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Edward Celaya: A tale of two cities — Bisbee and San Diego — amid COVID-19
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Edward Celaya: A tale of two cities — Bisbee and San Diego — amid COVID-19

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

I love my work here at the Arizona Daily Star. It’s truly a great job. Unbelievable stories and access that help educate and inform the public are produced here every day. Unfortunately, our newsroom is subject to furloughs, just like many other workplaces.

Luckily, I’ve saved a little money and decided to use my furlough week as a chance to travel. My experience was illuminating, and not just for my tan.

Travel, eating and drinking kind of make up my holy trinity, as any of my family members or followers on Instagram and Facebook can tell you. Going into my mandatory furlough week, I knew there would be some restrictions, and as a single guy who travels, not just to explore local sights, but to meet local people, I knew things would be different.

That in mind, I tentatively booked nights in rustic, historic Old Bisbee and in hip and happening Little Italy, San Diego.

Wanting to be responsible as possible, I stocked up on cloth masks, booked a round trip on Southwest (which isn’t selling a third of seats on its flights to allow for an open middle row) and resigned myself to no fraternizing or flirting with the locals.

The decision to drive to Bisbee was obvious, so I was safe there. The decision to fly to America’s Finest City was harder, but dirt-cheap prices on flights coupled with a strict Southwest mask policy soothed my troubled mind of being stuck in an enclosed aluminum tube full of recycled air. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Before I get too critical, I want to be clear I had a blast in both Bisbee and San Diego. The difference I’m harping on between the two has little to do with geography, sightseeing opportunities or who had the better tacos (Santiago’s in Bisbee did, by a wide margin).

The most glaring difference had to do with how the two communities, in the face of a deepening global pandemic, approached reopening, especially with the news that both California and Arizona have seen noticeable upticks in the numbers of reported cases.

In Bisbee, no brewery, store or restaurant I saw required a face covering be worn to enter. Many had no posting in the window about expectations of social distancing, although some stores did. Most of the restaurants I ate at had workers wearing masks but did not require them of patrons.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed my time hiking the Mule Mountains, walking the winding streets and climbing the myriad staircases around Old Bisbee. Since my visit there preceded my trip out to San Diego, I had little in the way of comparison for what a well communicated public health response to reopening looked like.

At literally every bar, restaurant and retail shop I entered in San Diego, I was met with clearly posted social distancing measures and a flat-out requirement that a mask be worn to enter.

Some newly reopened bars and restaurants in San Diego had gone above and beyond masking policies, creating cordoned-off small spaces of two to three seats by placing Plexiglas separators in place of where a seat would have been.

Limiting and cattle herder-like at first, I came to appreciate the measure to make my, and everyone else’s, experience as safe as possible during these confusing times. Plus, as a former bartender, it was fun to pick the brains of real pros about what they thought about reopening, the George Floyd protests and COVID-19.

This shouldn’t read as an indictment of a fun, vibrant little town like Bisbee, which has merchants and businesses trying their best. Rather, it should read as an indictment of the mixed messages sent by Gov. Doug Ducey and state health officials.

As a consumer who worries about my health and the health of others, I’m more likely to spend my time and dollars at establishments doing their best to balance the need to stay open with keeping customers safe.

In a sense, Dr. Cara Christ, the director of Arizona’s health department, was right last week, when she said of coronavirus, “We know that it’s in the community, and that we can’t stop the spread. We can’t stop living, as well,” in reference to skyrocketing cases.

We have to learn how to live with the virus for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean a full retreat from communicating measures that not only help businesses open, but help the public stay healthy, informed and safe.

Edward Celaya is an opinion writer and produces the Arizona Daily Star Opinion podcast, “The Point Being.” Reach him at ecelaya@tucson.com

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