Tempe joins Phoenix, Tucson in closing bars, restaurant dining rooms




    Marina Heights, along Tempe Town Lake, at nighttime. Photo by Robertbody | Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

    Tempe is the latest city in Arizona to ban restaurants from dine-in service and to close bars, fitness centers and entertainment venues in an effort to mitigate the growing coronavirus outbreak. 

    Tempe joined Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff in closing bars and limiting their restaurants to takeout, delivery and drive-thru services. It is unknown how long the restrictions will last.  

    The ban does not affect essential businesses such as pharmacies, grocery stores and food banks.

    Tempe’s announcement comes a day after the Tempe City Council declared a citywide emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    “This decision comes with a heavy heart for those affected in our community, but I know this is the right decision because safety and stemming the spread of the coronavirus is the number one priority,” Mayor Mark Mitchell said in a statement. 

    Mitchell said Wednesday that he would not order the closure of restaurants and bars, but changed his mind after ‘thoughtful consideration’ with health professionals and business owners. 

    There are currently 44 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Arizona as of Thursday. There have been no deaths reported in the state, but the number of cases is expected to exponentially grow in the coming weeks. 

    There are now more than 10,000 reported COVID-19 cases and 150 deaths in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also confirmed that COVID-19 has now spread to all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

    Arizona has yet to order restaurants and bars from closing statewide, despite pressure from health officials and Congress members, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, to act quickly. 

    Gov. Doug Ducey ordered the closure of schools statewide – after dozens of school districts acted to suspend instruction – but has yet to extend it to businesses. At a media briefing Thursday, Ducey left the door open to doing so. 

    “We’ll make the appropriate announcements at the appropriate time… I’m going to be guided by the facts and the situation on the ground in the state of AZ,” he said, adding that the state’s policy thus far has been to follow CDC guidelines.

    The CDC has said that people shouldn’t dine in at restaurants or eat in food courts. The Arizona Department of Health Services is advising people to do the same, but is also encouraging restaurants that keep their dining rooms open to practice social distancing by leaving at least six feet of space between diners.

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    Wissam Melhem is a journalism and political science senior at Arizona State University. He was a Washington, D.C., correspondent for Cronkite News at Arizona PBS and a political reporter for State Press. He hopes to one day have a career covering national elections and the U.S Congress.