Following an executive order by Gov. Doug Ducey March 5, some Arizona restaurants and bars are working toward increasing their capacities, while others are proceeding with caution and remaining at limited capacity.
The order announced occupancy limitations will lift for Arizona businesses including restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms, water parks and bowling alleys, but social distancing and mask requirements will remain in place.
Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said while he would not have made the same choice as Ducey to lift occupancy restrictions, he is not surprised by the order in light of declining COVID-19 cases and increasing vaccine availability. Woods said he is appreciative of Tempe businesses that are keeping their occupancies limited even after Ducey’s decision to roll back restrictions.
“The overwhelming number of businesses in the city of Tempe have behaved in a responsible fashion and have done everything they can to limit occupancy indoors,” Woods said.
He said if the decision to remove building capacity limits were up to him, he would have made the transition gradually.
“For me personally, I might have chosen to go from 50% to 75% occupancy and then later to 100%, but at the end of the day, the governor made the decision that he thought was best,” Woods said.
Despite the abrupt switch, Woods said he believed full capacity operation could be executed safely in Arizona.
“I have confidence that the business owners and operators here in the city of Tempe, even with the relaxed regulations, are going to continue to do everything with public health being top of mind,” Woods said.
According to ASU spokesperson Jay Thorne, the University will not change protocols in response to the loosened restrictions.
“There are no change to protocols at the University, at ASU, just in seeing face covering, people gathering in groups; all of those remain as they have been, so we're not making any changes at the University based on the relaxation in the executive order from the governor last week," Thorne said in a media briefing March 10. "Sun Devil Fitness will continue to be by appointment only, dining protocols will continue to be what they've been for the entire semester."
Molly Miller, a head coach at Tempe fitness studio Orangetheory, said although Ducey’s executive order allows the studio to double its class sizes, Orangetheory decided the safest option for members and staff is continuing to operate at 50% capacity.
“It's important we not just do what's best for the business, but do what's best for the community and the people we are serving within that community,” Miller said.
Ducey's order allowed businesses open at full capacity but encouraged businesses to still keep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended distance of 6 feet. The order did not give guidance on how to maintain the social distancing guidelines while open at full capacity.
Perfect Pear Bistro, a family-owned restaurant in Tempe, added two tables to its dining room in response to the order; however, the bistro is unable to operate at 100% capacity because the size of the dining room would prevent social distancing.
The restaurant's co-owner Chris Hove said his main priority is keeping his guests comfortable by respecting their wishes regarding COVID-19, but he is not opposed to Ducey’s order because it decreases government involvement in his business.
“The mandate allows businesses to cater to the guests and allows the guest to make the choice of what establishment they want to patronize based off of their level of comfort,” Hove said.
Four Peaks Brewing Company will also continue to operate at around 50% capacity and abide by the safety procedures they have in place. Trevor Schultz, general manager at Four Peaks, said he will only add tables to their dining room when he and his staff feel it can be done safely.
“We’re in no rush to begin to add tables,” Schultz said. “Our focus is staying healthy and keeping our staff healthy.”
Joshua LaBaer, executive director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, said in the March 10 media briefing he is concerned for people working in restaurants who are exposed to COVID-19 for their entire shifts.
"They should certainly get vaccinated as soon as they can," LaBaer said. He said restaurant workers should wear masks for their entire shifts and be tested regularly, as they are at risk of becoming infected.
"I would recommend getting tested once a week to monitor, to make sure that they don't get infected because, you know, for them it's an occupational hazard to be exposed to the virus all the time," LaBaer said.
Weekend editor Piper Hansen contributed to the reporting of this article.
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