(Reuters) - Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Monday ordered the closure of bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and water parks, joining other Sunbelt states including Florida and Texas in reversing reopenings after a surge in coronavirus cases.
Ducey also delayed the start of public schools until Aug. 17 after some districts planned to start their new year in July or early August.
The orders, effective for 30 days, came after Arizona set records for new coronavirus cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations over the weekend.
Ducey expected the numbers to get worse next week.
“We simply cannot let up,” he told a press briefing. “This is a time for us to put on a full-court press as a state. We can’t be under any illusion that this virus is going to go away on its own.”
The Republican governor has taken heat from health experts for a “cavalier” approach to reopening, leaving it up to residents to voluntarily follow safety precautions.
Images on social media over the weekend showed packed bars in Phoenix and the Salt River east of the city crowded with residents escaping 100-degree (38 Celsius) heat, with few wearing masks or following social distancing.
Some Phoenix-area restaurants have voluntarily reclosed in the past two weeks to protect staff and customers. Several movie theater chains had yet to reopen in Arizona, though some private venues were open.
Facing pressure from Democratic mayors and health professionals, Ducey allowed local governments to set their own face mask rules. The bulk of Arizona cities now require the wearing of face masks in public.
Ducey’s order on Monday prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people, unless local jurisdictions could ensure they met safety precautions, such as physical distancing.
The order challenged rural communities like Eagar in eastern Arizona where Mayor Bryce Hamblin has vowed to “err on the side of freedom” and not cancel upcoming rodeos, a July 4 parade or require “healthy, law-abiding citizens” to wear masks.
Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Leslie Adler
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