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Businesses in Maricopa, Pima counties OK’d for partial reopening

The spread of COVID-19 in Maricopa and Pima counties has slowed to the point where bars, gyms and movie theaters that have been closed by gubernatorial order can partially reopen, while K-12 schools are closer than ever to meeting the recommended guidelines to resume full in-person instruction.

Arizona's two most populous counties are now deemed to have "moderate" community spread of the novel coronavirus, as opposed to "substantial" spread. The new data was released Thursday, when the Arizona Department of Health Services updated its weekly county-by-county numbers.

That means gyms, movie theaters and some bars can partially reopen. Gyms can reopen at 25% capacity, while theaters and bars that have converted to mostly restaurant service can operate at 50% capacity. Both types of business must take state-mandated measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Bars that don't have food establishment permits still must remain closed.

The benchmarks for reopening businesses that Gov. Doug Ducey ordered closed by executive order in July are based on three criteria: COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, the percentage of tests that come back positive, and hospital visits that are for COVID-like illnesses.

Public schools use similar benchmarks. But if a county doesn't have two consecutive weeks with fewer than 100 COVID cases per 100,000 people, they can use the alternate metric of having two straight weeks of decreasing total cases. And unlike the guidelines for businesses, which are mandatory, the benchmarks for schools are non-binding and are only recommendations.

Maricopa and Pima counties are close to meeting the recommended guidelines for in-person instruction at K-12 schools, but will have to wait at least one more week before they meet all three criteria. Both have two consecutive weeks of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people and less than 10% of all hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses, but only have one week of less than 7% testing positivity.

The most recent figures for Maricopa County — due to reporting lags in some metrics, the state uses numbers from two weeks ago — show 59 cases per 100,000 people, 6.1% of all COVID tests that are positive, and 5.1% of all hospital visits that are for COVID-like illnesses. Pima County has 89 cases per 100,000 people, 6.2% testing positivity and 2.5% of hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses.

Apache, Coconino, La Paz, Navajo and Yavapai counties all have "moderate" community transmission of COVID that allows for partial business reopenings as well. Cochise, Gila, Graham, Mohave, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties all have at least one metric indicating "substantial" community spread, meaning bars, gyms and movie theaters must remain closed.

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Only one county, Greenlee, meets all the metrics for "minimal" community spread, which allows bars, gyms and theaters to reopen further, though not completely.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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