Arizona Gov. Ducey announces extension to statewide bar, gym closure as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey held a news conference on the afternoon of July 23 as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have begun to level this past week.

The state topped 3,000 deaths from the coronavirus Thursday as Ducey faces a deadline to decide whether bars and gyms he ordered to close again a month ago can reopen safely.

The state Health Services Department reported 89 new deaths, bringing the statewide total since the outbreak began to 3,063. More than 1,000 of those deaths have been reported in the past 15 days.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

The state now has 152,944 confirmed virus cases, with an additional 2,335 reported on July 23. The number of actual infections in Arizona and elsewhere is thought to be much higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Despite Thursday’s milestone for deaths, an Arizona State University researcher said Wednesday that it is becoming clear that cases have plateaued in the state. That said, Dr. Joshua LaBaer of the ASU Biodesign Institute said the level is much too high to ease up on restrictions, especially bar closures.

"We need to keep what we are doing in place. We need to find ways to keep the economy going with these practices that are clearly working," Labaer said, adding, "If we let up now, it will go right where it did before and rise again but starting from a higher rate of new cases - so I would keep the pressure on."

Closure extended for gyms, bars

According to a news release posted on the website for the Governor's Office, officials announced that the following entities will continue to pause their operations:

  • Bars with a series 6 or 7 liquor license from the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. These entities can continue to provide take-out and curbside service.
  • Indoor gyms, fitness clubs or centers
  • Indoor movie theaters
  • Water parks
  • Tubing operators

"Businesses seeking to resume operations once the pause has expired must demonstrate compliance with public health guidance as determined by the Arizona Department of Health Services," read a portion of the statement.

According to an executive order issued in connection with the closure extension, the extended closure order will continue to be reviewed for repeal or revision every two weeks.

On June 29, Gov. Ducey ordered bars and gyms to close for at least a month as a surge in cases erupted in the weeks after he allowed a six-week stay-home order to expire in mid-May. The rise in cases made Arizona into a national hot spot and forced the governor to rethink his reopening orders.

Dozens of bars across the state sued the governor over the order, calling it unconsitutional and unfair since other businesses have been allowed to remain open.

Bars sue Arizona Gov. Ducey over executive order that forces them to close

A lawyer representing the bar owners says Gov. Ducey's executive order that forced the closure of bars in Arizona is not constitutional.

Closure extension a "crushing blow" to some businesses

Originally, the order to close bars and gyms was set to expire on July 27, and prior to Gov. Ducey's announcement on July 23, many businesses had hopes to be back open come Monday.

For Rodney Hu, who owns Yucca Tap Room, he still doesn’t understand what it has to do with him.

“I went into a restaurant a week ago was completely packed. Packed. No matches at all. How are they different than me?" said Hu.

Yucca Tap Room first pivoted to take out orders only, and they later poured money into virus protections, with measures like placing social distance signs and sneeze guards. The establishment had to close a second time following the second shutdown order.

Hu is determined to keep the 50-year family operation alive, but with the virus spread and vacillating situation - he has reservations about the future.

"I have bills to pay. I’m just taking it on personally. We don’t even have a business right now," said Hu. "We have November cash flow coming in."

For Meredith DeAngelis, who owns Village Health Clubs, the second shutdown a month brought on a second financial hit, and sent staff members packing.

“It’s difficult when you get shut down and you have to send employees home. Are you going to furlough them or are they going back on unemployment? How long is it gonna be? So that’s the stuff that so emotional," said DeAngelis.

The Valley’s four Village Health Clubs thought they had handled the heavy lifting: mandatory masks, sanitizer stations, temperature taking, and improving the air purification system. Since then, they’ve stepped up safety measures even more, and insists their clubs are safe and essential.

"The biggest thing we hope the Governor understands is the importance of the community staying healthy, and having places to work out is so important," said DeAngelis.

"Resources, flexibility and clarity" announced for school districts as start of school year approaches

During the news conference, Gov. Ducey was joined by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman as new measures, described by officials as "resources, flexibility and clarity," were announced.

According to a statement released by the Governor's Office, regardless of when in-person classroom learning will start, all school districts and charter school districts in Arizona will need to start teacher-led distance learning by the start of their traditional instruction calendar.

"For some districts that date lands in July; for others it lands in August," read a portion of the statement.

In addition, schools will continue to be required to provide 180 days of instruction or equivalent hours, whether a family chooses for their children to receive such instructions in person, or via distance learning.

AZDHS, according to officials with the Governor's Office, will develop and release public health benchmarks for the safe return in in-person, teacher-led classroom instruction. Local school leaders will make the determination on when to physically open for regular classes. 

Previously, Gov. Ducey ordered schools to delay in-person classes until mid-August, and was under pressure from both people who want schools open and those who believe it is not safe to do so.

State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman had previously recommended that schools reopen based on public health metrics, including a downward trajectory in new confirmed COVID-19 cases, a decrease in the rate of positive test results and the widespread availability of testing with timely results.

Meanwhile, parents as well as education union officials, spoke out on the Governor's latest announcement on classes.

"I just can’t really wrap my head around how we’re going to expect teachers and kids to follow guidelines, which, at this point and time, we don’t know what they are yet," said Chris Byrd. Byrd is a father of three children, two of whom have special needs.

Byrd says they’ll continue distance learning. He can’t risk the alternative.

"It’s a low risk to kids," said Byrd. "Low is not zero in my book."

Joe Thomas with the Arizona Education Association says they don't want to wait until the last minute to see the metrics that were talked about by Gov. Ducey.

"I think that was what was most frustrating is we waited a week and we didn’t get new information," said Thomas. "Now we’re going to wait two more weeks before we understand what August 18 looks like, and we’re having to plan for the school year."

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The head of the Arizona Dept. of Education has outlined metrics to determine when children should return to schools this fall amid COVID-19.

Gov. Ducey lauded achievements in COVID-19 battle, launched new ad campaign

During the news conference, Gov. Ducey lauded various achievements in Arizona's battle against COVID-19, including a lower amount of daily new cases following a peak in recent months.

In addition, Gov. Ducey said the state's R0 (pronounced r-naught) number is below 1.0.

During a portion of the news conference, Gov. Ducey announced that the state has launched a new effort in partnership with a number of ad companies to promote the use of masks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

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In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily