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Ducey lifts stay-home order, allows gyms to open

PHOENIX — Come midnight Friday, Arizonans will no longer be living under a stay-at-home order.

Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday that the state has reached certain milestones which suggest a downward trend in COVID-19 outbreaks. He said he is now comfortable in allowing the order, issued in March, to expire.

Ducey also announced that pools, spas, gyms and fitness centers both public and in hotels and apartments, will also be allowed to open immediately. And, beginning Saturday, major league teams are welcome to start playing their games here.

But for the moment, the stadiums and arenas will have only the players and staff. No spectators will be allowed, though Ducey said he believes the conditions of the pandemic in Arizona actually are safe enough here to permit people in the stands.

One key figure the governor is using to support his decisions is a decline in the percentage of tests for the virus coming back positive. At one point the rate was in the 10% range; the most recent figures are at 5%.

Only thing is, the initial tests performed for months in Arizona had been only of those who showed symptoms of COVID-19. That was done at least in part because of limited testing supplies.

In the past few weeks, however, state Health Director Dr. Cara Christ has allowed testing of all who thinks they may have been exposed. By definition, that increases the pool of those tested to include more who are less likely to have the virus.

Ducey reacted angrily to questions about whether relying on those declining positive tests is a mistake.

“I’m not going to allow you to manipulate the metrics that have been presented,’’ he said.

The health department reported 356 new cases Tuesday, bringing the statewide total to 11,736. The death toll is now at 562, including 20 new reports.

Testing criteria aside, questions remain whether the decision Tuesday by the governor to allow his directive to expire will have any effect.

On one hand, the existing order already allowed people to travel, including to go to any business that the governor has allowed to open. And even before Tuesday, that even included not only the grocery and department stores that always were exempt but also mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, bars and beauty parlors.

Conversely, the governor acknowledged freedom to travel does not mean that Arizonans will be comfortable in returning to their pre-pandemic activities.

But Ducey, who mentioned more than once his desire to reopen the state’s stalled economy, made it clear that he believes Arizonans should be making decisions based on all he said he and his administration have done to deal with the problem and not other factors — like news reports of about the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t address people to feel safe by what they see on the evening news,’’ he said.

“I would like them to feel safe by following the decisions that we’ve made over the course of time to protect public health, to ramp up what was necessary to disperse these large groups, the information that we have that shows the slow of the spread of this disease, and how we, as a state, working together, on each problem in its turn, have solved it,’’ Ducey continued.

But actually getting people out, back to work and spending their money, he said, is out of his control.

“What an Arizonan decides to do is up to them,’’ the governor said. “I just want them to have the responsible and accurate information in which to make that decision.’’

His focus, Ducey said, is on those who are not the most vulnerable to the virus.

“If you choose, it is safe to go out,’’ the governor said.

That still leaves the question of what happens if more people mingling in public results in an uptick in infection. In fact, both he and Christ said they did not know whether the virus has peaked in Arizona.

But Ducey said the state is more prepared than it was two months ago.

“We’re smarter today,’’ he said.

“We know much more,’’ he continued. “We know where the vulnerable populations are.’’

That category includes those who are 65 and older and with underlying health conditions. Ducey said that’s why there will be more testing of both residents as well as staff at nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities.

And the governor said he is not ready to lift his prohibition against outside visitors to residents living there.

Along the same lines, Ducey had some advice for the most vulnerable.

“The best practice they can have is to stay at home,’’ he said. “They should avoid returning to work where distancing is not practical and every precaution should be taken.’’

He also praised the Arizona residents who have practiced physical distancing.

“Please continue it,’’ he said.

For businesses, Ducey advised continued social distancing, protective equipment, temperature checks where necessary and contact tracing.

Separately, Ducey acknowledged reports that about 160,000 Arizonans did not get the full amount this week they are owed in unemployment benefits. But he said there’s a good reason for that.

“There has been a complete crush on the system,’’ the governor said, with more than 500,000 people seeking first-time benefits since the beginning of the pandemic and since he issued his stay-at-home order and restricted what kinds of businesses could remain open. “The system has been overwhelmed.’’

But Ducey said that everyone who is owed money will get it — eventually.

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CG salons and barbers adjust to new life amid pandemic

CASA GRANDE — Salons and barbershops are back in business and throughout Casa Grande, chairs are full as customers return for services.

“We’ve been fully booked since reopening,” said Quinnie Hua, owner of Salon Organic.

Salon Organic reopened Friday with professional aestheticians and nail technicians resuming the salon’s services, which range from eyelash extensions and professional waxing to body treatments and nail care.

“The employees were happy to come back and the clients are happy too,” Hua said.

Salons and barbers were allowed to reopen on Friday in a limited capacity after a weeks-long state-mandated closure aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But as customers return, they’ll notice a few changes aimed at complying with new state rules.

At family-run Frank’s Barbershop, which for 18 years served primarily walk-in customers, those needing a haircut must now make an appointment.

“Some of our customers have been coming here for 18 years,” said Stephanie Garcia, a barber who runs the barbershop started years ago by her father.

Her son, Joshua Johnson, is currently in barber school and will begin working in the barbershop soon.

“Customers who have never had to make an appointment have to get used to making an appointment before coming in,” Garcia said.

Customers will be seated at least 6 feet apart in salons and barbershops. In Salon Organic, stations and furniture have been rearranged to comply with the new rule.

At Frank’s, seating in the barber chairs will be staggered to allow an empty chair between customers.

Cleaning has also been ramped up at various salons and barbershops.

“Even when we were closed, our employees were coming in to totally disinfect the salon,” Hua said. “We now do a lot more cleaning between customers.”

An additional 15 to 20 minutes is now scheduled between appointments to adjust to the cleaning measures at Salon Organic.

But Hua said cleanliness and hygiene have always been important to the salon.

“We were cleaning a lot already so the extra cleaning isn’t a difficult adjustment,” she said. “But we now have more time for cleaning, and it seems like we’re cleaning non-stop.”

While the salon was closed, employees at Salon Organic underwent special training to learn enhanced cleaning techniques.

“We weren’t required to do the extra training, but we took it on ourselves because we know how important it is,” Hua said.

Customers, she said, seem to like the changes.

“I think they are more relaxed,” Hua said. “They seem to like all the things we are doing to keep them safe.”

At Frank’s Barbershop, customers also seem happy with the changes, Garcia said.

Barbers at the shop now wear a face mask and gloves and customers are also asked to wear a mask as well. About half of the customers comply with the request, Garcia said.

“We want to do everything we can to keep our customers safe, and we’re taking every possible precaution,” she said.

The barbershop now disinfects with a hospital-grade cleanser and takes extra steps to clean chairs and other parts of the facility.

“With all the extra cleaning it was a struggle at first, but I think we’ve gotten into the groove of it,” Garcia said.