Gyms aim to open in Phoenix, Tucson as virus cases ebb

Gyms across metro Phoenix and Tucson are expected to reopen Aug. 27 as coronavirus transmission numbers in three major Arizona counties are likely to drop to moderate levels that allow them to restart their businesses.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said earlier this week that three large counties that include those cities should fall from “substantial” to “moderate” spread levels when the state releases its weekly metrics Thursday morning. The counties are Maricopa, Pima and Pinal.

Gyms aren’t waiting for the numbers to be posted, with many reopening well before the expected 9 a.m. posting.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Department of Health Services, said she expects the county will hit levels for “moderate” spread of the virus on that day.

That means gyms that have been seeking waivers from the department can reopen even without one at reduced capacity. Five smaller counties - Cochise, Coconino, Greenlee, LaPaz, and Yavapai - already are rated at “moderate” and other counties besides Maricopa could reach that mark this week.

State guidelines drafted by Christ’s department say gyms can reopen at 25% capacity once a county hits moderate transmission rates but must commit to implementing strategies to prevent the spread of the virus. Gyms are also urged to use a reservation system. Bars and nightclubs also can open at 50% occupancy levels, but only if they convert to restaurant service and implement stringent health department guidelines. Bars with no food service must remain closed.

Water parks and movie theaters also are allowed to reopen at 50% capacity once their county hits the moderate spread measurement.

Gyms, bars and nightclubs, movie theaters and water parks were ordered to close on June 29 by Gov. Doug Ducey as the state experienced a huge surge in coronavirus cases. As cases ebbed in late July the health department issued reopening guidelines for affected businesses. Daily case counts that once topped 4,000 are now regularly under 500.

Arizona is fast approaching 200,000 coronavirus cases. The number of infections is thought to be higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

Mountainside Fitness announces reopening plans

Mountainside Fitness, a Phoenix-area chain of gyms, has been sparring with Gov. Doug Ducey in court over his closure orders. The company announced that it would reopen its metro locations even though its waiver application with the Department of Health Services has not been approved.

Christ said on August 24 that Mountain owner Tom Hatten’s announcement wasn’t that far off — even though her department denied its waiver request Sunday. About 90 gyms and a handful of bars and theaters have won waivers.

“We believe Maricopa County is probably going to hit moderate on Thursday,” Christ said. “So they actually wouldn’t be out of line with saying they were planning on opening this week.”

The company issued a statement on August 25 saying it would reopen Thursday morning and called the department’s review “subjective.”

Mountainside won a court order requiring the governor to provide a way for closed businesses to apply for reopening. The state unveiled a plan Aug. 10 allowing gyms to apply to reopen at a limited capacity and with health precautions once the spread of the virus within their county is downgraded to moderate or minimal.

Some Arizona counties could reopen schools by Labor Day

Christ also said most of Arizona’s 15 counties appear on track to meet guidelines for partially reopening schools by Labor Day. Counties must meet three specific metrics, including a test positivity rate of 7% or lower, to reopen with hybrid instruction.

“I think there will be a couple of places like Yuma (County) that won’t reach that, but they can work with their local health departments,” Christ said. “I would imagine that Maricopa and Pinal and Pima in the next two to three weeks will be at the 7 or below the 7.”

Christ’s remarks came as Arizona nears 200,000 confirmed virus cases after state health officials reported an additional 859 new cases on August 25.

The new confirmed cases reported by the Department of Health Services bring total coronavirus cases in the state to 199,273. The department reported 21 new deaths, to a total of 4,792.


Arizona is continuing to see big decreases in hospitalizations, intensive care bed usage, and people with severe cases of COVID-19 needing ventilators to breathe.

Records the state collects from hospitals show just 999 people were hospitalized on Monday, the lowest since May 31. The state saw a surge of cases in June and July, hitting a peak of 3,517 people hospitalized on July 13. The use of ICU beds has also dropped significantly, with 319 cases on Monday, down from a peak of 970 on July 12.

New case and death reports have dropped since mid-July.

Christ said she is slightly worried that reopening schools, gyms, bars, and nightclubs may send a message that the battle over the virus is won and that people can ease up on safety measures. That is not the case.

“I think the one thing we need to remind people is it is not time to relax all of the great mitigation measures that we’ve been doing,” Christ said. “We still need masks, people still need to remain home when they’re sick, people still need to physically distance.

“And we’re going to be watching these as we now start to gradually open some of these businesses and things,” she said.

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

For most people, COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a few weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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

MAP: Worldwide interactive Coronavirus case data

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code


CDC: How coronavirus spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ

Arizona COVID-19 resources, FAQ:

On, you'll find extensive coverage about COVID-19, including breaking news from around the country, exclusive interviews with health officials, and informative content from a variety of public health resources.


Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.