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The power of one to infinity

WHITE MOUNTAINS – Tammy Gray is not a healthcare professional. She is a freelance writer and a transcriptionist living in Holbrook. Nonetheless, when she began seeing hospitals post on Facebook that they needed masks, she asked some of her nurse friends what the situation was and learned there was a real need.

Gray wanted to help. When her father was in ICU she said they took such good care of him that she could not bear the thought of those on the frontlines with COVID-19 not having the equipment or masks they needed. Her plan was to spend an afternoon or the weekend cutting and sewing masks. She did that, but that’s not the end of the story – it is still being written.

An anonymous donor contributed money toward fabric. Then another donor came forward and all of a sudden, Gray had 300 yards of fabric and the urgency for masks was growing. She created the Masks for Heroes — Northern Arizona Facebook page hoping to get a little help. And, help she got. As of Sunday, March 29, there are 192 members who are searching, buying, cutting, sewing, packaging and delivering masks as fast as they can be made.

The Masks for Heroes Facebook page is a private page for volunteers assisting with the effort.

The consummate organizer, Gray laid out the ground rules at the get-go so there was no misunderstanding about why anyone joined the group – it’s all about the masks – no political opinions or comments or COVID-19 news.

“We’re here to get masks made as quickly as possible,” Gray advised joiners, “and please do chat away, have fun, share, be kind, help each other, and show some love.”

Banter began almost immediately as skill sets were identified.

Barbara Bruce / Courtesy photo 

Washed, dried and folded, materials are ready to be made into masks for local healthcare workers, courtesy of Linda Turner Cook who has made a lot of masks using her own materials and money. A private citizen, Cook stepped up like many others out of her concern and gratitude for those who are working to care for others during COVID-19.

“I can’t sew worth a darn, but I can help in other ways,” posted Sandra Martinez Oberriter. “Let me know how I can help!”

“I have a sewing machine,” posted Gretchen Madison.

“My girl scouts have set up a page to make masks. Where can I pick up supplies to distribute to my girls?” asked Victoria Montoya Philpott.

Gray saw that the project was ballooning and she reached out for help to coordinate efforts. Robin O’Dell Gonzales and Amy Aguileria joined Gray as administrators of the site and Aanda Reeves as moderator so that questions or needs could be addressed immediately.

Gray also connected with Linda Turner Cook who she called “a one-woman show.” She said that Cook had already begun her own mask project using her own money and materials, but now Masks for Heroes is supporting Cook however they can because she has put out a lot of masks by herself.

Barbara Bruce / Courtesy photo  

Wearing masks made by the members of Masks for Heroes - Northern Arizona and Linda Turner Cook who is also is coordinating with the group, Josh and Robin Stump demonstrate the end result of love and caring of community members who stepped up to answer the need for our local frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Cook said, “No mask is like going naked to work for them (healthcare workers).”

“My husband and I are in at-risk groups, and we both owe a great debt to healthcare and EMS.

Just hoping to make a difference and save as many local people as I can.”

In a Facebook post Summit Healthcare wrote, “We are asking our community members, who are able, to donate handmade face masks to protect our employees and patients. Please use this link (Deaconess — How to make a Face Mask – Deaconess.com) for a template. If you have any questions, contact our Marketing Coordinator at (928)537-6329.”

Some of the group are utilizing other patterns which will be accepted at other healthcare facilities.

If the group encounters shortages, they all help locate what is needed, or put their creativity to work and come up with another way to accomplish the task.

“Someone asked about goal numbers,” posted Gray, “ and I didn’t have a good answer. As of today (March 28) these are the numbers I have. Please note, they do not include all the requests, just the larger local facilities. I am distributing the masks to them the minute I get them in.

• Summit hospital in Show Low — No exact number, but they have 50 people on a shift in the emergency department. Ideally each person would have a minimum of 3 masks to be able to change them during a shift. So, that’s 150 as a small starting number of what they need.

• LCMC (Little Colorado Medical Center) in Winslow is seeking 400 masks.

• Winslow Indian Healthcare is seeking 25 masks very urgently, and of course more as we can.

