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Weekend wrap-up: Here are the biggest Arizona stories from Jan. 29-31

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — The COVID-19 variant that spreads at a faster rate has been detected in Arizona, an Ace Hardware employee was shot by a bystander while attempting to stop a shoplifter and a Phoenix police officer won’t be criminally charged after fatally shooting a man who answered the door while carrying a gun.

Here are some of the biggest stories that headlined the Arizona news cycle over the weekend.


First cases of faster-spreading COVID-19 variant detected in Arizona

The COVID-19 variant that spreads at a faster rate has been detected in Arizona, the Arizona Department of Health Services said in a press release Friday night.

AZDHS, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Pinal County Public Health Services and Arizona State University report the variant (B.1.1.7) has been confirmed in three test samples from the state.

While the variant spreads faster, according to the release, studies suggest the vaccines authorized to fight COVID-19 are still effective against the variant.

It isn’t known how widely the variant may have spread in Arizona, according to the release.

The United Kingdom identified the new strain in the fall of 2020, with the first case of the variant being detected in the United States at the end of December.


Arizona reports 5,025 new COVID-19 cases, 22 more deaths

Arizona health officials on Sunday reported 5,025 new coronavirus cases and 22 additional deaths from COVID-19.

The state’s documented totals moved to 758,404 infections and 13,120 fatalities, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ COVID-19 dashboard.

As of Saturday’s update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Arizona continued to lead the nation in average cases per capita over the last seven days and moved behind Alabama to No. 2 in deaths.

Key metrics indicate that the massive surge in Arizona that started in November is past its peak, mirroring national trends, but the virus remains widespread across the state.


Store employee shot by bystander trying to stop shoplifter in Phoenix

An Ace Hardware store employee was shot and injured by a bystander while attempting to stop a shoplifter on Saturday morning.

The incident occurred just after 9 a.m. near 32nd Street and Indian School Road, according to the Phoenix Police Department.

The employee was shot by a bystander outside the store who was trying to stop the shoplifter, authorities said.

The shoplifter fled the scene, while the person who shot at him remained and cooperated with authorities, police said.

The victim was transported to a local hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, authorities said.


Phoenix police officer who fatally shot Ryan Whitaker won’t be charged

Calling the case “a tragedy,” prosecutors said Friday they won’t criminally charge a Phoenix police officer who fatally shot a man after he answered his apartment door while carrying a gun.

Body camera video (WARNING: Graphic content) showed Ryan Whitaker, 40, backing away when Officer Jeff Cooke shot and him three times in the doorway of his Ahwatukee residence on May 21, 2020.

Cooke and Officer John Ferragamo were responding to a neighbor’s 911 call reporting a domestic dispute. The investigation found no signs of an altercation, only that Whitaker and his girlfriend were playing a loud videogame, according to a statement from Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel.

“With the benefit of frame-by-frame analysis and having time to review and re-review the videos, it appears that Mr. Whitaker was moving his gun to put it down and put his hands up,” the statement said.

Prosecutors concluded that Whitaker wasn’t a threat, but it was understandable why Cooke didn’t see it that way.


Gov. Ducey joins CNN to discuss Arizona GOP, COVID-19 vaccine plan

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appeared on CNN on Sunday discussing the outlook of the Republican Party and COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the state.

Ducey talked about the state of Republican politics in Arizona after being shown a cartoon posted by Cindy McCain caricaturing the censorship of Ducey, McCain and Jeff Flake by Arizona Republican Chairman, Kelli Ward.

“The party in Arizona has had a long history of discontent,” Ducey said.

“I think that the state party chairman should focus on winning races. That should be a top priority,” he added. “I believe I was in good company in that cartoon.”

Ducey had been criticized locally and publicly by Republican leaders, including by former President Donald Trump, for not doing enough to overturn election results in favor the GOP candidate.

For Arizona vaccine information, visit azdhs.gov/findvaccine.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

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