Maricopa County businesses inch toward lighter COVID-19 restrictions

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The Phoenix area is slowly inching toward a wider phase of business reopening, but it remains at least two weeks from that milestone — and probably longer.

It was status quo for Arizona’s counties in Thursday’s update of the COVID-19 business benchmarks.

For the second consecutive week, 14 of Arizona’s 15 counties were in the moderate or minimal spread stages — the levels required before businesses closed in June under executive order can resume operations.

Those businesses — indoor gyms, bars operating as restaurants, theaters, water parks and tubing operators – in Graham County must remain closed because coronavirus spread there is still classified as substantial.

Maricopa, Pima, Mohave, Coconino, Navajo, Apache, Yavapai, Pinal, Santa Cruz, Cochise, La Paz, Yuma and Gila counties have been in the moderate stage. The impacted businesses there have been permitted to reopen under capacity restrictions and while following other health safety requirements that vary by industry.

Greenlee County has been in the minimal stage, which means the capacity limits there have been raised for certain businesses.

Spread stage is based on benchmarks in three metrics that must be hit for at least the two most recent weeks of data, which is updated each Thursday on the business dashboard.

The benchmark data updated each week is at least 12 days old to account for lags in reporting, ensuring that assessments are based on accurate statistics. Therefore, the latest update covers the weeks starting Aug. 30 and Sept. 6 (through Sept. 12).

The moderate spread range is defined as 10-100 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, a PCR test positive percentage rate of 5-10% and a rate of hospital visits for COVID-like illness of 5-10%.

Minimal spread is defined as fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 residents, a positive test rate below 5% and a hospital COVID-like illness rate below 5%.

Maricopa County is in the minimal range for percent positivity and hospital COVID-like illness rate.

However, metro Phoenix is moderate for cases per 100,000, although that metric has improved each of the two most recent weeks. It was down to 32 the week of Sept. 6, the lowest mark recorded on the dashboard, which starts with the week of June 28.

Cases per 100,000 would have to fall below 10 for two consecutive weeks for Maricopa County to enter the minimal stage.

Indoor gyms and fitness centers are permitted to operate at 25% of capacity in the moderate range and 50% of capacity in the minimal range.

Bars and nightclubs that offer dine-in restaurant service can operate at 50% of capacity in both the moderate and minimal ranges.

Indoor theaters are limited to 50% capacity in both the moderate and minimal ranges.

Water parks/tubing operators can operate at 50% capacity in both the moderate and minimal ranges.

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