• Winslow Campus of Care is seeking 100 masks.

• Action Medical is asking for 60 as soon as possible.”

Cook added, “I actually have been contacted by nurses in New York and Washington seeking masks to protect themselves. It’s heartbreaking.”

Gray reminded everyone that though “it is hard to say no, the hospitals are the front line in this fight and we need to get them to the hospitals first and foremost. Summit Hospital is our top priority right now.”

Cheering the dedicated on, Gray assured them they were up to the task. “Yes, these are big numbers, but we can do it! Keep sewing and if you have any friends that sew, please invite them to join us!”

And, people are still joining. And the healthcare facilities are grateful.

Summit posted on the site saying, “Thank you all for the overwhelming response to our request. We are so lucky to be part of a community that unites and helps one another during difficult times. If you have been so kind as to make masks for our staff and patients we ask you to please drop them off in the front of the Administrative Services Building, Monday – Friday 8:00 AM — 4:30 PM, in the designated donation container.”

And the group continues to sew, so much that Charlyse Miller will now keep an accounting of the masks so everybody knows how many have actually been made. 

In the meantime, the group is still sewing.

“It’s a community effort,” said Gray. “I couldn’t do it without them.”

Can local internet providers carry the load?

APACHE & NAVAJO COUNTIES – The need for fast, accurate information during the coronavirus pandemic is critical.

The lack of high-speed broadband in rural areas like the White Mountains becomes glaringly obvious during times of crisis.

Cellular One Business Solutions, Frontier Communications, Hughes Net, Max Internet (formerly Synchromax), and Sparklight may be experiencing peak demand. As area children return from spring break to doing their schoolwork at home, online learning and classes are expected to tax the system even more.

Can the service providers handle the impact?

Cellular One – In “A Letter to Our Community,” Cellular One assured customers that they are “watching closely as developments unfold around COVID-19 so that we can strive to protect the health and well-being of our customers and team members.”

As of March 17, the company temporarily closed their store locations but say they “ … intend to keep our network going strong for you!” writes CEO Judd Hinkle.

While they were unable to answer specific questions from the Independent, the letter offers service through the Customer Care Center at 1-800-730-2351.

Frontier Communications — The Independent reached out to Frontier Communications locally to inquire about the reliability and stability of their Internet service during the COVID-19 crisis which has created heavy usage with so many people working from home and kids playing games on the Internet.

Though the local office is answering phones and their employees continue to work, there is no public traffic allowed in their office at this time. The Independent contacted Javier Mendoza, Corporate Communications and External Affairs Vice President.

“The network continues to perform well with a slight uptick in bandwidth consumption at certain times. Frontier’s engineers monitor our network 24x7 in real time,” writes Mendoza. “Anticipating increased demand for telework, distance learning, and connectivity services, Frontier is implementing additional capacity,” he said.

Hughes Net - Satellite internet company Hughes Net did not respond to the Independent by press time but their social media page indicates they have taken steps to “help students and teachers at home.”

“... (W)e are prioritizing educational tools and platforms on our network,” adds the post. “If you have trouble accessing an online educational site, email a description of the issues you are experiencing to us at EduHelp@Hughes.Net.”

Max Internet – According to Owner-Operator Linda Brimhall McLelland of Max Internet, formerly Synkromax, which serves the Taylor, Snowflake and surrounding areas, her techs report that “Our network is running smoothly.”

“But, McLelland reported via email to the Independent that they were “... seeing an increase in traffic since the COVID-19 virus” and that “The usage gap has widened but not to the point where the service is bad...”

“Monitoring usage on the MAX Internet network is something we do constantly in order to ensure every customer is getting their fair share of speed and having a good experience. We have plenty of bandwidth and there is plenty to go around for all,” assures McLelland.

“Because of the heavy usage during the COVID-19 virus, we are asking our customers to please monitor and be considerate of their usage because heavy usage will affect not only their experience but others on the network,” also wrote McLelland.

“There is plenty of bandwidth to go around for all if we can keep in mind these few items of consideration … “If there are devices running in the home and no one is watching or listening, turn them off. If kids are in their rooms gaming, while streaming music, or watching a movie on Netflix and looking at videos on Facebook at the same time, you probably are not going to be able to do your work from home without problems.”

