Spring BREAKDOWN

The Big Picture:

Tuesday, April 7, marked 3 weeks since the City of Phoenix declared it unsafe for humans to gather in groups, and ordered hospitality based businesses to limit their core services. 

Since then, the State of Arizona has issued sweeping declarations for what types of business are “essential” to society, something never before seen outside times of war.

Meanwhile, the numbers of COVID19 cases in America’s most urban cities continue to dwarf those in less compact places, such as Phoenix.

Whereas official numbers of those dead in New York City have passed 5k, the Arizona Department of Health Services reports only 97 people have died statewide as of today.

A Melrose Perspective: 

“This is all based on fear,” said Audrey Corley, owner of Boycott Bar on Seventh and Glenrosa Avenues in Melrose. “We don’t even know who is sick and who is not.” 

Originally from west Phoenix, Corley has owned Boycott for over three years. 

“It’s all I got,” she said last week. “I’m glad they’re letting me do it.” 

She’s been selling drinks to go since Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) ordered that bars and restaurants limit services to takeout March 20.

March can be hit or miss for bars in Arizona, as many spring-breakers leave the state.

However, April is also when Arizona usually celebrates Gay Pride, a major event for bars in Melrose, because summer is notoriously hot.

Melrose is traditionally a gathering place for the Phoenix L.G.B.T.Q. night scene, and the center for many community events beyond drinking alcohol.

But like many commercial cores throughout the metro area, barely a sound can be heard on Seventh Avenue after sundown since mid March.

The shutdowns have affected much more than bars and restaurants.

Businesses that cannot provide services without close human contact were ordered to close their doors by the state April 7.

“I don’t think anyone should judge anyone else for providing for their family,” said Irma Baez, a hairstylist at Thairapy Salon in Melrose. “To each his own.” 

Baez said that long-time Thairapy owner John Poole chose to obey the guideline and close the doors once A.Z.D.H.S. gave the order online.

“I had clients that already stayed away,” Baez said. “I told them, ‘see, I told you guys to get in here (while you could.)” 

Baez said she has been cutting hair for twenty years, and felt badly for clients who may not have many other opportunities to get out of the house.

“For some people it’s a release,” she said. “We are the only neutral party they have in their life.” 

Baez some of her clients are elderly who look forward to their appointments for weeks.

“People say they want to start small businesses and then they see this is the kind of thing we have to put up with,” she said. “This is weeding out the strong from the weak.”

Baez and Corley both said that nobody had contacted them from the government.

“Oh no, no one called us or served us (notice) in person,” Corley said. “Everyone is finding out on social media.”

Both women agreed that it seemed most business owners were taking cues from Facebook, mainstream news media, and family members.

“People are fighting on social media and saying, ‘why are you going to work?” Corley elaborated. “Nobody has contacted us from the government.” 

Baez said she didn’t think the City could enforce the shutdown even if they wanted to.

“How could they?” she asked rhetorically. “But no one wants problems when they open back up.”

Whereas the State regulates liquor sales, businesses of any kind may be licensed by municipalities.

State law prohibits a city from suspending a business owner’s right to operate unless it can be proven with evidence that a specific business practice violated the law, or there was a safety concern specific to that business.

Normally, such a declaration could be appealed to the City Council, if not also challenged in Superior Court, however, normal democratic channels have been suspended indefinitely due to COVID19.

Something historically unseen in the United States outside times of war or natural disaster.

Nothing in Arizona law before COVID19 allowed municipal level officials to order blanket closures of businesses without widespread destruction, such as that resulting from a natural disaster, riot, terrorist attack, or act of war.

Arizona law allows city councils to declare states of “actual emergency” to suspend normal democratic processes, however the term “actual” is not defined.

Nonetheless, the rules of the English language – Arizona law is written in English – denote a specific “act” must have occurred to justify limiting individual or business rights.

It remains to be seen how courts will interpret Arizona cities invoking the status of “actual emergency,” if mathematical projections of the spread of a virus based on statistics from elsewhere will suffice legally.

Meanwhile, business owners have no legal platform to defend non-compliance with the blanket statewide orders until the courts resume hearing civil cases.

Baez said she considered herself lucky that she can depend upon her family for income.

“I’ve had clients offer to pay me ahead of time,” she said. “If I have to cross that bridge I will, but I’m not there yet.” 

Overall, she said she did not like that the State is deciding what services are “essential” and not.

“I think they should have let those who wanted to layoff people and close their doors do so,” Baez said. “And those who wanted to risk it could stay open.”

An Arizona Attitude:

Scott, 57, has been a drummer for over 20 years.

He and his girlfriend Sue stopped by Bizarre Guitar in the Melrose Center retail plaza at Montecito and Seventh Avenues Monday morning.

They were not able to go inside because the shop was closed due to COVID19 restrictions.

“I can’t even imagine what we would be dealing with if we didn’t have the technology to communicate,” Scott said. “I think there’s a good chance they probably would have hesitated to shut everything down if we didn’t have these (digital) devices.”

Both agreed that Bizarre’s decision to open by appointment only was probably a good idea.

“This isn’t ‘hey, we just want you to shut down for some random reason,” Sue said. “It’s more like ‘we’re trying to keep people from dying.”

Sue lived in Philadelphia for nearly 40 years and said she had a friend in New York City who was sick with COVID19.

“Because of technology we can see what’s happening,” she said. “We know people are dying by the thousands in other places.”

Scott, who lives in Melrose, wore a Bernie Sanders t-shirt and spoke of the shift he has seen in peoples’ attitudes since the closures in mid march.

“For the first couple of weeks it was assaulting how much stress and anxiety I was getting,” he said. “Now it’s like everyone has settled in, like it’s war time.”

Scott also said he believed that most Arizonans are taking the situation in stride.

“I’m kind of marveling at the idea that it has been as smooth a transition as it has been,” he said. “This is real virgin territory.”

Scott said he did not think the State could force the closures even if officials wanted.

“There’s really not much of an enforcement mechanism for keeping (stores) closed,” he said. “It’s just not feasible.”

He also said he didn’t think strict enforcement would go over well in Arizona.

“This is the land of Barry Goldwater, and there is a certain undercurrent of  libertarianism here,” he said. “Telling me what to do is not on the radar, basically.”

Sue is a massage therapist and yoga instructor from north Phoenix.

She said she empathizes will small, independent businesses.

“Everything that I can do in person now is zero,” she said. “But then again, I don’t want to be responsible for seeing a client I didn’t know was ill and then infecting everyone I see for the next two weeks.”

Scott agreed with Sue that business closures were more a matter of choice than law.

“People here will be polite and say ‘thank you for your recommendations,” he said. “But people are going to do what they  want to do anyway.”

Meanwhile, thousands of small business owners throughout the state remain closed following orders from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.

As with the City, the legality of such sweeping declarations in Arizona remain to be analyzed by the courts, if and when they resume normal sessions.

“People are having to become more discerning between political messages and messages from experts,” Scott said of the public COVID19 conversation. “You got this strange influx of millennials and tech, and it’s creating a lot of political conflict, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Scott also said he has seen a lot more kind gestures in the last few weeks than he did  when news of the virus first hit Arizona.

Editorial: It’s A Question of Documentation, Data, and Density  

The Federal Government and mainstream news media continue to debate the accuracy of horrifyingly high numbers of deaths reported in urban populations on the east coast.

The staggering contrast between the number of those infected in Arizona versus those in other places begs many a question of correlation vs. causation.

It has been reported that the Centers for Disease Control recommended doctors list COVID19 as a “probable” or “possible” contributing cause of death on death certificates, even when infection could not be verified for those who presented similar symptoms. 

It is also unclear how such practices effected numbers reported to politicians and the public.

Arizona officials have said numerous times they made decisions based on statistical modeling of the spread of the virus, not the actual number of those infected.

Arizona’s over 1600 official cases have fallen dramatically short of what was originally projected – somewhere between 8 and 9 thousand – confirming the axiom that statistical projections are never fact, no matter how intricate the science.

According to an April 7 ABC15.com article, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey refused to disclose further projections of the predicted spread of the virus.

So has the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“The information we have is really scratch paper,” said A.Z.D.H.S. Director, Doctor Cara Christ in an April 7 ABC15.com article. “We’re working with the universities to develop the actual modeling, but it changes every single day.”

