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Ducey rescinds COVID-19 occupancy limits for businesses; mask rules still in effect

Businesses react to Pima County requests to lower capacity .jpg
Posted at 12:15 PM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-06 12:54:00-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Arizona businesses will no longer need to limit the number of people indoors, Gov. Doug Ducey announced Friday.

In a new executive order, the governor is rescinding requirements for businesses to remain at 50 percent of their maximum capacity -- a rule that has been in place in Arizona since at least July 2020.

Ducey's executive order does not, however, let mask requirements expire in the state. While the governor never issued an explicit statewide mask mandate, masks are required in counties above a certain level of community spread -- as determined by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Right now, that includes all 15 counties in the state.

READ: Gov. Doug Ducey's full executive order lifting capacity requirements

The executive order also permits spring training and major league sports to operate in Arizona, after their plan to safely do so is submitted to and approved by the AZDHS.

Local leaders of counties and cities are still precluded from enacting measures that are in opposition to the statewide rules.

The governor cites declining case numbers and the continued vaccination efforts across the state as the reasoning for his decision.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year,” Ducey said in a news release. “Our businesses have done an excellent job at responding to this pandemic in a safe and responsible way. We will always admire the sacrifice they and their employees have made and their vigilance to protect against the virus."

RELATED: 'Seeing positive trends': AZDHS director on relaxing occupancy limits

Ducey's relaxation of mitigation measures follows those of other states across the country, including Texas and Mississippi -- who relaxed all capacity requirements and even rescinded statewide mask policies.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, criticized the new policies in those states and called for vigilance.

"I don't know why they're doing it, but it certainly from a public health standpoint is ill-advised,” Fauci told CNN. “If you look at right now, the curves of the diminution of infections that are going down, it's reached the point where the last seven days it's plateaued."

RELATED: Fauci: States' decisions to lift mask mandates 'inexplicable,' 'ill-advised'

The governor's executive order comes on the same day the Centers for Disease Control released a study that found dining at restaurants was linked to a 1.1% increase in the case growth rate 81-100 days later.

The study also looked at mask policies, and found an even stronger correlation between mask usage and decreased numbers of cases and deaths.

Despite the new policy, Ducey stressed the need for vigilance on some health measures in his statement Friday.

“Today’s announcement is a measured approach; we are not in the clear yet," he said. "We need to continue practicing personal responsibility. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay home when you’re sick and wash your hands frequently."

On Friday, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry released a statement in response to Ducey's order of relaxing business capacity.

“The Governor’s Executive Order today relaxes occupancy limits for restaurants and bars and supersedes County limits passed by the Board of Supervisors in May, 2020, and as amended in July and December. I will ask the Board of Supervisors to modify the county’s operational rules and guidelines for restaurants and bars at the next Board meeting. All of the other requirements of the Board’s Proclamation, as amended in December, 2020, remain in effect. It’s worth noting that today’s action by the governor restores occupancy limits similar to what the Board had imposed in May, allowing for occupancy greater than 50 percent if distancing could be maintained. In order to match the state’s more restrictive requirements, the Board of Supervisors modified operational rules and guidelines for restaurants in July, to include the tighter occupancy limit.”