The Mountain West News Bureau

Left to right: Matt Frank, Digital Editor (Missoula, MT); Rae Bichell, Reporter (Greeley, CO); Nate Hegyi, Reporter (Salt Lake City, UT); Kate Concannon, Managing Editor (Seattle, WA); Noah Glick, Reporter (Reno, NV); Ali Budner, Reporter (Colorado Springs, CO); Maggie Mullen, Reporter (Laramie, WY) and Amanda Peacher, Reporter (Boise, ID).
Credit Matt Bloom / KUNC

The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Our mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues of the Rocky Mountain West.

From land and water management to growth in the expanding West to our unique culture and heritage, we’ll explore the issues that define us and the challenges we face.

Contributing stations include Boise State Public Radio, Wyoming Public MediaKUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Brian Albers / KUER

Some of the nation's top polluters are now running on the honor system after the Environmental Protection Agency last week announced relaxed enforcement of environmental regulations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Madelyn Beck / Mountain West New Bureau

Just being homeless puts you at greater risk for getting and spreading COVID-19. And several homeless residents have tested positive for the disease around the Mountain West, from Denver to Las Vegas. That’s forcing community leaders and shelter owners to take precautions.

 


Ken Whytock / Flickr Creative Commons

Jake Billington has worked at the livestock auction at the Twin Falls Livestock Commission in southern Idaho for 28 years.


Ethel Branch is the former attorney general of the Navajo Nation. A few weeks ago, when she went grocery shopping in Flagstaff, Arizona, she noticed that the shelves were already pretty bare. That worried her. For shoppers from the nearby Navajo Nation, a grocery store can be hours away.

“The snow’s going sideways, it’s swirling,” said Billy Barr, from the abandoned silver mine he lives in almost 10,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains.

We’re all social distancing these days, and it’s unclear when exactly that will end. But Barr has been doing this for almost 50 years. He’s the only full-time resident of Gothic, Colorado. 

“I'm the mayor and chief of police,” he said. “I hold elections every year but I don't tell anybody when they are, so it works out really well.”

UCAR / Flickr Creative Commons

A proposed wind farm in southern Idaho could become one of the largest in the nation.

 

Your Questions About COVID-19, Answered 

Our reporters are working hard to answer your questions about COVID-19. These responses are curated by the Mountain West News Bureau and our public media partners at America Amplified

Madelyn Beck / Mountain West New Bureau

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can eliminate the traditional insanity defense. Only four states don’t have one in the U.S., and three of those are in the Mountain West.

 


Sometime around Valentine's Day, a box arrived at a lab on the western edge of Fort Collins, Colorado. It contained vials full of coronavirus and it was just what Lindsay Hartson and her colleagues had been waiting for.

"We were really excited because it meant we could start doing the work," said Hartson.

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COVID-19 fears have forced a lot of bars and restaurants to close across the Mountain West. That leaves workers in a tough spot. But some communities have found a creative way for would-be customers to chip in.


Joann

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a national shortage of personal protection equipment for medical personnel such as face masks and gowns, and crafters are lending a hand.

 

San Miguel County in Colorado announced this week it plans to test everyone in the county for COVID-19. And they’ll be using a blood test rather than the usual nose-and-throat swabs. 

The test typically being used at this point involves a method called PCR, which looks for pieces of the virus’ RNA in a person’s nose and throat. It only shows if someone is actively fighting and shedding the virus.

Walk into many grocery stores these days, and you’ll see two things: crowds and empty shelves. You may also notice narrow aisles and checkout lines that make it hard to practice the social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While many businesses are shutting down to help stop the spread of COVID-19, grocery stores don’t have that luxury. And grocery workers like cashiers don’t make that much - at most, around $15 an hour. But like health care workers, they’re considered essential.

Amid the COVID-19 epidemic, blood drives on campuses and corporate offices across the Mountain West have been cancelled. That's led to a "severe blood shortage."

Support for our series Private Prisons: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

The Interior Department has announced it’s temporarily waiving entrance fees for recreation areas, national monuments and national parks. Secretary David Bernhardt said he wanted to make it easier for people to recreate on public lands.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing federal, state and local governments to take drastic measures. And in Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak did something never done before: he ordered all casinos in the state to shut down for 30 days.

This story is powered by America Amplified, a public radio consortium.

Beer is big business in the Mountain West.

Support for our series Private Prison: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

State and local governments around our region are reacting to the coronavirus pandemic. A new analysis finds some are more aggressive than others. The Mountain West states got the least aggressive ranking, with Wyoming ranked dead last.

As the graph below shows, the number of COVID-19 cases reported by public health agencies in the Mountain West is climbing. But what do those numbers actually say? 

Support for our series Private Prisons: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

Around when I was setting up a trip to Australia to report on a private prison there, things were not looking good for the industry in my home state of Colorado. Politicians were talking about phasing them out entirely. And the GEO Group, a private prison company, announced it would close its one Colorado prison, amid concerns about staff shortages and lack of services for inmates. The state’s head of corrections was talking about the need to move away from prisons that are “stark and idle places without purpose [or] hope.”

But over on the other side of the world, there was Ravenhall, a prison run by the Australian subsidiary of that very same company, GEO. And everything about it flew in the face of the narrative I was hearing. 

COVID-19 is halting sports events around the country. The National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer are all suspended. And March Madness is canceled.

That’s affecting one industry particularly hard: sports betting.

Support for our series Private Prisons: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

When architect Kavan Applegate was designing Ravenhall, he made sure to include things like native plants, a playground, meeting rooms with nooks to display local artifacts — even an outdoor fire pit where people could gather on special occasions. The goal, he says, was to help people “feel positive” and “embrace the opportunity for change.” 

But Ravenhall is not a yoga retreat. It’s a prison — Australia’s largest, in fact. And it’s run by the GEO Group, a private prison company based in the U.S.

Idaho Department of Lands

A new government watchdog report published Wednesday says taxpayers are shouldering the burden of cleaning up the nation’s thousands of abandoned hardrock mines on public lands.

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