Students who will be living at Northern Arizona University in the fall are being required to receive COVID-19 testing prior to move-in as part of the school’s new health and safety protocols for reopening campus.
NAU President Rita Cheng revealed the testing and quarantining requirements late last week alongside the announcement that in-person instruction would begin Aug. 31 and the student move-in process would be extended.
“The decision was made in consultation with scientific and medical experts with the goal of delivering our quality education through multiple delivery options while mitigating the COVID-19 risk to our community,” Cheng said of the new testing requirement in a “Forecast from Flagstaff” video update Wednesday evening.
According to the new protocols, students will be required to receive testing and self-quarantine at least 10 days before move-in. Tests must have been completed after July 24 to be accepted.
For those unable to qualify for testing in their hometown or state, NAU is advising students to quarantine for at least 10 days before move-in, then immediately quarantine in their residence hall until they receive a negative test result from Campus Health Services or another testing location in Flagstaff.
The university is accepting both saliva and nasal swab tests but not antibody tests. Students living off-campus are being encouraged to get tested, but it is not a requirement, and individuals who will be helping students move into on-campus housing must “attest that they are symptom-free,” according to NAU’s testing webpage.
NAU will not be reimbursing students for the required COVID-19 testing but shared on its website that the expense can be submitted for consideration for CARES Act funding when the application becomes available in the early fall. The cost of nasal swab testing through Campus Health Services varies by insurance company, and a reduced rate is available for students whose insurance does not cover the testing.
“They’re trying to be responsible to have people get COVID tests and really try to eliminate the possibility of people getting COVID, but to know that they’ve had this on the backburner and wait until the last minute is very frustrating because it throws a wrench in everybody’s plans,” said Madelynn Klein Courville, a senior criminology and criminal justice major.
Klein Courville, who will be living on campus in McKay Village this fall, said she doesn’t mind having to get the test but is concerned by the limited availability of tests in Sacramento, her hometown.
She also hopes the NAU requirement will allow her to receive testing without having symptoms of COVID-19, as is sometimes required.
“But it sucks because then you know you might be taking away from people who actually have [COVID-19],” Klein Courville said.
Coconino County Epidemiologist Matthew Maurer said he could not comment on the county’s level of preparation for a possible influx at its Fort Tuthill specimen collection site if students seek testing after arriving in Flagstaff. He noted, though, that the Health and Human Services Department has been assisting NAU in establishing its protocols for reopening campus.
“We look at the science behind how this virus most likely transmits and what people can do to prevent that and how that fits within the parameters of education. … We’ve seen how not only our education systems but systems in general throughout our communities are not equipped and not established to be able to prevent disease transmission with just our normal, daily routines of life,” Maurer said.
NAU is in the process of creating a portal where students can submit their test results. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will be contacted by an individual from either NAU or Coconino County for contact-tracing purposes.
Department supervisors have been advised not to inform employees if one of their co-workers has been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 without explicit approval from the individual who has been documented in writing. All known positive cases in employees or their close contacts — including family — will be reported internally to NAU, however.
A July 15 document describing the university’s COVID-19 exposure guidelines for supervisors attributes the order not to share information in an attempt to prevent panic among employees.
“If the county knows of the positive test, they will conduct an investigation and notify those who have had close contact with the individual testing positive,” the document states. “Not everyone needs to be notified if contact was casual.”
Even as the number of new cases begins to fall in the county, next week’s election will be one shaped by COVID-19.
As the Coconino County Elections Office gears up for the second election of the pandemic, Patty Hansen, county recorder, said her office has put new measures in place to keep voters and pole workers safe.
Those measures include requiring masks and setting up polling locations to accommodate social distancing. But it's not only the polling locations that have been impacted by the virus.
Since Northern Arizona University decided to postpone in-person classes until the end of August, the virus might have also impacted the local electorate, Hansen said.
University students, many of whom register to vote in Flagstaff, may not be in Flagstaff in the same numbers they would have been had in-person classes been set to start Aug. 12.
Mail-in ballots could be one solution, but Hansen said because such ballots can’t be forwarded through the mail, unless a student had their ballot sent directly to them, they are likely unable to return it.
And if the university has to postpone or outright cancel in-person classes for the remainder of the semester, Hansen said she would expect a similar situation during the November election.
“I would think that any candidates that are counting on the student vote are going to be disappointed,” Hansen said.
Chair of the Coconino County Democratic Party Ann Heitland said she doesn’t see any potential drop in the student population impacting the presidential or senate races.