Sparklight – In a March 27 press release,  Sparklight noted “We understand the importance of fast and reliable online connectivity under normal circumstances, but especially now when people … are accessing work, education, entertainment, and other content from home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” said Ken Johnson, Senior Vice President of Technology Services.

Over the past three years, the company has invested more than $600 million in technology, equipment, and infrastructure upgrades , the press release stated.

When the Independent asked Sparklight about the capacity of internet services as demand increases, they said they are “prepared to shift network routing and enable redundancies if needed ...”

As of March 13, Sparklight made unlimited data available on all internet services for 30 days. They are also offering payment deferrals and waiving late fees for its customers for 60 days.

“We live and work in the communities we serve and these are our friends and neighbors impacted by effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19), so we want to do our part to help,” said Julie Laulis, President and CEO.

Other providers in the area that provide fixed wireless services or DSL include TWN Communications, Choice Broadband and Earthlink.

The Arizona E-Rate program is working to expand internet availability to students through school campuses. More information will be provided after the logistics are worked out.

If you are a business, church or other organization offering a free WiFi hotspot and would like to be added to our list, please email lsingleton@wmicentral.com.

Reporter Barbara Bruce contributed to this report.

COVID-19 case count continues to climb

NAVAJO COUNTY — Creeping silently, the impacts of the coronavirus continue to grow and spread across the White Mountain region.

Over the weekend, the virus claimed a life in Navajo County.

There have been two confirmed deaths from COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation Reservation. Now, for the first time a resident of Navajo County from outside of the Navajo Nation Reservation has died from the virus.

In a press release issued Sunday, the Navajo County Public Health Services District (NCPHSD) confirmed that ”the individual who passed away was in their 60s with underlying health conditions. No additional information will be provided out of respect to the family and privacy laws. NCPHSD is in the process of notifying close contacts of these persons and is asking them to monitor for symptoms. If you are not contacted by public health, your risk of exposure to these cases are minimal.”

“We express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends grieving their loved one during this difficult time,” said Jeff Lee NCPHSD Director. “COVID-19 is a serious disease that can be fatal. We expect to see more cases of COVID-19 in Navajo County, and there could be more deaths. It is imperative that everyone takes precautions to protect yourself and your family from this disease, ” the press release stated.

The press release stated that additional cases of the virus in Navajo County have been confirmed outside of the Navajo Nation Reservation, although it did not specify how many or where the cases were located.

The total number of cases in Navajo County Monday were 88 and 17 in Apache County. Numbers continue an alarming climb across Arizona, reaching 1,157 cases on Monday, with deaths reaching 20. Last week, Dr. Cara Christ, head of the Arizona Department of Health Services said all Arizonans should consider that the virus is “widespread” and circulating in all communities.

Over the weekend, President Trump extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April. Earlier comments he had made concerning re-opening businesses in some areas of the country by Easter, Vice President Mike Pence called “aspirational,” according to CNBC.

“The president expressed, really, an aspirational goal,” Mr. Pence said on CNBC. “The president said he would love to see it around Easter.”

Gov. Doug Ducey has resisted calling for a statewide shelter-in-place order, instead asking residents to follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control for avoiding the coronavirus. Schools and some businesses are closed, and many people are in Arizona are staying at home anyway. On Monday, the governor extended statewide school closures through April 30.

According to the New York Times, 26 states have issued such orders, requiring people to stay home and only leave the house for necessities such as groceries, medical appointments and to step outside for fresh air. Thirteen states have orders in portions of the state — usually large cities or metropolitan counties. About 7 in 10 Americans are now living under these orders in an unprecedented effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Arizona is one of only nine states that has no requirements to shelter in place.

Locally, the Navajo Nation has a shelter-in-place order and a curfew that began on Monday, ordering residents to stay at home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. President Jonathan Nez has also placed strict rules for social distancing on businesses that remain open, such as limiting the number of customers in the store.

