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Pima County joins ban on dining-in at restaurants, establishes misdemeanor charge for offending biz owners

Pima County joins ban on dining-in at restaurants, establishes misdemeanor charge for offending biz owners

From the Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 665 cases in Arizona, COVID-19 deaths in Pima County rise to 4 series

Takeout and drive-thru food will be the only options available in unincorporated Pima County starting Thursday night as officials have banned on-site consumption of food and drink at bars and eateries. The decision is in line with a mandate in place for the city of Tucson.

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The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted Thursday to join the city of Tucson in forcing the closure of some businesses in unincorporated areas, limiting restaurants to drive-through and take-out, and establishing a misdemeanor charge for owners that don’t adhere to those requirements.

The measure, which passed with a narrow 3-2 vote, goes into effect at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 19, and runs through the end of the month.

The measure prohibits the on-site consumption of food and drink at bars and eateries and also calls for the closure of fitness centers, movie theaters, bingo halls, performance venues and similar public gathering sites. Restaurants can still serve takeout meals. Pharmacies, grocery stores, banks and other essential services are not affected.

Any person that violates the order can be charged with a class-one misdemeanor, with further violations constituting separate offenses, the proclamation states.

The new rules would apply to all of unincorporated Pima County, the area that falls outside the municipal boundaries of Tucson, South Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita. Although the city of Tucson took nearly identical measures for businesses in city-wide limits via a Tuesday proclamation by Mayor Regina Romero.

The county's decision was made on a party-line vote after Thursday morning's emergency supervisors meeting. Republicans Steve Christy and Ally Miller, who voted against the measure, acknowledged the seriousness of the virus, but voted against the order out of concerns for what it could mean for the local economy both in the short and long-term.

"If we implement these measures, how long before these businesses are forced into bankruptcy?" Miller said prior to the vote. "My concern is that it's not going to take long before we're in a real mess."

Christy said the wording of the measure is "extremely harsh and draconian."

"I think the wording is extraordinarily damaging to those businesses," he said. "Those words shouldn't be so harshly mandated but left up with the businesses owners to go along with the guidelines of the CDC."

Ramon Valadez, who included language in the motion to instill a wind-down period past March 31 for businesses, said he understands the concern "because it's going to hurt businesses. He said the motion provides a little clarity to those who are concerned for the next two weeks.

"People are scared," he said. "Let's get something done right now. Absent doing something, there's a lot of unknowns. … Why not give our community that level of comfort that we're working on it?"

Per her motion, the county established the start of a discussion for a wind-down plan and a "Pima Serves Plan" of how the county can help in some regards during the closures, including potentially identifying temporary employment opportunities and developing an economic development response plan.

Sharon Bronson cited the death toll in Italy from the coronavirus, which on Thursday surpassed that of China, as an argument for the seriousness of the business closures and restaurant limitations.

"This is an emergency. It's not going to be just two weeks," she said. "This is an emergency and the restaurants are already voluntarily complying. This is serious. This is real. We need to get real."

Pima County on Thursday confirmed seven known cases of COVID-19, all above the age of 50. Four of those patients remained hospitalized while one has made a full recovery.

The supervisors also unanimously voted to declare a local emergency related to the outbreak.

Contact reporter Justin Sayers atjsayers1@tucson.comor 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers. Facebook: JustinSSayers.

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