Movie theaters, gyms reopening as state hits COVID benchmarks

Movie theaters, indoor gyms, some bars, water parks and other businesses in Pima and Maricopa counties were allowed to reopen last week after they reached certain benchmarks that indicated "moderate" spread of COVID-19.

The businesses were closed by Gov. Doug Ducey when the rapid and uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus put Arizona in the global spotlight.

ADHS Director Cara Christ praised Arizonans for working together to slow the virus' spread since mid-July. However, she warned business owners and Arizonans alike to stay vigilant, keep wearing masks and staying at home if sick to help keep the state's metrics trending downward.

"Businesses not complying with the required mitigation measures will be subject to strict enforcement," Christ wrote. "The Department will continue to partner with local authorities, county health departments, and other state agencies to ensure proper compliance and protect the health and safety of customers and employees."

With the green light, many gyms and some movie theaters announced plans to reopen.

Harkins Theaters reopened all of their Arizona locations with new safety and sanitation protocols last Friday, Aug. 28. For their celebratory opening weekend, Harkins screened new films like Marvel's "The New Mutants" and "Unhinged" with Russell Crowe, as well as a special 10th anniversary screening of "Inception."

New precautions require all customers and staff to wear masks. If you do not have a mask, one will be provided by the theatre. There will also be social distancing required through the facilities, staggered showtimes to reduce the number of customers in the lobby, sanitizer stations, air filtration systems and reserved seating in all theatres.

Tucson's Harkins Theatres are located at 5755 W. Arizona Pavilions Drive and 5455 S. Calle Santa Cruz.

Midtown Tucson's Loft Cinema announced that it would start screening movies outdoors on the side of the theater, with a limited number of tickets available. The Loft remains available to private rentals for groups of 10 or fewer people.

With the shuttered businesses allowed to reopen, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry expressed concern about mixed messages coming from the state and federal government regarding the reopening of businesses closed by Ducey's executive order.

In a memo entitled "COVID Confusion and Mixed Messages," Huckleberry pointed out that the White House Coronavirus Task Force had issued a report on Sunday, Aug. 23, that recommended mitigation efforts be increased in Tucson "to decrease continued community spread'; testing efforts be scaled up, "especially in Tucson"; and bar closures should continue and gyms should not reopen in Tucson.

Huckleberry said the state's guidance to allow businesses to reopen "directly contradicts the (White House Coronavirus Task Force) guidance."

Huckleberry also took issue with the recent CDC guidance that individuals who don't show symptoms should not be tested for coronavirus even if they have been exposed to someone who is COVID-positive.

Earlier in the week, Huckleberry released a memo warning the fight against COVID was far from over.

"In looking at the long view over the months since the pandemic started, we are not yet seeing any significant, sustainable decline in infections or deaths," Huckelberry wrote in an Aug. 24 memo. "This data, as reported by the Arizona Department of Health Services, will and has varied significantly from day to day. This daily fluctuation should not and cannot be interpreted as a trend."

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