Arizona businesses actually can apply to reopen despite COVID-19 metrics
PHOENIX – When Arizona officials released COVID-19 benchmarks for when businesses forced to close can reopen, the state included an alternate application process for locales where the metrics haven’t been met.
While the benchmarks grabbed the headlines, the appeals process for businesses closed under Gov. Doug Ducey’s June 29 executive order — fitness centers, bars/nightclubs, indoor theaters, water parks and tubing – wasn’t highly publicized.
“But there is the opportunity for them to potentially open earlier,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Friday.
The process is detailed at the end of a 24-page document released Monday by Christ’s agency titled “COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses.”
The guidance defines three stages of community spread: minimal, moderate and substantial. The stages are based on three metrics: coronavirus cases per 100,000 population, positivity percentage of PCR tests and percentage of hospital visits for COVID-like illnesses.
It also lays out the details of how each type of business can reopen on a limited scale once counties have met all benchmarks in the moderate and minimal stages for two consecutive weeks.
Businesses must also attest to implement required mitigation strategies, which vary by industry, before opening once the benchmarks have been met.
But there’s more to the guidance. The document also shows how a business can apply for reopening while its county is still in the substantial spread range.
Christ discussed the process Friday while talking about water parks, which can open at 50% capacity in counties in the moderate or minimal spread range while following the set requirements.
“What they do is they tell us what they are going to implement above and beyond those requirements to keep it safe,” she said.
“Potentially one of the options could be, ‘We will open but we will only open at 25% capacity, we will test all our employees before the come back and we will have intense cleaning protocols.’ It would depend on what they presented to the department.”
The process, which is described in a flow chart in the guidance document, applies to all businesses subject to the closure order.
A business in a county in the substantial spread range can start its appeal by requesting an informal settlement conference with the Department of Health Services.
The conference, where the business will lay out its proposal, will be held within approximately 15 days of the request.
If the department approves the request, the business can reopen after posting the list of its promised health strategies in a conspicuous place.
If the request is denied, the business must remain closed but has the option of appealing to the state Office of Administration Hearings.
If the business is unsatisfied with the appeal ruling, it can appeal to superior court, the final step in the flow chart.
When the benchmarks were released, the state said the data dashboard showing where each county stands will be updated each Thursday.
Yavapai and La Paz were the only counties in opening range to start, but La Paz fell into the substantial range and Cochise joined Yavapai in moderate under the data released Thursday.
Maricopa County met one benchmark in the initial report and first update.
When the benchmarks were rolled out Monday, Christ said Maricopa County might not be far off from the opening range.
“We believe that Maricopa is just a couple weeks off from being in the moderate range,” she said. “If they are not in the moderate range, it will not let them submit that attestation, and it will give them their due process rights and tell them how to move to the next step, immediately.”
Bars/nightclubs have yet another pathway resume operations.
Bars with series 6 or 7 liquor licenses that convert to restaurant-style service can open at 50% occupancy when county conditions are in the moderate range.
However, bars with those licenses that have traditionally operated as restaurants — a state official used Postino as an example — are allowed to open at 50% capacity once given clearance by the liquor licensing board.
Bars and nightclubs that don’t operate as restaurants must remain closed in the moderate range but will be allowed to open at 50% occupancy when a county reaches the minimal range.