Maricopa, Navajo and Pima Counties reach COVID-19 benchmarks, allowing for business re-openings

Arizona's two largest counties have reached a major milestone in the fight against COVID-19.

On August 27, Maricopa and Pima Counties met the benchmarks for reopening some businesses -- showing the state has moved from "substantial" to "moderate" spread.

This means bars, gyms and theaters would be allowed to reopen at reduced capacities.

Pinal County failed to meet the metrics for reopening, a surprise because Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said earlier this week that it had also been expected to see a decrease in cases.

Six of 15 Arizona counties remain in the higher category where gyms, bars, nightclubs, and water parks can’t reopen without a state waiver.

Many gyms weren’t waiting for virus numbers to be posted, reopening well before the expected 9 a.m. posting.

One that opened before sunrise has been in a protracted legal battle with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey over his business closure orders. Mountainside Fitness had vowed to open on August 27 with aggressive precautions regardless, and patrons lined up before dawn to work out.

The reopenings occurred even as the state surpassed 200,000 virus cases. State health officials reported 680 new cases, bringing the total since the pandemic hit to 200,139. It also reported 33 new deaths, bringing that total to 4,929.

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.

Arizona is also seeing steady decreases in hospitalizations, intensive care bed usage, and people with severe cases of COVID-19 needing ventilators to breathe. Just 895 people were hospitalized for the virus Wednesday, down from a mid-July peak of more than 3,500. The number of intensive care beds occupied by virus patients is now at 311, the lowest since May 21, and ventilator use was at 176, down from a July 17 peak of 687.

Business owners say that something is better than nothing when it comes to remaining closed.

LIST: Arizona businesses that have been approved to reopen

Hundreds of businesses have been applying to reopen, but are getting denied by the state. But, it seems the state's own guidelines will give the go-ahead for business to open back up once counties reach the benchmark.

The Yucca Tap Room in Tempe has been running on suds and scraps for several months, laying off employees and pivoting to delivery and take out.

All of it seeming somewhat unfair to the owner.

"Our customers will say, 'I’m able to go down the street to the Olive Garden and whatever restaurant and we’re just hanging out drinking there all day long,'" owner, Rodney Hu said.

Finally, he sees some light at the end of the tunnel.

Maricopa and Pima Counties met the moderate transmission benchmark over the past two weeks, meaning under 100 cases per 100,000 people with a positivity test rate below 10%.

“I think the credit really goes to Arizonans wearing masks when they’re out, staying home when they’re sick and practicing good hand hygiene. We couldn't have done it if it was it wasn’t for compliance on those type things," said Dr. Cara Christ, Director of Arizona Department of Health Services.

Bars, gyms and theaters can reopen under several restrictions -- for bars, it’s 50% capacity -- masks, social distance, increased cleaning and employee temperature taking, will also be required.

The community is encouraged to keep an eye on these establishments, making sure they follow health protocols.

“If we go in and somebody’s putting the public health in danger we can immediately shut them down. However, we regulate a lot of different businesses. We do try to bring them into compliance before we have to take that type of action," Christ explained.

Christ says if Arizonans stop doing those things that got us here, the masks and social distancing, we could very well go back to the “substantial spread” category.

If you see an establishment breaking the rules, you can report it to your local law enforcement agency or state health department either online or by phone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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.

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