Tucson bar owner “hesitant” as AZDHS releases requirements, benchmarks for businesses to reopen

Tucson bar owner “hesitant” as AZDHS releases requirements, benchmarks for businesses to reopen
ADHS released new requirements for a phased reopening in Arizona. (Source: KOLD News 13)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Some Arizona business owners are getting a look at what it will take to reopen when the spread of COVID-19 slows down in communities across the state.

The state health department released benchmarks and requirements Monday for businesses that were ordered to close by Governor Doug Ducey in June: Gyms and indoor fitness centers, bars, nightclubs, indoor theaters, water parks and tubing operations. The executive order remains in effect, but there are now guidelines for a phased reopening when the time is right.

There are two key components to resuming business operations:

1. Quality of the establishment’s implementation of COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

2. Level of spread occurring in the community, outlined in these three benchmarks:

- Two weeks below 100 cases per 100,000

- Two weeks with percent positivity below 10%

- Two weeks with hospital visits due to COVID-like illness below 10%

Dr. Cara Christ, Director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said Pima County was “very close” to the moderate phase Monday, with the last two weeks reporting a 9.1% and 9.7% positivity rate. The ADHS Business Operations Dashboard shows the level of community spread to provide information about business operations and occupancy. The dashboard does not look at the past two weeks due to potential lags in data.

“They have to meet all three metrics in either a yellow or a green to be considered in the moderate phase,” said Dr. Christ.

For one bar owner, the benchmarks are better than nothing with uncertainty over bringing back staff, service and a steady flow of revenue.

“It’s a move in the right direction, but it still doesn’t put us on a level playing field with other bars that are open to full capacity,” said Kyle Schwab, owner of Casa Marana.

Schwab was forced to close his taproom by the Town of Marana due to the series 6 liquor license he held, which was ordered to close under the Governor’s executive order. He has joined a lawsuit filed by several other Arizona bars against the governor’s order, alleging the governor didn’t have the constitutional authority to shut down any businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Instead of people dispersing to all the bars around town, they end up going to those bars that are open and open until 2 a.m. and not enforcing the executive order,” said Schwab.

During normal business hours, pizza is served at Casa Marana, so Schwab could apply to offer dine-in services, like a restaurant. It’s a new option that was announced Monday by the ADHS. Bars and nightclubs that transition to dine-in would be allowed to operate at 50% capacity at the moderate level.

Requirements for Bars and Nightclubs Providing Dine-In Services

For bars and nightclubs that don’t offer dine-in services, their doors will need to stay closed until the spread is minimal, or less than 3% positivity. At that point, those establishments can operate at 50% occupancy.

For gym owners, occupancy will be limited 25% when cleared to operate in the moderate level.

All establishments must practice mitigation strategies, including physical distancing, masks for everyone inside and proper ventilation.

“No, we’re not really optimistic about this,” said Schwab. “It’s not really a clear path forward.  So, we’re still hesitant where this is going to go.”

When a businesses in county do reopen, owners will need to fill out an attestation form. It will be automatically approved if the businesses is located in a county with a moderate or minimal level. Local health departments, law enforcement agencies and the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control will have the authority to enforce the requirements.

If a business is located in a county that has not reached the benchmarks for a moderate level, owners can file for a meeting with the ADHS to plead their case in reopening safely. State officials hope to hold those hearings within 15 days of the request.

Dr. Christ said the requirements and limits on occupancy will be in place for the foreseeable future in Arizona, possibly until a vaccine is available.

“We do know that getting to zero is going to take, it may be impossible, given COVID-19, at least until we get a vaccine and we do know these are high risk for transmission so that’s why we wanted to keep them at a lower occupancy,” said Dr. Christ.

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