State's new benchmarks will keep some county businesses closed for now

COVID-19, business
City and county governments, local businesses, school districts and residents across Arizona continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

City and county governments, local businesses, school districts and residents across Arizona continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

The Arizona Department of Health Services unveiled public health recommendations Aug. 10 for reopening the state’s paused businesses on a county-by-county basis.

Maricopa County remains in the substantial spread category that will keep the businesses closed for now, according to the state’s initial evaluation.

The recommendations use the same benchmarks in three areas that the state released Aug. 6 for school districts and charter schools and were encouraged to be used in evaluating when to reopen for in-person instruction: cases per 100,000 population, percent positivity in testing and COVID-19-like illnesses.

Each of the “paused” industries—gyms and fitness centers, bars and nightclubs, water parks and tubing, and movie theaters—have levels of occupancy at which they can reopen as the health metrics improve from substantial to moderate to minimal. The businesses are all in their second round of shutdowns after the state kept most businesses closed from March 31 until mid-May.

All three benchmarks must be met for 14 days, with a 12-day reporting lag period, to move from a higher transmission phase to a lower one


The businesses were closed after Gov. Doug Ducey’s June 27 executive order that also limited group gatherings to no more than 50 people. The governor extended the order July 23 with a review every two weeks.

Some gymnasium chains sued after the extension for the right to reopen, and Judge Timothy Thomason ruled the state had to give the gyms a means to show they can reopen safely. Thomason also denied a request to stay his orders while the state developed guidelines.

In the wake of those court victories, some gyms announced plans to reopen Aug. 11. Under the state’s new guidelines, businesses can apply to the Arizona Department of Health Services to reopen early if they file documents demonstrating a preventive plan that goes beyond the state’s plans.

The state, as it had done with the school benchmarks, will publish a dashboard that will show each county’s progress toward meeting the reopening benchmark.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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