Christ has been the public face of the Arizona medical community, alongside Ducey, encouraging the public to follow “social distancing” guidelines from the C.D.C., as well as those specifically tailored for Arizonans on the A.Z.D.H.S. and Legislature’s websites.

Christ and Ducey are hardly the only Arizona public officials pressuring the public to conform to guidelines that were decided outside the state, and without Arizona in mind.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego first ordered bars and restaurants closed on social media March 17 – St. Patricks Day – without a vote of the Phoenix City Council.

She did so two days after New York City closed its bars and restaurants.

Unlike New York City, Gallego lacked the authority to make such a declaration on her own, as Arizona mayors are not allowed to make legal proclamations without consensus of their councils.

Nonetheless, Ducey extended that same order statewide several days later, despite vast differences between Arizona and other states with confirmed cases of COVID19.  

Every major city that reported cases of COVID19 prior to the March 17 shutdown have population densities at least three times that of Arizona’s capital.

For example New York City, which is easily the worst affected in terms of reported number of deaths, has a density of about 9 times Phoenix.

Furthermore, The C.D.C. reported that COVID19 does not spread as easily in warmer climates.

Whereas New York City and Phoenix both saw average temperatures in the sixties in March, there was an average 20 degree difference between the two cities in February, according to WeatherUnderground.com.

There are conflicting theories about when the virus first arrived in the U.S., but most suggest sometime in mid-to-late February.

Whether a result of Arizona’s warmer, dry climate, its low population density, or the limitations to its businesses, the numbers here have risen a lot slower than predicted.

An Era of Self Discovery?

At the last Presidential election, it was reported by the Arizona Republic Newspaper there were more registered independent voters in Arizona than there were Republicans or Democrats.

The numbers just about equalized in 2018 according to the Arizona Secretary of State.

The first states to shut down businesses and suspend individual freedoms – These were New York and surrounding areas – are unmistakably Democrat-leaning, at least in terms of Congressional and Presidential representation.

Whether or not the politicians calling the shots have a partisan slant on the pandemic, or states with the nation’s largest cities tend to favor Democratic party decisions, there can be no question that long-time Arizonans are unaccustomed to obeying dictates from Washington D.C.

Or anywhere else for that matter.

Readers may recall, such American legal staples as the Miranda Warning police use when arresting suspects came from a case in Phoenix in the early 1960’s.

In their nearly century-long existence, the Arizona Appeals and Supreme Courts have also been credited with dozens of lesser-known, but equally landmark rulings regarding water rights and land usage, often in defiance of social and legal trends elsewhere.

“The situation is different here in Arizona,” Ducey told Channel 12’s Mark Curtis 3/28. “I’m not competing with governors in other states.”

Ducey and the State Legislature have resisted ordering people to stay in their homes – something they’re not legally able to do without declaring martial law – but have also encouraged Arizonans to go outside and enjoy the prime spring weather.

“Arizonans should go outside and take a walk,” Ducey told Curtis several weeks ago. “That can be good for your health too.”

This is in stark contrast to many major cities in Europe and Asia that have ordered people to stay indoors under penalty of fine or arrest, unless they have permits to leave.

Even neighboring California closed its beaches, threatening violators with fines or arrest.

President Donald Trump said in a press conference April 4 that he wished Christians would be able to gather for celebrations in church this upcoming Easter Sunday.

“The cure can’t be worse than the disease,” he said. “We must remember that.”

Trump has been misquoted by many in mainstream news media as saying people should go to church anyway.

In fact, The President said he would be watching Easter Mass via computer, and that people should follow the guidelines of the C.D.C.

Trump did say several weeks ago that he believed life would return to normal by Easter.

“Many Americans are getting stir-crazy,” he said last week. “They want to go back to work and get on with their lives.”

Individual Americans are supposed to receive stimulus checks from the Federal Government some time in the next two weeks, to compensate for the shutdowns.

Such has never been done before on such a mass scale in the United States.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans await the word from local and federal leaders for permission to return to work and recreation, something also never before experienced in the United States, not even during times of war.

Only time – and not statistical projections – will tell what the self-proclaimed “land of the free” will accept as its new normal going forward.