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Arizona officials thinking about lifting COVID-19 restrictions

(AP File Photo)

PHOENIX – With metrics improving and vaccine distribution ramping up, Arizona public health officials are looking into lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

“It is something that we’re currently reviewing,” Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said Wednesday in Chandler during the launch of the fourth state-run mass vaccination site.

Christ said it’s too soon to say when changes would be implemented or what the first steps would be.

“We are constantly reviewing the data,” she said. “Our data is heading in the right direction and we are starting to look at if we were to lift mitigation strategies what would that look like.”

Many Arizona businesses were closed under Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order last June while coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surged across the state. The order covered bars, nightclubs, gyms, indoor theaters and water parks.

He followed that up in July by ordering restaurants to limit indoor dining to 50% occupancy.

The health department developed a system that allowed the closed businesses to reopen in counties where COVID-19 spread levels fell below certain benchmarks. However, they could only open if they followed COVID-19 mitigation strategies and limited capacity as specified by the state, which varied by business type.

By October, the impacted businesses in every county had been cleared to reopen, but they haven’t received clearance to operate at pre-pandemic capacity.

Without committing to anything, Christ said the state is “looking at potentially lifting some of those occupation limitations but keeping some of the mitigation strategies in place — the physical distancing, the disinfecting, the mask use when you’re out and about and around people that you don’t live with.”

On Tuesday, Texas announced that it was rescinding its mask mandate and lifting limitations on dining occupancy. The governors of Michigan, Mississippi and Louisiana likewise eased up on bars, restaurants and other businesses, as did the mayor of San Francisco.

Arizona never had a statewide face covering requirement, although Ducey allowed local jurisdictions to enact their own mask mandates, and many still have them in effect, including Maricopa County.

After spiking to record levels in January, Arizona’s coronavirus case and hospitalization numbers have plummeted to their lowest levels in months.

The state is closing in on 2 million vaccine doses administered, with nearly 18% of the population having received at least one shot.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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