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Pima County closes bars, stops dine-in food over COVID-19

Pima County will shutter bars, gyms and other gathering places, and end dine-in service at restaurants to limit the spread of coronavirus after an emergency vote of the Board of Supervisors on Thursday.

A proclamation of a state of emergency closing down bars and other venues and limiting food service was approved on a 3-2 party-line vote.

All three Democrats — Chairman Richard Elías and Sups. Sharon Bronson and Ramon Valadez — voted in favor. Republican Sups. Steve Christy and Ally Miller voted no.

The special meeting — which was closed to in-person public attendance and delayed for more than an hour due to problems with a live-stream meant to ensure that residents could follow the discussion — approved measures to be undertaken by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

The measure applies only to areas directly under the authority of the county — it is not effective inside the city of Tucson, or other municipalities such as Marana, Oro Valley, Sahuarita or South Tucson.

Under an amendment proposed by Valadez, any further actions under the state of emergency must be approved by the full Board of Supervisors, thus limiting the power that could otherwise be used by the chairman under state law.

The proclamation by the supervisors closes all bars, cinemas, theatres, gyms and other fitness facilities, bowling alleys and all other indoor entertainment centers, and limit all food service to carry-out and delivery only. The measure will be in effect beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday and run at least through March 31.

"These are extraordinary times," said Elías on Wednesday. "We need to make sure we have the authority to do what needs to be done to keep people as safe as possible."

Miller questioned why there was a need to declare a state of emergency. Huckelberry told her and the rest of the board that the move "makes us eligible for an aid offered by the state or federal governments" to fund the county's response to coronavirus.

"This is an emergency; I don't know how anyone can say otherwise," Bronson said during the meeting, which she attended by phone.

Officials are also examining the options of extending the declaration to cover the entire county, including towns like Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita that have not instituted specific restrictions on gathering places.

According to Huckelberry, who informed the supervisors during the meeting, Marana is moving to further extend its measures, also closing bars and limiting restaurants.

Christy questioned why the county couldn't follow the lead of those towns, and urge voluntary measures by bars and restaurants, rather than closing down businesses like the city of Tucson, calling them "very good models."

The county proclamation is "extremely harsh and draconian," the Republican supervisor said. "Literally this order is shutting down our community."

From the proclamation:

The Board orders that effective March 19, 2020, at 8:00 p.m. and continuing until March31,2020 at 11:59 p.m.;

a. All restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffeehouses, retail food facilities, and other similar businesses and establishments located in unincorporated Pima County,including those housed within or on the same properties as hotels and similar establishments, are prohibited from serving food and beverages for consumption on premises.

Members of the public are prohibited from entering premises subject to this section and remaining on site to consume food and/or beverages.

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Businesses and establishments subject to this section that offer food and beverages for on-premises consumption are encouraged to offer food and beverages using delivery service, window service, drive-through service, or drive-up service, and to use precautions in doing so to mitigate the potential transmission of COVID-19, including social distancing.

In offering food or beverages, a business or establishment subject to this section that does not have the ability to offer window, drive-through or drive-up service may permit members of the public on its premises for the purpose of picking up their food or beverage orders.

"Delivery service," for purposes of this section, includes room service at hotels and similar establishments.

b. The following businesses and establishments located in unincorporated Pima County are hereby closed to use and occupancy by members of the public:

i. Bars, taverns, brew pubs, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries,tasting rooms, special licensees, clubs, and other similar businesses and establishments offering alcoholic beverages or spirituous liquor for consumption on-premises.

ii. Theaters, cinemas, and indoor and outdoor performance venues,

iii. Museums.

iv. Gymnasiums, fitness centers, recreation centers, indoor sports facilities, indoor exercise facilities, exercise studios, yoga and barre studios, and other similar facilities.

v. Bingo halls, bowling alleys, indoor climbing or jumping/bouncing facilities,skating rinks, and other similar recreational or entertainment facilities. This section does not prohibit a proprietor, employee, contractor, vendor, or supplier of a local business from entering, using or occupying that place of business in their professional capacity.

Violation of the county restrictions will be a class 1 misdemeanor.

Valadez noted during the meeting that "for the first 14 days, without knowing it, you can be contagious — spreading it to others."

