of local stores on Tuesday, a mad rush was taking place as people hurried to to get last-minute things accomplished before the Governor’s executive order was to go into effect at 5 p.m.

With many businesses doors closed and people working from home, the Independent reached out to businesses it could easily get a response from to find out what steps they have taken and/or are implementing to honor social distancing. The businesses are listed in alphabetical order.

APS – Already with an emergency plan in place, critical plant and operation centers have separated employees as much as possible for social distancing; their policy is only one employee per vehicle; employees are utilizing hand sanitizer and are allowing non-critical positions to work remotely; recommended guidelines by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control are being implemented to keep employees, customers and communities safe; customer service is available by phone and Internet.

Car QuestAll locations – The company has their Pinetop-Lakeside, Taylor and Holbrook lobbies open but Springerville and St. Johns is curbside only.They are accepting orders via phone and Internet for outside pickup; employees have and will continue to be fastidious in wiping down doors, counters, credit card machines and even pens customers use to sign for their items. With masks unavailable, they are in the process of making masks for employees using shop towels until others are available; tape measures are used to ensure the six-foot rule; signs are placed on the doors advising customers of current protocols.

Cedar Ridge Veterinary Clinic -Snowflake — Clinic guidelines have been established. Clients are to call ahead for an appointment; on arrival, they are to call the clinic and advise they are in the lot and wait in the vehicle until an employee comes out to get then. Wait times may be longer as exam rooms are being sanitized before and after each appointment. Anyone who is sick or not feeling well should reschedule or see how they may be assisted by phone.

General Contractor Tod Clift – Tools and equipment are being sanitized with bleach and water and Lysol before and after work and right after lunch; employees are wearing gloves but have not been able to locate masks.

Hector’s Hay & Feed – Snowflake – Already adept at frequently sanitizing with Clorox wipes and using hand sanitizer, employees are social distancing as much as possible with customers; grooming and pet boarding have been temporarily suspended.

NEC – Lakeside – Lobby is closed to the public but Internet and phone customer service is available; non-essential travel has been suspended and employees are minimizing in-person meetings; each employee has a personal bottle of hand sanitizer and are following hand-washing guideline; employees with cold, flu or coronavirus-like symptoms are to stay home.

Sweetpeas CBS – Lakeside In a 50’s car-hop style, except for roller skates, customers may remain in their vehicles as employees deliver food/smoothies and CBD orders to the customer, while wearing gloves and maintaining strict sanitizing guidelines; questions can be answered at a social distance of six feet or persons can call.

The Underground Garden – Show Low – orders are delivered to the customer’s car or picked up after texting the store when they have arrived; gloves are worn and sanitizing practiced but no masks are used due to unavailability.

United States Post Office, Lakeside Branch – only four persons are allowed inside for counter service at a time; a table has been placed inside the entrance to help with social distancing; sanitizing wipes have been provided to employees as well as masks which are not a requirement. Plexiglas installation for separation of employee and customers is being explored.

West USA Real Estate – Taylor – realtor reports that prior to a showing, they bring sanitizer wipes and do not touch anything with their hands; they open all doors so clients do not have to touch them, the realtor stays outside while client tours the home.

Western Drug & General Store — Springerville – Pharmacy employees wash their hands each hour and sanitize anywhere they or a customer touch; employees are provided masks and are encouraged, but not required, to wear them; employees are given Echinacea, a popular herb people commonly take to help combat flu and colds, and employee temperatures are taken every morning before entering the store to ensure they do not have a fever.

White Mountain Radio – Lakeside – employees are sanitizing and disinfecting building and studios throughout the day; those that can are working remotely; having put an essential business work plan in place, and guests still coming in, social distancing is being adhered too as much as possible.

With more COVID-19 cases being reported around the state, and cases in Apache and Navajo counties, more White Mountain businesses are taking Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s Stay at Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected order seriously.

More information on the order can be found at https://1.azdhs.gov/33VMt36.

Richardson wants out due to pandemic

Joshua Richardson

ST JOHNS — In October, 2017 14-year-old Joshua Richardson was charged with murdering TerryLynn Collins at her family’s retreat in Concho. After a long discovery process and three settlement conferences, the parties believed they had an agreement whereby Richardson would plead guilty to second degree murder and aggravated assault charges. The sentencing judge was to choose how much prison time Richardson would serve, ranging from five years to 25 years.

But that agreement ran into trouble when, in order to have the five to 25 year range of incarceration available, the type of murder charge the defendant would plead to had to be reduced to lower than first degree murder, lower than second degree, lower than manslaughter, all the way down to negligent homicide.

By pleading guilty to negligent homicide, Richardson would merely have to admit that he accidentally shot Mrs. Collins in the face in her own home, by mistake.

Ernest Collins, Jr., Mrs. Collins’ widower and her surviving family strongly objected, claiming that such an arrangement was not what was promised them, and the Apache County Attorney’s Office ultimately withdrew from the plea agreement. Collins told the Independent that the family would just rather go through a trial and finally get closure. The family has had more than enough court dates, negotiations, and the drawn-out trauma of this long, tragic case.

Now, COVID-19

There is yet another case management conference set for April 6. But Richardson’s attorney, Cindy Castillo of Castillo Law PLLC from the Valley has filed a motion to release her client who is now 16, pending trial, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing number of public health advisories which support such a move. Richardson, after all, has not been convicted of anything. The motion, obtained by the Independent, appears to be a standard, boiler-plate type motion that defense attorneys everywhere are probably filing for every one of their incarcerated, pre-trial defendants. Because they are lawyers, they have a sworn duty to work in their clients’ best interest, and the argument for release under the circumstances is not without merit.

In addition, if a not-yet-sentenced client dies in jail from the coronavirus, the first inquiry will be whether the sheriff, jail, the county health agency etc. was negligent. But if a lawyer didn’t even try to get the inmate released, that may reflect poorly on the lawyer.

In Richardson’ case, he wants to stay in Florida with his grandfather until the case is concluded. The prosecutor is expected to vigorously object; Collins certainly does. In the meantime, if the parties agree to take this long-pending case to a jury trial, it is unclear when a panel of potential jurors can be assembled. Several dozens of potential jurors will be summoned in order to empanel a jury of 12, plus at least four alternate jurors. In light of the new court guidelines restricting in-person contact in the courthouse, the prospect of that happening anytime soon is uncertain.

Barbara Bruce / Barbara Bruce/The Independent  

According to Gas Buddy, the lowest prices for gasoline in Navajo County can be found in Winslow for $2.23 at the 76 Station; Holbrook at Hatch’s Corner Gas, the 76 Station and Holbrook Maverick — all at $2.28; Snowflake-Taylor at Alvarez Auto and Country Club Fuels for $2.07; Show Low at Splash and Dash for $2.29 and in Lakeside at the Maverick for $2.33. But, in Pinetop at HonDah, their price is $1.89 — all of these prices were as of March 31.

Gas below $2 — and, it’s not fake news