As resistance to the extension of his stay-at-home order escalated among Republican lawmakers, protesters and others, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that restaurants, salons and barbers will be allowed to reopen in the next week, provided they implement physical distancing measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
At a press briefing on Monday, Ducey announced a second round of eased restrictions for his March 30 stay-at-home order, which shuttered Arizona businesses deemed non-essential, restricted when people could leave their homes and barred large gatherings.
Ducey said barbershops and salons can reopen on May 8. And restaurants will be allowed to resume dine-in service on May 11.
Those businesses will be subject to physical distancing and other requirements when they reopen.
Barbers and salons will have to operate at reduced capacity. Employees and customers will have to wear cloth masks. Physical distancing and new sanitation protocols will be required. And depending on occupancy levels, some may have to operate by appointment only.
For restaurants, the state will require physical distancing and will limit parties to 10 people or fewer, which is in line with Ducey’s stay-at-home order. Like barbers and salons, they’ll have to maintain physical distancing and sanitation requirements, and operate at reduced occupancy. They’ll also have to screen employees for symptoms for coronavirus symptoms before their shifts.
The governor’s order follows his announcement on April 29 that he would extend his stay-at-home order until May 15 while allowing non-essential retail businesses to reopen starting this week.
The remainder of Ducey’s order, dubbed “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected,” will remain in place.
The governor said results from a COVID-19 “testing blitz” that the state launched over the weekend showed that Arizona met guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and was ready to begin a more vigorous economic reopening process.
“This has been my North Star this entire time through this pandemic, and it will continue to be,” he said.
Those guidelines recommended that states not begin phased-in reopenings until they’d seen a 14-day decline in influenza- and COVID-like illnesses, experienced a 14-day decline in the percentage of coronavirus tests that were positive for the disease, and that states have enough hospital capacity to treat all patients without resorting to crisis care.
“It gives us the confidence to make some economic decisions safely,” Ducey said.
As of Monday morning, Arizona had confirmed 8,919 COVID-19 cases and 362 deaths from the disease since the pandemic began, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. While the state hasn’t seen anything resembling a sustained decrease in daily coronavirus infections, Ducey emphasized that Arizona has increased testing while decreasing the percentage of total tests that come up positive for COVID-19.
For the weeks of March 29 and April 5, 10% of all COVID-19 tests in Arizona came back positive for the virus. That number dropped to 9% for the week of April 12 and 6% for the week of April 19.
Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Department of Health Services, said the state received reports from about 6,500 tests over the weekend. She said there’s a four-to-seven-day lag in some reporting, and the state expects to receive any remaining results by mid-week.
Christ also said the state will also continue contact tracing for people who are infected with COVID-19. She noted that the federal government recently appropriated funding that the state will pass on to local health departments.
And Ducey stressed that hospitals have plenty of capacity for coronavirus and other patients, including plenty of intensive care unit beds and ventilators. Arizona hopes to avoid a second wave of COVID-19 infections, but Ducey said Arizona will be prepared if that happens, likely in the fall.
Ducey’s decision comes amid new protests at the state Capitol and anger among Republican lawmakers, some of whom had pledged to vote for a proposed resolution that would rescind the emergency declaration Ducey issued in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That would also scrap the stay-at-home order and other executive orders Ducey has issued under the authority of that declaration.
Two sheriffs, Pinal County’s Mark Lamb and Doug Schuster of Mohave County, said they won’t enforce the governor’s order. And protesters have held several rallies at the state Capitol to voice their objections. Some of those opponents have also launched a recall campaign against Ducey.
The governor, however, said opposition to the public health measures played no role in his decision.
“Zero. I would really push back on what has changed in terms of data,” Ducey said.
However, advocates of rolling back Ducey’s emergency declaration weren’t swayed by his announcements on Monday.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who initially proposed a resolution in the state House of Representatives, wrote on Twitter that she plans to move forward.
“I stand in solidarity and continue to work to obtain the necessary votes to pass the resolution as soon as possible. We were told to wait and hear the good news from the Governor. My constituents cannot wait until May 11 and will be out of business permanently,” Townsend said.
And Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who plans to sponsor the Senate version of the resolution, said Ducey’s latest policies haven’t dissuaded her, either. Many businesses still won’t be able to open, she said, and those that open will be subject to onerous restrictions.
“I think it’s too little, too late. This is what he needed to say at his last press conference. The rules are still arbitrary,” Ugenti-Rita told Arizona Mirror. “Businesses are not going to be able to survive with government breathing down their necks with rules and regulations.”
The state has approved more than 500,000 claims for unemployment benefits in the past seven weeks, while the Arizona Department of Economic Security had rejected about 175,000 claims as of April 30.
Although most Republican lawmakers were unhappy about Ducey’s announcement last week, proponents of the resolution didn’t have enough votes to overturn the governor’s emergency declaration. And Ducey’s announcement that the restrictions would be further eased seem likely to diminish enthusiasm for the resolution.
Nonetheless, Ugenti-Rita said she still wants a vote.
“This is about putting it on the board of truth. Our constituents want to know where we stand on re-opening Arizona,” she said.
It remains to be seen exactly when lawmakers will return to the Capitol. House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann aborted plans to adjourn sine die amid widespread opposition from Republican legislators, many who still have bills they hope to pass before the legislative session ends. It seems nearly certain that lawmakers will also have to address a major budget shortfall, currently projected at about $1.1 billion, caused by the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.
Ugenti-Rita said she isn’t sure when lawmakers will go back to the Capitol, and that discussions are underway.
Ducey’s latest easing of the lockdown measures follow last week’s announcement that retail establishments will be allowed to open fully on Friday. Last week, hospitals and other health care providers were permitted to resume elective surgeries and medical procedures.
***UPDATED: This story has been updated with additional information.