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Gov. Ducey limits Arizona restaurant occupancy to 50% of capacity

(KTAR News Photo/Kevin Stone)

PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday ordered restaurants to limit occupancy to 50% of capacity as the state grapples with rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

“The objective here is if you are going to eat inside, to make sure there are as few people as possible inside that establishment,” Ducey said during a press conference. “So you are safer at home. If you are not at home, you are safer outside. If you are not outside and you are going to go inside, you want to be in places where you can limit the number of people.”

He said the policy, which will be based on occupancy limits as set by the fire code, was made in consultation with restaurant industry leaders.

The order goes into effect at 10 p.m. Saturday and will be reevaluated every two weeks.

In addition to the capacity cap, the order says restaurants must provide at least 6 feet between parties at different tables or bar tops unless they are separated by plexiglas.

The order also says all buffets, cafeteria-style restaurants and self-serve food bars must be closed.

The move comes 10 days after Ducey ordered closures of Arizona’s bars, fitness centers and other businesses where COVID-19 is believed to spread easily and hours after the state reported that its pandemic death toll had eclipsed 2,000.

The Republican governor initially limited restaurants to delivery and takeout service March 20. Other businesses where physical distancing was difficult or impossible were also ordered closed at that time. He then issued his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” order, which went into effect March 31.

Retail shops, hair salons and barbershops that followed new health guidelines were allowed to reopen May 8 as the state began reopening its economy.

Ducey then gave clearance for restaurants to resume table service starting May 11, and he let the stay-at-home order expire May 15.

By the end May, coronavirus cases had started to spike.

After maintaining total control over state’s response since the start of the pandemic, Ducey gave local governments the authority to implement face mask requirements on June 17.

The same day, he announced additional operational requirements for restaurants, mandating the use of face masks by some employees and strengthening social distancing protocols.

But the virus continued to spread at an alarming rate, prompting the June 29 order to close bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and water parks for a month, and then Thursday’s decision to limit restaurant occupancy.

New cases have been increasing in Arizona at a faster rate than testing has been increasing, indicating community spread of a virus that has no impact on some people and is seriously debilitating or fatal for others. Infected people who don’t show symptoms are still capable of spreading the coronavirus.

The week of May 10, 5% of the state’s PCR tests for active COVID-19 infections came back positive. That rate has increased every week since then and was up to 23% for this week as of Thursday morning.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 4,057 new COVID-19 cases and 75 more deaths Thursday, increasing the state’s totals to 112,671 cases and 2,038 fatalities. The state had totals of 11,736 COVID-19 cases and 562 deaths on May 12, the day Ducey said he’d let the stay-at-home order expire later that week.

The overall number of hospitalizations and the percentage of inpatient beds filled in Arizona reached pandemic highs on Wednesday, according to the latest state report. Bed use climbed to 87% with 6,899 inpatients, an increase of more than 100 over the previous high reached a day earlier.

A pandemic-high 3,437 of the inpatients were confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, 49.8% of the total.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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