PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday he'll let gyms and public swimming pools reopen and will allow his stay-at-home order to expire this week as he continues easing the painful restrictions he imposed on businesses and individuals to tamp down the coronavirus outbreak.
Gyms and pools, among the last remaining facilities that have not been allowed to operate, can open their doors on Wednesday if they follow recommendations from health officials. The governor also invited professional sports to resume without fans.
He warned, however, that lifting the restrictions does not mean a return to a normal way of life from before the pandemic, and he said social distancing is still important.
“This is not a green light to speed," Ducey said. “This is a green light to proceed, and we’re going to proceed with caution."
Ducey's stay-home order was set to expire Friday, and he said he won't renew it. The announcement eliminates the threat of criminal penalties for people taking unnecessary trips away from home, but it's still largely symbolic because he has already carved out a lengthy and growing list of activities that were allowed despite the order. Last week, he allowed the re-opening of retail businesses, salons and barber shops; restaurants were allowed to open their dining rooms on Monday.
Movie theaters and bars must remain closed.
Ducey said lifting his stay-home order is safe because of a declining rate of cases, even though it would be expected to decline since the state opened testing to people who aren't showing symptoms. He also cited sufficient hospital capacity and a growing ability to test people and trace their contacts.
State health officials reported 20 additional COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, raising the reported total to 562. There have been at least 11,736 recorded cases since the start of the outbreak, though the actual number of people infected is likely much higher because many with mild symptoms don't seek testing and many who did were turned away for months because of a supply shortage.
The governor also announced plans to test all residents and staff at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, some of which have seen severe outbreaks among vulnerable residents living in close quarters.
Several Arizona casinos have announced plans to reopen as early as this week after about two months of silent slot machines, empty card tables and closed doors. Many expect to implement new sanitation measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
The state Department of Gaming said the closure of each casino had been decided individually by each sovereign tribal nation.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
In other developments:
— The Arizona Department of Economic Security said people who received jobless benefits between Thursday and Monday did not get the additional $600 weekly payment included as a temporary measure in federal coronavirus legislation. The missed payments will go out between Wednesday and Friday, said spokesman Brett Bezio. He said the program “requires a lot of complicated coding.”
— A Glendale nursing home has had at least 38 residents test positive for COVID-19 with at least seven deaths, officials said. Cases so far have been limited to the skilled nursing unit of Glencroft Center for Modern Aging, which also has independent living.
Glencroft also had 31 employees test positive though 15 returned to work after twice testing negatively, spokeswoman Mille Oakson said.
— The state court system is being told to plan to transition back to in-person proceedings beginning June 1. An administrative order by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel told courts to resume in-person proceedings where possible but to also continuing to hold some hearings virtually.
Staff and visitors will be required to wear masks, staff will undergo health screenings, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask will be denied entry to the courts, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.
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