Because most of the students attending the big three state universities are already in-state, Heitland said, those students will still be voting in the statewide races.
But for local races, such as the one for Legislative District 6, the drop in student populations could be a factor and one that would not make it easier for the Democrats, as young voters have tended to be farther left when approaching the ballot box.
Heitland added that the county party had hoped an increased young voter participation would help put Democratic candidates over the top in the LD6 house and senate races.
“Students play a huge role in the outcomes of our elections and play a huge role in our community, and having their voice missing from the table in the upcoming election is problematic and concerning,” said Flagstaff Vice Mayor Adam Shimoni, who courted student voters when he was elected to city council in 2018.
Students can represent an interest group that has a stake in the longer-term consequences of the decisions made today, Shimoni said.
Still, when weighing the political consequences to the health ramifications of close to 20,000 students coming to town, it’s an easy choice, Shimoni said, making the health of the community and northern Arizona the obvious priority.
But while the voting power of young people might end up being less present overall, younger people could be more present at actual polling places than ever.
Because most of their usual election volunteers are in high-risk categories for the virus, Hansen said the Secretary of State’s Office, the Governor's Office and third-party groups have been encouraging young people to get involved as pole workers.
“We have a lot of new poll workers this time because a lot of our previous ones are in the higher-risk categories and did not feel comfortable,” Hansen said. “But our poll worker coordinator has done a really great job of recruiting people.”
Hansen said between the Democratic primary election in March and the primary election planned for Tuesday, they have also been able to put many more safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For one, Hansen said voters will be required to wear a mask when voting at a polling location.
If a voter refuses, they will still be able to vote but they will be asked to fill out a ballot in their car or outside, Hansen said.
“They’ll vote outside in their car and two election workers will come and have them sign the form for curbside voting,” Hansen said. “The two workers will go in and get the voters ballot, bring the ballot out to the voter. [The voter then] marks it in their car and puts it in a privacy sleeve and then the two poll workers take it back inside and put it in the ballot box.”
Many staff will also be wearing more protective equipment than in March, including masks and gloves, with some also wearing face shields.
Most of that personal protective equipment was given to them by the Secretary of State’s Office, which purchased materials in bulk and distributed them to county election offices, Hansen said.
In recent months, Hansen said, the elections office also evaluated all their polling locations to make sure they could accommodate for social distancing. If a location was too small, Hansen said, they found a new one.
In Flagstaff, that has meant many polling locations being moved into school gymnasiums, but on the Navajo Nation there have been some places where a larger venue simply doesn’t exist. For those polling locations, she said, they will be setting up large tents to house the ballot boxes and voting machines.
As of Monday, 34% of the 47,099 early ballots the office sent voters had been returned.
TUSAYAN — Along a stretch of highway leading to the Grand Canyon, there's a hint of an upcoming election: hand-painted signs encourage voters to choose the candidate who says she'll represent everyone.
Clarinda Vail is challenging the incumbent Mayor Craig Sanderson to oversee Tusayan — Arizona's tiniest town near the state's biggest tourist attraction. About 240 people are registered to vote in Tuesday's primary that will decide the winner of the nonpartisan race.
Vail and Sanderson have sparred for years over plans for a massive development that seeks to capitalize on the millions of people who drive through Tusayan on their way to the Grand Canyon's more popular South Rim. The timelines for more small-town matters such as housing, internet and a sports complex also have been points of contention.
Hanging over the election is a state attorney general's investigation of voter registration in Tusayan. A spokeswoman for the office wouldn't elaborate on the scope or timeline.
Vail said she asked for the investigation after seeing that an employer in town emailed workers to say they could use the business address as their own. Sanderson said that doesn't necessarily indicate fraud but doesn't endorse illegal activity.
Sanderson has done much of his campaigning online, counting the town's response to the coronavirus pandemic, internet service for residents and the start of a housing development as accomplishments.
Sanderson, the chief pilot for Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines, is the second person to be elected mayor of Tusayan. Vail is the property manager for Red Feather Properties Limited Partnership. Whoever wins will serve a two-year term.
Vail caught the attention of residents when she proposed returning surplus town revenue to residents in the form of an initial $6,000 per-capita payment as an economic boost, then $3,000 annually. Sanderson called it a bribe while also proposing monthly coronavirus-relief payments of $1,000 for those in need. The town's attorney and a memo Vail sought from a former state attorney general disagree on whether Vail's plan is possible.