"We understand there's going to be some damage," Valadez said, adding to the measure a directive to county staff to develop a "Pima services plan" that would have government workers who are otherwise unable to undertake their daily duties due to shutdowns to tackle community services such as delivering groceries and medicine to the elderly, working with local nonprofit organizations, and helping communicate health and safety information.

That could "mitigate some of the effects," he said. "We understand there's going to be damage" to businesses and jobs, he said.

Elias questioned the need for the plan at this point, saying that the emergency may not last long enough to implement it.

Valadez acknowledged that, but pressed its inclusion.

"Let's buy ourselves these two weeks, and try to keep our community safe," he said.

The laundry list of potential activities was included in the measure.

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The supervisors voted on a pair of intertwined measures: a declaration of a state of emergency that allows the county to apply for federal and state disaster funding and enables it to proclaim restrictions under that emergency, and the proclamation itself, outlining many of the restrictions being imposed.

The supervisors took those items out of order after some tangled discussion, first adopting the proclamation on a 3-vote. They then returned to the previous agenda item and adopted the emergency declaration unanimously

"COVID-19 is growing exponentially," said Bronson, speaking to TucsonSentinel.com on Wednesday. "We have to protect health and safety."

Bronson said the county is reviewing its options to expand the emergency restrictions to cover those towns that haven't yet closed bars and restricted food service, "if we have the statutory authority."

The city of Tucson proclaimed a similar set of emergency restrictions Tuesday night. While other area municipalities — including the towns of Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita —declared states of emergency and made recommendations about social distancing, they did not use their powers to close bars and end dine-in service at eateries.

Marana is reportedly moving to align its restrictions with Pima County and city of Tucson

"We also have to come up with an action plan for rural areas," Bronson said Wednesday, mentioning in particular access to food and medicine.

Under the county's proclamation, members of the public are prohibited from entering restaurants and other food service facilities to consume food or beverages. Pickup/take-out and delivery of food will still be allowed.

The closure order also covers breweries and distilleries, theatres and cinemas and outdoor performance venues, museums, gyms, bowling alleys and other recreational and entertainment facilities.

Not affected are grocery stories, pharmacies and drug stores, food banks, cafeterias in health care facilities, banks and credit unions, and vendors at the airport.

The order also encourages churches to limit gatherings and observe social distancing guidelines.

"For these types of things to have any effect, they should be applied throughout the entire outbreak," said county health chief Dr. Bob England.

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"When we slow the spread, that means it lasts longer," he said, noting that a flattening of the curve allows health authorities and hospitals more time and ability to help patients.

The outbreak may last for 18 months "or more," England told the supervisors, which would possibly mean "time to get a vaccine."

"How long until people can't pay their rent," Miller asked rhetorically. "Do we believe that is necessary at this point?"

"We're a little premature with this kind of action," said the District 1 Republican.

Legal authority

Under state law, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, like mayors, has the power to declare states of emergency and close certain businesses, impose curfews, and declare areas off-limits.

The county proclamation authorizes officials to limit face-to-face interactions between county staff and members of the public; limit public access to government buildings and facilities — including service counters and lobbies, and limit public attendance at Board of Supervisors meetings.

Elías and Huckelberry on Tuesday ordered the immediate cancellation of all meetings of county boards and commissions, except the Board of Supervisors, Board of Health, and Planning and Zoning Commission.

Huckelberry also shut down the county's library system.

44 coronavirus cases in Arizona, 7 in Pima County

Forty-four Arizonans have now tested postive for COVID-19 as the pandemic continues Thursday and the number of people being tested in the state increases.

The number of known cases grew overnight, up from 28, as more tests are being run after weeks of limited access.

There are now 44 total cases diagnosed in the state, with officials expecting many more to be found. New cases were confirmed in Pima County on Thursday morning, bringing the total here to 7.

Just 331 people have been tested by the Arizona Public Health Laboratory, while private labs coming online are not reporting the total number of tests to state officials. Prior to Tuesday, the state lab had tested 221 patients suspected of carrying the virus. The state lab has now ruled out 175 people with negative tests.

Statewide, there have been 44 positive results, with 130 pending tests at the state lab, as of Tuesday morning.

Sunday, just 183 people had been tested, with 12 positive cases and 50 pending tests.

One of the Pima County cases is a patient at the Tucson VA hospital, who was diagnosed on March 14 and is still be treated in isolation by the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.

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The supervisors meeting was closed to the public on Thursday.