During a call with business leaders from across the state and northern Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey said he is counting on businesses to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 as the state opens up.
Over the course of the last week, gyms, movie theaters, casinos, pools, salons and in-person dining at restaurants have all been allowed to reopen. At the same time, the state has pushed to drastically increase the amount of testing for COVID-19 in Arizona.
“I said on our last call, I think you have a patriotic duty to open up safely and successfully, and I’m also asking for your help inside your industry to hold yourselves accountable and your customers accountable as well as your peers in the industry,” Ducey told business leaders during a call on Thursday. “Part of the idea around social and physical distancing is that we don’t increase the spread of this virus and I’m asking for your help in doing this. You are going to determine the success of this economy and I’m counting on you.”
As the state continues to reopen, Ducey said he expects tourism to pick back up in the coming weeks. On Friday, Grand Canyon National Park partially reopened, with a more comprehensive opening coming later in the month.
And all that means it’s even more important that businesses follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
“I think there's going to be a lot of people that are soon going to be fleeing California and Illinois and they're all welcome at your properties and the properties at the other folks who are on the line,” Ducey said. “Please make sure again that there's good behavior, that people are safe and that there’s good optics so that we don’t give the media the story they’re looking for.”
Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said this past weekend, the city had already started seeing an influx of visitors and in-state tourists.
That's good for the mom-and-pop shops that are so important to Flagstaff’s economy, Evans said, but concerns over whether the state has done enough to keep the virus from spreading remain. And she said she worries that the proper measures are not in place.
For example, Evans said she would like to see the governor mandate masks be worn in public, as has been done in New Mexico, and for clear guidelines enforced for open businesses.
“If we had stronger messaging with stricter guidelines -- I mean, right now in northern Arizona the COVID numbers are increasing. You add to that in-state tourism, you add to that international tourism,” Evans said, adding she worries where doing the opposite may lead.
“It would be horrible for our state to be the next New York City,” Evans said. “How horrible would it be for our tourism and how horrible would it be for our economy to open a newspaper or turn on the news and see that Arizona, because we did not open in a way that was clear about safety of citizens and visitors, that we're now a hot spot. If we’re going to do something, we should do it right.”
During the call, Ducey told business leaders that come September and October, the virus may see a resurgence, but said that is just one more reason it is so important to instill the proper practices and habits now and carry those through the summer and into the fall.
Coconino County Epidemiologist Matt Maurer said so far, as testing increases, the percentage of positives they are finding drops both within Coconino County and statewide. But while about 6% of tests come back positive statewide, in Coconino County that number is closer to 15%.
As of Friday, there were 789 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Coconino County, up 24 from Thursday, and 62 deaths. However, the county also added 307 negative test results on Friday, bringing the total to 4,367.
Considering the two- to 14-day incubation period of the virus, Maurer said it could be a few weeks before we see the effects of businesses reopening. At that time, the county will be able to view trends in numbers of new cases, just as it did following the initial business closures.
“We’re starting to relax these interventions and closures and open back up, but it does not mean we don’t have any transmission of this illness happening,” Maurer said. “Not packing people into a small area is still super important.”
Liz Archuleta, who chairs the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, said because the percentage of cases returning positive results is still so high, the county is encouraging residents to continue taking precautions through educational campaigns. Evans said the City of Flagstaff plans to do the same.
“I know people are really anxious to get out and really enjoy the beautiful weather we're having and just begin to go out to some of their favorite places; however, we want people to know that it's still important to [be cautious],” Archuleta said. “Our public health department is recommending strongly to continue to wear the masks, wash your hands often, wear gloves and to do social distancing.”
“We’re not clear of the COVID-19. It's still a major public health crisis in our county,” she added.
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