Students gather on Mill Avenue during first days of dine-in services

A proclamation from Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell will require businesses to document physical distancing guidelines

With restaurants now able to host dine-in service, some students flocked to Mill Avenue to celebrate the reopenings, while others criticized those who left their homes for not following social distancing guidelines in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

One example is the large crowd that gathered at C.A.S.A. Tempe on Monday, prompting outrage on social media from some, with others defending those who went out, saying Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order has gone on long enough. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell issued a proclamation requiring businesses that file security plans, including all bars that serve food and all live-entertainment venues, to “document how they are ensuring physical distancing.”

“The city does not condone business activities that do not align with Governor Doug Ducey’s coronavirus-related Executive Orders or Mitchell’s emergency proclamations, and the city is working in good faith to communicate these orders to the public and enforce them,” the press release said.

Arizona issued new guidelines on May 4 for reopening businesses in the state. Restaurants and coffee shops were allowed to reinstate dine-in options on May 11, but are expected to "implement safety protocols and best practices, including enacting physical distancing policies, limiting the number of diners and following protocols as directed" by health professionals. 

Ducey commented on businesses with more lax social distancing guidelines Tuesday when asked at press conference.

“There's always going to be someone who’s more focused on themselves or not thinking through what’s in the best interest of their neighbor,” Ducey said. “But that’s not the majority of Arizonans. You’re just taking an example and wanting to amplify it.”

READ MORE: As Gov. Ducey allows gyms to reopen, ASU says SDFC will remain closed

Tempe Police responded to complaints about C.A.S.A. Tempe Monday night and determined "they were working within the parameters outlined per the governor's executive order as far as the number of patrons inside the business." Police officers requested for some tables to be further apart, which the business complied with, they said. 

Mitchell said that Tempe Police responded to a single establishment twice Monday evening, presumably C.A.S.A., and that if issues continue, a citation will be issued. If issues persist after that, establishments could lose liquor licenses, a Tempe press release said. 

“This did not meet my expectations for what it looks like to re-open safely and responsibly,” he said in the press release. “This is an opportunity to work together and educate people on what is being required of them during the COVID-19 pandemic so that we can all remain safe.”

Fat Tuesday and College Bar and Grill were among the businesses that opened on Mill Avenue Monday afternoon. Some of the street's other venues, including El Hefe Tempe, remain closed.

Online reactions

When images of C.A.S.A. Tempe started to circulate, people took to social media to express their disappointment in those who went out, citing current social distancing guidelines that recommend maintaining a six-foot distance and wearing masks and gloves when in public.

"Before it was even open people were already breaking social distancing ... but at least they were staying inside their homes," said Sukhmani Singh, a senior majoring in political science. "When one of the biggest bars in Tempe reopens on the day people graduated, obviously people are going to take advantage of that."

Some social media posts defended C.A.S.A. and those who visited, arguing that the guidelines released by the states are just guidelines, not mandatory rules. 

Other users said C.A.S.A.'s small patio made the venue look more packed than it actually was. 

One post on Twitter joked a potential second wave of the coronavirus would be caused by the crowds at C.A.S.A., while another called for restaurants reopening that are not following social distancing guidelines to be "shut down immediately." Another said that despite police claims that C.A.S.A. was adhering to the guidelines laid out, the photos showed otherwise.

Future of business

While C.A.S.A. did not reply to requests for comment, Fat Tuesday area manager Olivia Brincat explained their decision to reopen, as well as the precautions they are taking to stay safe. 

"We're a business," Olivia Brincat, the area manager for Fat Tuesday said. "If we don't reopen, having to close could be in our future."

Prior to reopening, Fat Tuesday was providing take-out options for customers, which only made up about 5% of their usual sales pre-shutdown, Brincat said.

The restaurant is only using about 20% of its seating with each table being spaced out by six feet, while also implementing an abundance of other health precautions to ensure the safety of all who dine-in, Brincat said. 

"Number one priority, hands down, is providing a safe space for employees and patrons," Brincat said.

Possible repercussions, future safety

Tempe Police said it will continue to "educate patrons and business owners" about the importance of social distancing to help them "adhere to the CDC guidelines."

Singh said that education is not enough, because if people see businesses, bars and restaurants opening up, they will assume everything is fine and stop taking precautions.

"We've been trying to educate people and they don't care," Singh said.

C.A.S.A. did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The State Press. 

At a Senate hearing today, national health officials highlighted the risks of reopening too soon. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the hearing that new cases will appear when you begin easing restrictions and that "the consequences could be serious" even if a state follows the guidelines laid out.

“This is an ongoing pandemic,” said Matthew Scotch, an associate professor of biomedical informatics at the College of Health Solutions and assistant director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at ASU. “My concern is that by doing these things we will potentially make things even worse than before we started social distancing.”

“We need to be steadfast in our commitment to social distancing, or we will be dealing with this for a long time,” Scotch said. “I really get the financial burden for businesses … but we need to look at the larger picture.”

If bars and restaurants are to reopen now, limits on how many people can dine-in need to be enforced alongside the wearing of masks for all employees and, ideally, customers, Scotch said. 

He noted that the state is not close to being ready to reopen until the caseload begins to go down and the state has better testing capabilities.

“It won’t be surprising when we look and the next month's numbers are going up,” Scotch said.

As of May 12, Arizona has 11,736 reported cases of COVID-19 and a reported 562 deaths total. The state reported 356 new reported cases and 20 deaths today, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services website.


Reach the reporter at wmyskow@asu.edu and follow @wmyskow on Twitter. 

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