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Main Gate businesses express concern over recent COVID spikes and closure

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Courtesy Rocque Perez | The Daily Wildcat

 Graffiti on the wall of Tyndall Garage.

On May 15, Rocque Perez, a University of Arizona senior majoring in political science and communications, was walking near Main Gate Square when he spotted some graffiti on the wall of Tyndall Garage. It bore the words “Ducey wants you sick” in black paint.

“I was just grabbing food real quick, I decided to take the alley, and there it was,” Perez said in a video call with the Daily Wildcat. “I think it was just kind of ironic. It was a really quick connection, seeing where it was and who it was directed at. I think it was intentional because it was facing the people that were not taking steps or precautions to be safe in the midst of, obviously, a pandemic.”

RELATED: Working a reopening on Main Gate Square 

The vandalism was clearly a reference to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s decision to begin reopening the state in early May, a decision that was now clearly made too soon.

According to AZ Central, Ducey authorized restaurants to reopen their dining rooms on May 11.

Now, given the dramatic increases in reported COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ducey has again ordered gyms, bars, nightclubs, theaters, pools and water parks to close for a 30-day "pause" on the state's reopening process.

Though they had been open for business, Caffé Lucé experienced a significant drop in business, suggesting that patrons are still weary to return to shopping in-person.

“We’ve been operating at about 20% of normal since that point, so it’s been rough, for sure,” said the owner of Caffè Lucé, Michael Foster, on East University Boulevard. “As far as sanitation and cleanliness, we’ve stepped up those protocols immensely over the last few months.”

However, Foster said that most of the customers that had decided to enter the café (before the recent uptick in cases) were mindful of  social distancing and other health precautions.

“[Patrons] have been respectful while they’re in the shop — some wear  masks and some don’t — but they all keep a good distance, as do all of  our employees,” Foster said. 

Before the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in Arizona, many were concerned that businesses that had chosen to reopen were putting the lives of employees and customers at risk.

“I think we want to open but we’re kind of just trying to figure out what that looks like," said Munira Dawoodbhoy, owner of the clothing store Dress Code on East University Boulevard. "There’s certain responsibility we have to keep our employees safe and also our customers safe," 

She told the Daily Wildcat that Dress Code’s opening strategy was based on observations of how other businesses are operating and if their decisions are successful. However, recent spikes in COVID-19 cases in Arizona have added to the uncertainty of reopening.

“We don’t want to just open when everything opens, because the thing with COVID is we don’t really know a lot, we’re just learning as its happening," Dawoodbhoy said. 

Earlier In May, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero spoke out about her skepticism of Ducey’s plan to reopen Arizona. She voiced her concerns about an influx of new cases that would follow the reopening of the state.  

“Unfortunately, Gov. Ducey here in Arizona plans to lift restrictions much sooner than what the data is telling us that we should be doing," Romero said in an interview with ABC. "I’m very, very concerned because Arizona as you just said had one of the deadliest days that we’ve had on Tuesday.”

The Daily Wildcat reached out to Romero for a comment on the reopening of Main Gate Square and her office sent the following statement via email: “As restaurants and businesses re-open, I encourage them to read and follow the regulations and guidelines established by Pima County to ensure the health and safety of their patrons and employees. I’m grateful for every restaurant that is taking these precautions and helping protect the health of their fellow Tucsonans.”

RELATED: Arizona welcomes White House officials to address rising cases and shortage of healthcare workers

On June 18, Mayor Romero announced an ordinance to require mask-wearing  in public spaces, following Gov. Ducey's announcement that local  officials could decide whether or not to mandate masks in public spaces.  

This decision is supported by a growing number of COVID-19 cases that are beginning to overwhelm hospitals once again; the Arizona Department of Health reported almost 4,900 cases, 88 new deaths as of July 1 and 89% intensive care unit bed occupancy in hospitals as of June 30. 

Dawoodbhoy noted that regardless of the pandemic, small businesses in Main Gate Square generally don't do much business during the summer.

“It’s kind of a given that summer is going to be your slow season and you’re not going to make any money … Whether you’re open or you’re not open, you’re just not making any money," she said. "That’s the bottom line. Even if you decided to open up your doors, you’re making very little revenue because without the student population, there’s no way you’re going to be able to cover your overhead costs because that’s what brings people to Main Gate Square.”

Dawoodbhoy said the larger issue at hand is not if small businesses are going to reopen in the summer, but if UA is going to reopen for fall semester.

“Whether we open or not, that’s one thing, but what if the UofA decides not to open?" she asked. "Then what’s going to happen to all the small businesses in this area that were getting revenue because of the foot traffic, because there’s people there, and now there’s no people? …What do we do about this area that has always been in good business because of the University of Arizona being open but now this area is not getting that same foot traffic because of it being shut down.”

In a recent briefing, the UA Reentry Task Force discussed the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the state as well as their collaboration with Covid Watch, which is developing an app for contact tracing, suggesting that the university is moving forward with its plan to reopen and hold classes for the fall semester.


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