Arizona eases bar restrictions on games – but no dancing

Arizona eases bar restrictions on games – but no dancing

Karaoke is back at your local bar.

So are pool and darts. Also video games and pinball.

And you can even participate in axe throwing if that’s your thing.

But leave the dancing shoes at home. For the moment, Arizona remains a dance-free zone.

The changes come as the state Department of Health Services has decided that these activities, which have been forbidden for months under the COVID-19 emergency restrictions, can now be conducted – if certain precautions are taken.

There was no immediate response from the health department to questions about why the sudden change in what’s allowable.

But nothing in the risks from the virus has changed substantially since at least August according to the agency’s own “dashboard” which determines the restrictions on business. In fact, the percent of tests for the virus that have been coming up positive actually is showing an upward trend.

What has changed is that Gov. Doug Ducey and state DHS Director Cara Christ are defending themselves in court against a lawsuit brought by more than 100 bar owners charging that their rules are unlawfully discriminatory. That is because restaurants have been able to open and operate pretty much normally now for months, albeit with some occupancy limits, while bars face additional hurdles not only to open but, if they do, to the kinds of traditional activities that have brought in customers.

Attorney Ilan Wurman, who represents the bar owners, told Capitol Media Services that none of these changes will end that lawsuit. He said there are still unjustified restrictions on how his clients can do business, particularly in comparison to what some places licensed as restaurants have been able to do.

But Wurman said they will make a difference.

“It’s a huge deal,” he said.

For example, he said, some of his clients were promoting special nights for pool or darts tournaments, even though those contests didn’t generate a lot of cash themselves.

“But no one was showing up to have a drink,” Wurman said, without the “draw” of the games.

Still, things won’t look exactly the way they did before the governor enacted his emergency restrictions in March.

Take karaoke.

The person with the microphone has to be at least 12 feet away from the closest customer. Health officials have said that things like singing tend to project moisture particles farther than the normal six-foot “social distancing” barrier.

But with plexiglass dividers in place, six feet is acceptable.

Microphones have to be disinfected or changed out between customers.

And while it may interfere with hitting some of those high notes, participants have to keep their masks on.

More interested in a game of pool?

That, too, is now OK, but with a maximum of four players for a table and no one else gathered around. There has to be that six-foot physical distancing between the players and other game areas. And if players don’t have their own equipment, everything else needs to be disinfected between each group’s use.

Arcade and video games have their own set of rules, with just two players to a machine – and no spectators or cheering section behind them. There also are the physical distancing requirements, whether it’s the six feet of space or closing off every other machine.

Plus, of course, masks are mandatory.

The new rules also account for bowling and even axe throwing, with only the active participant permitted to be out of his or her chair and a limit of no more than 10 players and observers.

And if you have your own bowling ball – or axe – please bring it.

The rules are set up pretty much so that those who are not participating in any activity are supposed to remain seated except to play or go to the bathroom. Standing, mingling and dancing remain off limits.

In fact, the rules say if there is a dance floor it has to be closed off to the public or “repurposed” for more seats to allow greater social distancing among patrons.

Arizona has not actually been game-free all this time. Wurman pointed out that some enterprises that sell alcohol but are licensed as restaurants, like Dave and Buster’s, have had arcade games all along.

What this does, he said, is level the playing field and allow facilities licensed as bars to compete head-to-head.