The White Mountain Apache Tribe has also instituted a curfew, of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and closed public areas such as playgrounds and recreation areas in their forests. There have been no cases of COVID-19 reported on the Fort Apache Reservation so far.

Summit Healthcare in Show Low confirmed that they have conducted tests on some individuals, but have not reported any positive results thus far. Some test results have taken a week to come back from labs, they said.

While at least one healthcare provider, North Country Healthcare, has promised to bring expanded testing for COVID-19 to the area, they offered no timeline as to when the drive-thru testing clinics they proposed would open.

Shortly after North Country made that announcement, Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, advised healthcare providers that widespread testing isn’t feasible due the lack of medical and testing supplies. She advised healthcare providers to simply treat all patients with symptoms as though they were infected. The state also has a critical shortage of the gear doctors and nurses need to even administer a test.

“Keep working with your commercial vendors for testing, but do not depend on having test results for your management,” she said in guidelines to doctors. “There is no specific treatment or manage strategy and results should not change clinical management.”

Gifted runner charged with child sex crimes

Sky Martel faces 30 counts

PINETOP LAKESIDE—Sky Martel, 21, a gifted runner and athlete, faces 30 child sex crimes charges in the Navajo County Superior Court. Martel had been widely lauded for overcoming family tragedy through track sports. The Independent’s sports writer Andy Staten wrote in November, 2014 how Martel, then a freshman in high school, and his older brother, Doug, had been holding the family together after their mother Velma Parker Martel suffered a debilitating stroke at a time when their father Buddy, only had sporadic work.

Adding to the family’s tragedy was their father’s death in August, 2017. Buddy Martel, 52, was shot and killed by an armored truck guard at HonDah casino in August, 2017, after he allegedly sprayed the guard with a noxious fluid when the guard was making a delivery there.

This month, the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office completed a four-month long investigation and a grand jury handed up its indictment charging Martel with 15 counts of sexual conduct with a minor; 11 counts of furnishing harmful materials to a minor; three counts each of aggravated luring a minor for sexual exploitation and sexual exploitation of a minor, according to NCSO. Court records list a slightly different number of charges. Martel was arrested in a motel in Flagstaff on March 10 and is being held in the Navajo County Jail on a no-bond hold.

With regard to child sex crimes, Arizona law draws a very bright line at the age of 15. If a minor victim is 15 years or older, the class of felony and special sentencing laws treat the convicted person more leniently than a situation wherein the minor victim is under the age of 15. At the moment, because this case is in its early stages, there is little information in court records.


However, Martel’s 15 charges of sexual conduct with a minor are classified as Class 2 felonies. That means that the government believes the alleged victim in the case was either under 15 years old, or the alleged victim was 15 years old or older, but that the accused was in a position of trust with the minor. By contrast, if a victim is 15 years old or over, the same conduct is classified only as a Class 6 Felony, the least serious of all the felonies.

A charge of aggravated luring a minor for sexual exploitation requires proof of two things: that the accused used an electronic communication to send a visual image “harmful to minors” and offers or solicits sexual conduct. It’s a Class 2 felony regardless of the age of the victim, but harsh mandatory sentencing laws apply if the victim is under 15. Martel was charged with three counts of that, but the age of the alleged victim is not known. The reason the charge is called “aggravated,” is because the means of transmittal was allegedly by electronic — like a computer or mobile device.

Then there are the allegations of the exploitation itself, not merely the luring part, which requires proof of recording and then distributing “any visual depiction” of a minor “engaged in sexual exploitation or other sexual conduct,” says the law. Like the luring charge, that it is a Class 2 felony regardless of the victim’s age, but for those under 15, sentencing provisions are much stronger. Martel was charged with three counts of that, as well.

Finally, Martel faces 11 counts of furnishing harmful materials to a minor. According the NCSO, the harmful material in this case is alleged to be pictures of Martel in the nude. They are Class 4 felonies.

Conviction on some or all of the charges carry the possibility of a life sentence.

Of the thousands of criminal charges filed in the Navajo County Superior Court every year, not all of them are proven true; that would be a statistical impossibility. Martel is presumed by law to be innocent.