The executive order announced this afternoon suspends the occupancy restrictions Ducey had placed on those establishments over the summer.
Under the ranking system developed by state health authorities, every county except three — Santa Cruz, Yavapai, and Yuma — is considered to have "substantial" spread of COVID-19. Previously, that would have meant that the types of establishments Ducey listed in his order would be closed. But Arizona Department of Health Services head Dr. Cara Christ decided to disregard the "substantial" category, so they are operating as if they are in the moderate category — which means 25 percent occupancy for gyms, 50 percent for movie theaters and water parks, and 50 percent for bars converted to dine-in service.
Now, they may discard those restrictions, as long as they also maintain physical distancing between groups, disinfect public spaces, require mask use, and follow other mitigation measures.
“We’ve learned a lot over the past year,” Ducey said in a press release. “Our businesses have done an excellent job at responding to this pandemic in a safe and responsible way. We will always admire the sacrifice they and their employees have made and their vigilance to protect against the virus."
Arizona is currently averaging around 1,200 cases of COVID-19 a day, but Ducey pointed to the steady decrease in cases since the winter peak and the progress of the vaccination effort. Data from Arizona State University shows that average cases have actually ticked up slightly over the last two days, and experts say the state has not vaccinated anywhere near enough people to make a significant difference in slowing the spread of the virus.
Ducey's move comes as other conservative governors reconsider COVID-19 mitigation measures. Earlier this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate and announced that all businesses would be able to operate at full capacity next week. National COVID-19 adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci called the move "inexplicable."
Ducey did not go as far as Abbott: He still encourages mask-wearing and "personal responsibility." The reduced restrictions are sure to be a boon to restaurant operators, who have been struggling to make ends meet with reduced capacity.
The executive order also explicitly allows spring training and other major sports to operate with approval from the Arizona Department of Health Services.