New year, same crisis as COVID-19 continues The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

New year, same crisis as COVID-19 continues

January 5th, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
New year, same crisis as COVID-19 continues

Tribune Contributor

This is what we think we can say about 2021:

The beginning is going to be far worse than the beginning of 2020.

The end has a chance to be far better.

Between that beginning and that end, worlds of uncertainty cloud the horizon.

As 2020 dawned, not a single person in the East Valley had died or been sickened by a terrible disease we were only beginning to hear about.

As it ended, the pall of death and anxiety cast upon our communities by COVID-19 was palpable, with some families literally torn to shreds.

And as 2021 begins, there is hope that some semblance of normalcy will begin to return as science does for a stricken nation what its political leaders could not – and in some cases would not – do in the face of the worst pandemic in more than a century.

For now, we do know that COVID will not magically melt away with the turn of the calendar, allowing the return of popular annual events and the life we knew a year ago this time.

We know, for example, that there won’t be any Rock ’n’ Roll marathon here in January. Or a Barrett-Jackson auto auction.

But will there be a Cactus League season? Major League Baseball for now is planning for one to begin late next month – for now.

Will crowds be able to return to the fine array of cultural and performing arts centers in Mesa and the East Valley? What about the movies? Will graduates get to walk the stage? Will we stop fighting about masks? Can we ever pack a restaurant again?

At this point, with the pandemic raging unabated, such things seem a long way off. And for many, COVID is not just a question of going out for Friday night pizza. For them – our neighbors, our friends, our grandparents – COVID in 2021 will be a matter of existence – or nonexistence.

One thing that is a virtual certainty is the Jan. 11 start of the Legislature’s 2021 session, which already is promising fireworks as at least one Mesa lawmaker, Sen.-Elect Kelly Townsend, has already signaled her intention to defy Senate President Karen Fann’s order that anyone doing business in that chamber must wear a mask.

Already in December, vaccines were beginning to arrive. With them came painful decisions about who should get them first, and how, and at what cost.

The degree to which 2021 becomes a better year than 2020 depends greatly on the vaccines’ efficacy and the willingness of sufficient numbers of people to accept them. Recent studies have suggested that resistance to vaccines is disproportionately higher in the East Valley than in other regions, a potential complication in efforts to create a post-COVID world.

As all that plays out, there are various other events that we can predict with reasonable certainty for the coming 12 months. No special prognosticative power is required. It is simply the norm for an East Valley still under construction and in a post-election year where we now get to see the results of the most recent ballot-box decisions.

Assuming the course of COVID remains the one great unknown – that no other life-rattling shocks are in store – here’s a look at what does seem to be on tap for Mesa and the region in 2021:

Julie Spilsbury will take her seat on Mesa City Council while two new Mesa Public Schools Governing Board members, Lara Salmon Ellingson and Joe O’Reilly, will be taking their seats as the district continues to wrestle with falling enrollment and the divisive issue of reopening classrooms, tentatively slated for Jan. 19.

Mesa and the other East Valley cities will receive the results of the 2020 U.S. census. These numbers will be used to redraw congressional and legislative district boundaries and, in the case of Mesa, City Council districts.

The Mesa Mormon Temple, closed for an extensive remodeling for more than two years, is expected to reopen this year, though it’s unclear if it will meet a possible spring completion date. Along with the temple, the new Family Resource Center, a popular source of genealogical records, also is due to open.

Construction activity throughout Downtown Mesa will be picking up steam as work continues on Arizona State University’s new satellite campus along with a civic plaza being built in conjunction with the ASU building.

Mesa is likely to approve an agreement to begin developing Site 17, an approximately 25-acre tract in the northeast corner of downtown that has been vacant since plans for a large resort fell through more than 20 years ago.

A four-year construction project to widen Interstate 10 from just north of the Salt River to Loop 202 in Chandler is scheduled to begin in the summer. The project also will improve U.S. 60 between I-10 and Hardy Drive.

A major highway will take shape in southeast Mesa as the state builds the first phase of State Route 24 from Ellsworth Road to Ironwood Drive. Construction will end in 2022.

Chandler Public Schools will open a large high school in the fall on Gilbert Road south of Ocotillo. Major road work on Gilbert Road will accommodate the new school.

After years of planning and construction, streetcars will be deployed in downtown Tempe, with testing to begin early in the year.

The Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, a 378,000-square-foot addition to Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, will begin accepting patients in the spring. The center is in partnership with Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Also this spring, Chandler Regional Medical Center will begin seeing patients in its latest tower, which adds 96 beds and brings the hospital’s total to 429.

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