Contributed Photo: Businesses such as movie theaters, gyms, and bars have been given a set of mandatory benchmarks counties must meet prior to reopening.
Gyms and movie theaters could possibly re-open soon if numbers continue to decline, threshold harder for bars
By Jon Johnson
PHOENIX – On Monday, Governor Doug Ducey released mandatory benchmarks for previously closed businesses that counties have to make before those businesses will be allowed to reopen.
Unlike the benchmarks for in-person learning, the ones governing reopening certain businesses are mandatory, however, businesses can appeal rulings through an attestation process.
Ducey previously issued an executive order on June 27 pausing the reopening of specific businesses “with operations considered by public health to have a high-risk of spreading COVID-19, specifically gyms and fitness centers, bars and nightclubs, waterparks and tubing, and movie theaters.”
The order was extended July 23 and it was announced it would be reviewed every two weeks. Now, in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), Arizona has adopted the benchmark plan of reopening based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the White House Coronavirus Task Force and “expert advice from the medical and public health community.”
According to Ducey’s release, benchmarks are listed in the number of cases, percent positivity, and COVID-like illness. The benchmarks are broken down into three categories: substantial (more than 100 cases per 100,000 population, greater than 10 percent positivity, and greater than 10 percent COVID-19 illness) moderate (10 – 100 cases per 100,000 population, 5 – 10 percent positivity, and 5 – 10 percent COVID-19 illness), and minimal (less than 10 cases per 100,000 population, less than 5 percent positivity, and less than 5 percent COVID-19 illness).
The following graph lists when closed businesses can possibly reopen, with all of them remaining closed when the county the business is located in remains in the “substantial” section for any of the three benchmarks. All three benchmarks must be met for 14 days, with a 12-day reporting lag period to move from a higher transmission phase to a lower one. While gyms, movie theaters, water parks and tubing are allowed to open at 25 percent occupancy for gyms and 50 percent occupancy for the other businesses while counties are in the “moderate” rating, bars and nightclubs without a food establishment permit will have to remain closed until counties are in the “minimal” rating. However, bars and nightclubs with a food establishment permit will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent occupancy under the “moderate” rating if they have been converted to restaurant service under ADHS mitigation requirements. All industries must implement safety protocols and guidelines prescribed by ADHS and must submit an attestation form to ADHS stating they are in compliance. According to the ADHS, the use of masks in the businesses will be a requirement of the safety protocols. Links to the various protocols can be found here.
According to ADHS data for the weeks of July 12 -19 and July 19-26, Graham County had 243 and 238 cases per 100,000, respectively to be listed in the “substantial” rating. For those same two weeks, the positive test rate was 12.5 percent and 19.6 percent, respectively, to again place Graham County in the “substantial” rating. Hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses were trending downward, however, and were 7.9 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, for the same two weeks to place Graham County in the “moderate” rating. Those numbers indicate Graham County has only made one benchmark to the moderate level.
However, the most recent daily percentage for Graham County as of Tuesday was a 9.5 percent positive rate and the last two weeks have seen a decrease from 94 positive tests in a week to 59 for the last week. Graham County will have to see the positive test results dip below 40 per week to get out of the “substantial” rating.
“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” said Graham County Health Department Director Brian Douglas. “That is a substantial decline from about 94 down to 59. And then next Sunday we’ll see where we are at. But we’re into this week two days with only 11 cases, so that’s a good sign. We’ll see what the rest of the week brings.”
Greenlee County had been at the “minimal” level for all three areas until recently. According to ADHS data for the weeks of July 12 and July 19, Greenlee County had 9 and 109 cases per 100,000, respectively, to be listed in the “substantial” rating. For those same two weeks, the positive test rate was 1.8 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively, to place the county into the “moderate” rating. Hospital visits were on the decline and were 7.9 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively, for the same two weeks for a “moderate” rating. With the small population of Greenlee County (about 10,000), each new positive test can drastically alter its case ratings.