Gyms, bars that convert to dine-in food service, and theaters in Maricopa County have received the all-clear to open today — albeit with serious restrictions on their capacity — and people are flocking back.
One Facebook commenter said he'd arrived at the Paradise Valley Mountainside Fitness at 4:15 a.m. and there were already dozens of cars outside.
"That was the busiest 4:30 a.m. I’ve seen in years between Indian Bend and [Paradise Valley]," another replied.
The change in policy comes as the county has reached the "moderate" stage of COVID-19 spread as measured by state benchmarks. The numbers used are on a two-week lag to account for processing delays.
Currently, Apache, Cochise, Coconino, La Paz, Navajo, Pima and Yavapai counties are all in the "moderate" stage. Greenlee County has reached the "minimal" stage.
Under the state guidelines, gyms and fitness centers have to keep their capacity at 25 percent, and indoor movie theaters, water parks and bars that convert to dine-in food service must keep capacity at 50 percent. Businesses must also submit a legally binding document to the state that testifies they are following state health guidelines such as screening employees, requiring masks, and ensuring physical distancing of customers.
The Arizona Department of Health Services also announced today it is deputizing local health departments to investigate potential violations of those requirements. Complaints can be submitted online or at 1-844-410-2157.
The benchmarks for reopening came after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled at the beginning of the month that the governor's order shutting down businesses where people congregated lacked specifics.
The fitness chain Mountainside Fitness spearheaded that lawsuit. James Jones, the manager at Mountainside's Ahwatukee location, said that everything has been going smoothly so far. People have been understanding and excited to be back, he said. Plus, no more running outside in 115-degree heat.
"With a facility this size — 40,000 square feet — social distancing is easy," Jones told Phoenix New Times.
Not everywhere is opening immediately. Brooke Pilch, the general manager at Octane CrossFit in Phoenix, said they're waiting until Monday to open while staff get equipment ready and prepare the space for physical distancing. Each workout attendee will receive their own equipment and designated box to stay in during classes, she said. The doors of the old garage the gym is housed in will be left open for ventilation.
"I think the pandemic opened a lot of people's eyes [to] that they're not going to do their workouts at home by themselves," Pilch said.
Pilch added that the gym had been holding workouts in its parking lots, but was limited by the heat and the amount of nearby shade, depending on the time of day. She said she plans to offer a few more classes during the day and hopes to regain the quarter of the business's customers who didn't return after the first shutdown.
"I don't know if we could withstand a third shutdown," she said.
Some businesses, such as gym chain EōS Fitness, had already received permission to open by agreeing to go beyond the state requirements and reduce capacity to only 10 percent. Now, they can increase that capacity.
Others previously approved by the state remained closed Thursday. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Chandler was cleared to open last week, but a phone message today said they were still closed and offered no information about re-opening.
While the current guidelines allow bars or nightclubs that have converted themselves into dine-in establishments to open at 50 percent capacity, regular bars will not be able to re-open until the percent of positive tests in the county drops below 3 percent, which it has not done since at least April. On Tuesday, members of the bar industry rallied at the capitol, challenging that restriction.
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