With key COVID-19 “benchmarks” on the decline, businesses and schools around the West Valley are looking to get off the bench.
Just as a time for the kickoff of the football season, West Valley sports bars were given the yellow light to reopen—with caution.
On Aug. 27, Arizona health officials reported Maricopa County’s COVID-19 infections had reached a “moderate” level of transmission, allowing Arizona bars serving food to begin reopening.
But Gov. Doug Ducey’s reopening directive included social distancing, mask mandates and no more than 50% capacity for restaurants—and sports bars that provide food.
“Come Sunday afternoon, we’re going to have half the people we would have in here normally,” said Rick Jenkins, operations manager of Tailgaters and IL Primo.
Safely conducting business in an industry that was built on face-to-face contact and crowded tables is Tailgaters’ top priority, according to Jenkins.
Tailgaters has multiple locations in the Valley, including Goodyear and Litchfield Park locations.
Jenkins said Tailgaters staff members are sanitizing on a regular basis, only serving seated customers and preventing patrons from congregating too closely.
The state approved gyms to reopen, but with 25% occupancy and strict cleaning standards.
Movie theaters were approved to reopen with 50% of normal occupancy and “ADHS mitigation requirements.”
School reopening plans
According to the “School Reopening Dashboard,” since last week much of the West Valley has moved from red (widespread COVID-19) to yellow (moderate).
New COVID-19 cases per day in Maricopa County dropped to about 300 per day in September.
In August an average of 556 new COVID-19 cases were reported daily in the county—a sharp fall from July, when the average of new cases was more than 2,200 per day.
Even so, the Avondale Elementary School District was not ready to reopen last week.
On Sept. 10, the district’s website posted, “Data released today states AESD has not met the benchmarks. We will continue in remote learning.”
Similarly, Littleton Elementary Schools District’s 15 schools started remote teaching Aug. 5.
"All our students are still on remote learning. We are monitoring the metrics to see if we can start having students return on Oct. 19 after Fall Break," said Littleton spokeswoman Rita Sanchez.
Litchfield Elementary School District plans a return this starting this week.
“Our phased approach to hybrid learning starts with our youngest learners on Sept. 16,” according to LESD. “This includes all students except those in the Digital Learning Academy.”
Buckeye Elementary School District plans a slower approach: “We will begin phasing students back in by scheduled invitation for the nine instructional days between Sept. 21 and Oct. 2,” according to the district’s website.
After fall break, Oct. 12 is “the first date that the metrics requirements will have been sustained in order to allow for a full return,” according to BESD.
At Agua Fria Union High School District, the board approved beginning to reopen classrooms in a hybrid model Oct. 12, according to Dennis Runyan, the district superintendent.
“This action requires that the district continue to monitor and meet the county and community safety metrics as published by the state of Arizona,” Runyan noted.
“Over the next few weeks as virtual classes continue, teachers and staff are working on the professional development modifications that would allow for a successful hybrid schedule, with appropriate safety measures for students and staff,” he added.
Similarly, said Rob Roberson, superintendent of the Buckeye Union High School District, “If things continue to progress with us still meeting the benchmarks, we will bring all students back on campus for hybrid learning after fall break.
“The hybrid learning model will require us to assign all returning students to groups and bring them on campus in an alternating schedule to lessen the numbers of students on campus at a given time. Groups will be determined by the school and communicated to families, with the exact schedule to be used, prior to the start of the hybrid instruction.”
Tolleson Union High School District plans to reopen classrooms Oct. 9.
According to Liberty Elementary School District information posted on the district’s website, “Following the guidelines set forth from the Arizona Department of Health Services, Liberty Elementary School District has not yet met the benchmark of moderate to begin phasing back to in-person learning.
“As of Sept. 10, two of three benchmarks have been met, with benchmark 2 for positivity at 10.44% with our local district data reported by Maricopa County Public Health. When the percent positivity remains below 7% for two consecutive weeks, schools will open for hybrid instruction for families who selected in-person learning.”
Brian Cano Sr. contributed to this story.