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Apocalypse Chow 

Bars and restaurants face an uncertain future in the age of social distancing

On Tuesday, March 17, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero ordered all city restaurants and bars to provide only takeout service and shuttered gyms and other places where people congregate through the end of March.

This means all local area restaurants would be prohibited from providing dine-in service until authorized.

Romero's actions came a day after President Donald Trump set new guidelines on the nation's service industry to help slow the spread of COVID-19 over the next 15 days. Trump's Coronavirus Guidelines For America urge Americans to "avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts—use drive-thru, pickup or delivery options."

On the same day, Romero and Councilmember Paul Cunningham met with leaders in the local bar, restaurant and entertainment industry, along with Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce and Visit Tucson to consider how to help mitigate the crisis service industry employees and business owners, and their employees are in. While the meeting was closed to the media, officials and community stakeholders held a press conference immediately after.

After Monday's meeting, Cunningham forecast that a the "to-go only" program was on the horizon for restaurants and bars.

Ray Flores, president of Flores Concepts—aka the El Charro empire—said his company already wanted to go with "to-go only" service, but he didn't want to make the move until it was mandated or other local restaurants also decide to move in that direction.

"If there is a mandate, we'll follow the mandate," Flores said. "But we are really looking at a to-go program right now based on national movement from national brands and strategically it does keep people working."

Romero is to "tap into" funding from a potential $850 billion economic stimulus package the Trump administration asked Congress to approve this week to stop an economic meltdown.

"My commitment to the citizens of Tucson is that I am going to be working day and night as the mayor of Tucson to work with the state government, Governor Ducey, and our federal government to tap into funds as quickly and immediately as we possibly can," Romero said.

Cunningham did admit that stimulus recovery may take up until June to reach employees and business owners of Tucson. Even with that timeline, he's not sure what it will actually mean for Tucsonans.

"Uncertainty has been a certainty in this process every single hour, from a medical standpoint, from a health standpoint, from an economic standpoint," Cunningham said. "The status is constantly changing. What we do know is we're united on a front and made a commitment for some type of recovery in June. It may involve tax incentives but that decision has to be held publicly."

The city has placed a 30-day moratorium on water shut-offs and court appearances. On Tuesday morning, both Southwest Gas and Tucson Electric Power announced they would implement a temporary moratorium on service disconnections in communities they serve.

"We stand ready to help customers affected by this pandemic with payment extensions or enrollment in short-term assistance and bill discount programs," TEP announced on its website. "We know some customers could face financial challenges because of this public health threat, so we are suspending service disconnections and late fees until further notice."

While the future of Tucson's service industry remains uncertain, Cunningham is urging Tucsonans to stay calm while the city figures out solutions to this unprecedented situation.

"The bottom line is everything is changing for the next two weeks for sure, and maybe even longer," Cunningham said. "We just need to be united as a community, stay calm and make sure you're in digital contact with your neighbor."

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