As of right now, bars in nine of the state’s 15 counties can reopen.
But don’t expect them to look and operate the way they did before the governor ordered them closed in March.
No darts or pool.
And forget about wandering around in hopes of finding someone with whom to hook up.
Put simply, they have to operate more like a restaurant, complete with food. And the number of customers is limited to just half normal capacity.
The nine counties on Thursday all have achieved at least “moderate” status as far as the spread of COVID-19. And that permits not just bars but also gyms, fitness centers, movie theaters and water parks to reopen.
Only thing is, they have to agree to a laundry list of restrictions as state health officials say there still is a risk from the coronavirus. So for each of these businesses, the mission now is finding ways to open with limited capacity and limited activities and still make a living.
The counties at moderate are Apache, Cochise, Coconino, La Paz, Maricopa, Navajo, Pima and Yavapai.
And the infection rates in Greenlee County are so low that the Arizona Department of Health Services says they have achieved “minimal spread” status. That will give businesses there even more flexibility.
Pinal County did not make the cut as expected. State Health Director Cara Christ said a new set of test results received late Wednesday kept it in the category of “substantial” risk of spread.
Christ acknowledged that test results from inmates are included in the county’s tallies. But she doubted that these infections are what has kept the county from moving into the “moderate” category.
“They’ve had a pretty steady rate over the last three weeks,” she told Capitol Media Services, with no spike.
“My guess is that final bump was not related to the prisons,” Christ said. “It was likely related to something in the community.”
But Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, is questioning why inmates who test positive are even being considered.
He said counting positive tests among staff make sense.
“They’re out in the community,” Roberts said. But he said inmates are not, meaning they’re not able to spread the disease to other Pinal County residents.
Christ, however, said it’s not that simple.
“COVID is highly contagious,” she said.
“So if it is at a prison, the correctional officers are at-risk of getting it and taking it out into the community and bringing it back into the prisons, especially if you’re going with things like restaurants and bars and gyms where they may go when they are off,” Christ continued. “There are people that work in the prisons that do things in the community.”
It’s not just bars in these nine counties where bars will again be allowed to operate, albeit in a scaled-back fashion.
Gyms and fitness centers can also reopen their doors to half of the normal capacity, with requirements for other restrictions. Ditto movie theaters, water parks and tubing operations.
But traditional bars and nightclubs won’t be able to reopen as they used to operate until the county rate for positive tests comes back at 3%.
Still, there are current options for bars that can reconfigure how they do business.
The list of dos and don’ts is extensive. And it goes beyond the ban on dancing, singing and games.
It starts when people arrive.
The state wants at least 10 square feet for each person in the waiting area, with anyone in the queue required to mask up. Overflow has to go outside, even to the point of would-be customers waiting in their cars.
Customers can choose between sitting at the bar or a table with the obligatory six-foot distance between parties. But once someone is seated, that’s it — except to go to the bathroom. And that, in turn, requires putting back on the mask.
Salad bars and buffets where people can serve themselves are forbidden.
And customers are unlikely to find a bottle of ketchup on the table. It’s not a gourmet thing. It’s just that the health department wants single-service helpings, whether in packets or small bowls.
Even the experience of paying is likely to be altered, with staff required to wipe down any pens, touchpads or other hard surfaces between each use.
Gyms and fitness centers present a different set of hurdles. Here, too, it starts at the door with a requirement for customers to submit to temperature checks or at least be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.
They can operate only at 25 percent capacity except in Greenlee County where 50 percent is OK.
Masks are required at all times, along with physical distancing of at least six feet.
There can be classes for Pilates, Zumba and other fitness exercises. But expect to find lines on the floor to demonstrate where people can safely stand.
Theaters can fill up to half their seats — but only if they can do so by limiting groups to no more than 10, separating groups by at least six feet, and keeping every other row empty.
Customers should count on having to wear a mask other than while eating or drinking at a seat. And look for more time between shows to avoid crowds and allow better air circulation.
Water parks also can operate at 50 percent capacity, with distancing between deck chairs and other actions to keep participants apart.