As the governor rethinks reopening Arizona’s economy, local business leaders are concerned state-level restrictions may complicate their recovery in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.
Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday issued an executive order, imposing new restrictions on some types of businesses because the novel coronavirus continues to spread unabated.
“As part of continued efforts to reverse the trend of COVID-19 spread in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey today signed an executive order to prohibit large gatherings, cease the issuance of new special event licenses and pause the operations of bars, gyms, movie theaters, water parks and tubing rentals,” the governor’s office stated in a June 29 press release.
The move comes just 45 days since the expiration of Mr. Ducey’s March 19 executive order, which limited restaurants to serving only takeout and delivery customers, and called on residents to shelter in place.
While those restrictions may have taken a break since Mr. Ducey allowed his previous order to expire on May 15, mounting evidence suggests the viral outbreak just kept growing.
Based on data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, the number of tests conducted daily during March and April hovered around 1,500 to 2,000. But Since May, that number has grown quickly and steadily, with 15,000 to more than 20,000 patients being tested daily by mid-June.
And while increased reporting of confirmed cases may be linked to increased testing – as demonstrated by graphs depicting a corresponding rise in both categories – the ever-shrinking availability of intensive care hospital beds and respirators clarifies the concern.
The use of ventilators has grown from 233 units representing 21% of statewide capacity as of March 28; today, 773 respirators are in use, consuming 45% of current capacity.
Likewise, 741 coronavirus patients were laying in ICU beds as of March 26, taking up 62% of statewide capacity; today, 1,435 patients account for 86% of available beds.
While the governor hopes to slow the spread, local business owners – some of whom have only recently reopened their doors – worry stricter social distancing guidelines, if reinstated, could hurt their already vulnerable operations.
Jason Feinberg has operated the specialty women’s boutique Sher’s Clothing since 1995. With locations in Surprise and Sun City, his clientele base draws heavily on area senior citizens.
After the March order, he closed up shop, only to reopen after it expired in May. While closing again would likely be bad for business, the health and safety of his family, staff and customers will always come first, he said.
“I agree with the governor actually,” Mr. Feinberg said. “We are very strict and won’t let anyone come in without a mask. This is serious and we all need to do whatever we can to stop the spread.”
Those working at Sher’s take their temperature at the store every day before starting their shifts. All employees wear a mask and gloves and customers are not allowed inside without a face mask, he said.
“I hope the cases start to go down. It’s scary,” Mr. Feinberg said. “I know several people personally that have it. Yeah, it would be hard if we had to close down, but if it’s best for the whole and will save lives, we will close again.”
He said one benefit of his stores’ nearly six-week closure is it gave him time to focus on other ways to improve business, such as focusing on mail-order business through his website, which he recently relaunched.
The site, shersclothing.com, features a new, interactive design to better display his wares for would-be online shoppers; while his expanded product line includes a variety of designer face masks, some adorned with rhinestones.
Izabela Kozlowski, co-owner at I & J Fountain Restaurant in Surprise, said her business has seen ups and downs this year.
“Business is very unpredictable right now,” Ms. Kozlowski said. “We will have a couple better days and we think, ‘OK, things are starting to look better,’ and then the next two days, we will be very slow. There is really no pattern. Dine-in is definitely doing better than to-go orders.”
Back in March, when they closed for dine-in service, their takeout business saw an unprecedented surge. Since reopening, however, dine-in business is still slower while takeout orders have also declined.
Regardless, she and her business partner remain optimistic and accepting of measures aimed at protecting the public, she said.
“My husband and I continue to reflect on how fortunate we are to be open, especially as a small business,” Ms. Kozlowski said. “However, we understand why such precautions are put into place by the governor. Through this pandemic we are ensuring we are doing our part to flatten the curve and will continue taking precautions as they are ordered.”
Ed Cunningham, who owns and runs a Firehouse Subs location in Surprise, shared the concerns and said his employees are taking all precautions now, even if they are unpleasant.
But he and his employees won’t try to tell his customers what to do.
“I don’t like wearing a mask and I doubt very many people do,” Mr. Cunningham stated in an email to Daily Independent. “But we will wear them at my restaurant as well as continue to set the bar high with our level of sanitizing. That is the little bubble that I have control over. I will not, however, charge my employees with the responsibility of policing our customers.”
He said it’s the state’s job to enforce it’s mandates.
“In my opinion, a government mandate is the governments job to enforce, should they choose to do so,” he added.
Social distancing and personal protective equipment requirements have led to a passionate outcry from those who expect total adherence — as well as those who resent and refuse requests to comply, leading him to take a hands-off approach to those outside his employ, Mr. Cunningham stated.
“I will not subject my family of employees to the meanness that seems to be such a popular choice for people these days,” he explained.
“I cannot tell you how many mean, vicious and vile messages that I have received from people on all sides of the arguments. No matter their words, my reply is always the same: We respect your right to choose to visit our establishment during these odd times. With that respect we will do our absolute best to serve the highest quality product in the cleanest and safest environment that is humanly possible. Your choice for your own health will be respected whether you wear a mask or not.”