PHOENIX - Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has issued an executive order ending occupancy limits on businesses, signaling a transition into a new phase of COVID-19 mitigation in the state.
"Today, I’m issuing an Executive Order that expires occupancy limits on businesses in Arizona, while preserving the distancing and masking mitigation measures that our businesses have successfully implemented in this pandemic," Ducey said in a statement on March 5.
Capacity limits will be lifted on restaurants, gyms, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys and bars, according to Ducey.
His announcement comes as more than 1.3 million people have been vaccinated in the state against the coronavirus, while cases have plateaued in the last few weeks.
While occupancy restrictions on businesses will end, physical distancing and masking guidelines will remain in place.
The order also allows spring training and major league sports to take place in Arizona while still preventing local mayors from issuing orders that would shut down businesses.
"Like the rest of the country, Arizona has made its way out of the winter surge of cases. And we are leading the nation in the vaccination rollout. Our mitigation strategies have been targeted and data driven," Ducey said. "Today’s announcement is a measured approach; we are not in the clear yet. We need to continue practicing personal responsibility. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay home when you’re sick and wash your hands frequently."
Ducey also issued an order on March 4 requiring Arizona schools to offer in-person learning by March 15 or after spring break.
Reaction to Gov. Ducey's announcement differ
On the first night after Gov. Ducey's announcement, hundreds of people have packed into restaurants and bars in Old Scottsdale.
"I think it’s a great idea. I think it is time to open up and move on," said Aleksandr Yasnogorodskiy of Gilbert.
"Like, you feel like you have more freedom now," said Lisa Mavrides
Mavrides spent a night out at restaurants like Farm and Table, and the busy crowds were a stark contrast to her hometown in Pennsylvania.
"Since I’m visiting from Pennsylvania, with Arizona being less strict, it’s really refreshing and I feel like things are gradually going back to normal," said Mavrides.
Dr. Shad Marvasti with the University of Arizona says a return to normal is not realistic yet. He feels that getting rid of capacity limits when many are still unvaccinated and new strains are emerging will only prolong the pandemic.
"Taking away the capacity restrictions basically increases the chances that this can spread even more through our community, so I think it is premature," said Dr. Marvasti.
As physical distancing and masking guidelines will remain in place, some, like Dickie landrido, say they'll still feel safe.
"Just bring out your mask," said landrido. "It’s not just respect for yourself. It’s respect for others."
Statement from the Health System Alliance of Arizona Regarding the Expiration of Capacity Restrictions:
"Our health systems are committed to the health and well-being of our community. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have focused on providing quality patient care, slowing the spread of COVID-19, and partnering with state and local governments to launch vaccination efforts. Just like many in our community, we want life in Arizona to return to normal as soon as possible. In order to do so, we must work collectively based on the advice of public health experts.
"The COVID-19 mitigation strategies throughout the state are reasonable and evidence-based. Now is not the time to relax our mitigation efforts; we must stay the course to ensure that our vaccination efforts can outpace the spread of the virus."
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