Sanderson moved to Tusayan several years before it became a town in 2010 under a state law that gave communities of at least 500 people that are within 10 miles (16 kilometres) of a national park or monument the chance to incorporate. Tusayan was the only community eligible.
Incorporation was seen as a way for residents in town to buy or rent homes not owned by their employers. The 144-acre (58-hectare) town where hotels, gifts shops and restaurants line the highway has few parcels of private property. Most people lose their housing when they lose their jobs.
Doria Kootswatewa lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her 9-month old son, and her boyfriend and his sister, who both work at a fast-food restaurant. They said they'd like to have more dining options in town, a large laundromat so they don't have to travel more than an hour to Flagstaff to wash clothes and buy groceries that are more affordable in a bigger city.
“If we decide to stay longer, a bigger house would be better,” Kootswatewa said.
The housing development in town was made possible by an Italian real estate developer that has eyed growth in Tusayan since the 1980s. Stilo Development Group USA gave the town two plots of land in exchange for rezoning and annexing Stilo's properties.
One of the 20-acre plots can't be developed until Stilo gets approval for an easement from the U.S. Forest Service to access its own property.
An off-grid housing project on the other piece of town-owned has been stalled for more than 18 months because the town didn't have approval to build in a flood plain. Sanderson blames Vail for challenging a town ordinance that made Tusayan its own flood administrator. She contends the town couldn't be trusted in that position.
Vail often is seen as the face of opposition in Tusayan although her concerns about Stilo's development plans are shared widely across the region, including by Grand Canyon National Park, environmentalists and other residents.
Sanderson accuses Vail of looking out only for her family’s economic well-being as one of the few landowners in town and being afraid of the competition more development would bring. He said Vail has stymied progress.
“I don't look at the short view, I look at how to change things over the course of history,” he said.
Vail said her outspoken nature isn't about competition — it’s about making sure the town’s actions reflect the residents' needs and revenue is spent wisely. She said Sanderson and the town appease corporate interests.
“If we’re going to argue or disagree all the time, you still have to have important conversations,” she said.
With just days before the mayoral primary on Aug. 4, the three candidates have raised a combined $31,845 and spent a combined $29,662, according to campaign finance documents.
Of the three candidates, Councilmember Charlie Odegaard’s campaign has raised the most money -- although a substantial portion of that has been donated by Odegaard himself.
Odegaard began the year with about $500, but that soon began to increase as he raised $10,995 before July. Of that, just over $5,000 has been donated by Odegaard. He continued to raise money, bringing in an additional $2,560 since the beginning of July with $1,485 of that again coming out of Odegaard’s own pocket.
With all that money coming into his campaign, just as much is heading out the door. The campaign has spent just over $13,282 since the beginning of the election cycle.
Candidate Paul Deasy’s campaign appears to have raised the second-highest amount, and unlike the other opponents, his campaign began the year with a completely empty war chest.
Deasy raised $7,900 before July. Of that money, Deasy loaned his campaign $2,000 and donated another $500. Another $2,500 was donated by the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Since the beginning of the month, Deasy raised an additional $1,710 with $500 of that again loaned to his campaign by himself.
Deasy has spent just over $8,480 this year.
Councilmember Jamie Whelan came into the year with $422. She raised another $7,880 before July and another $800 since the beginning of the month.
Since the beginning of the year, Whelan has spent just over $7,900
In the race for Flagstaff City Council, the money candidates are bringing in and have spent varies drastically depending on the candidate.
Candidate Becky Daggett has raised by far the most money. After entering the year with $1,224 already in the bank, Daggett raised an additional $12,254 dollars before July. Of that money, $1,500 came from the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Additionally, she raised over $1,264 from individuals donating $50 or less.
And that momentum looks like it is continuing. She raised another $344 since the begging of July, and her campaign spent just over $8,250 since the beginning of the year.
Candidate Eric Senseman entered the year with $52 in the bank, raising $3,224 before July.
A substantial amount of that money appears to have come from non-Flagstaff residents, with $1,875 originating from nine out-of-state donors. Since July, Senseman raised an additional $1,125 -- with the bulk of that money again originating outside of Flagstaff.
Councilmember Jim McCarthy entered the year with $3,000, which he had donated to his own campaign. He raised another $1,732 before July with $1,522 again coming out of his own pocket.
Candidate Miranda Sweet began the year with no money funding her campaign but raised $1,550 before July.
Candidate Eric Nolan entered the year with $342 in the bank, raising an additional $623 through the first half of the year.
So far this year candidate Anthony Garcia has donated $550 dollars to his campaign but has yet to raise money through donations.