Nearly three-quarters of Arizona families are opposed to — or undecided about — the state’s decision to partially reopen some services starting this week, according to a Raising Arizona Kids poll.
Last week Governor Doug Ducey laid out a step-by-step approach for reopening Arizona’s economy. On Monday, retail businesses were allowed to open for curbside service. Expanded in-person operations (including cosmetologists and barber salons) are set to resume this Friday; restaurants and coffee shops can resume dine-in services on Monday, May 11. All new guidelines require proper social distancing and sanitation measures. The governor’s stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 15.
Amid public rallies and controversy about the timing of such events, Raising Arizona Kids turned to readers and social media followers for a grassroots perspective.
In a Tuesday, May 5 poll to eNewsletter subscribers, we acknowledged the fraught nature of the debate as “diagnoses are climbing but businesses and families are suffering economically.” We asked our families: “How are you feeling about the gradual reopening of Arizona businesses?”
More than 320 local families weighed in. More than half – 53% – of respondents felt that more time was needed before reopening with another 20% saying they were unsure. Only 27% voted in favor of the scheduled reopening.
Beyond the poll, the question ignited a heated social media discussion, with 2,600 engagements in less than 24 hours. It prompted some parents to dive deep into their core values and to question the motives of others.
A major point of contention was how willing people are to trade off health risks for economic well being. And that drove a gamut of emotion-packed reactions ranging from those wholeheartedly applauding the opening to those vehemently opposing it, and everything in between.
Five different groups
The responses eventually began to take shape into five different groups — with plenty of varying viewpoints even within each group.
- No Way: Those who believe the timing is dangerous and/or morally wrong.
- Ready to Roll: Those who have no reservations and plan to embrace the reopening.
- A Necessary Evil: Those who are conflicted but have stark realities forcing them to take the chance.
- Proceed with Caution: Those who are skeptical but willing to try, moving ahead carefully.
- Uncertain: Those who can see the case for both sides and are truly undecided.
One common thread among the groups was support for giving Arizonans the right to decide.
“We should all have the free agency to be able to choose what’s best for us and our families, because everybody’s situation is different,” said April Bernd of Buckeye, even though she is auto-immune compromised. Whatever anyone else does, she says, she plans to continue to follow the stay-at-home approach. “But I don’t think the state should shut down and financially collapse to keep me safe.”
Others viewed the reopening as a reckless act. “It’s irresponsible and happening out of greed,” said Michelle Primm, a mother of two in Queen Creek. “The state should receive enough funding to support small businesses and people. The spin they’re putting on it [the reopening], that it is about our rights and freedom, is working, though — hook, line and sinker.”
Below is a look into the attitudes and behaviors from the various groups.
The “No Way” group
This group prioritizes concern about the potential toll to community health from reopening too soon. They expect to see COVID-19 cases and deaths rise as the reopening progresses. They voiced a host of concerns.
Several respondents said the medical facts don’t give them confidence. With today’s statewide total of 9,707 diagnosed cases (up an average of 336 a day just since Saturday), “we are not ready,” said Roxanna Catlett, a mother of three in Phoenix. “There is still a global pandemic. People are still dying. Cities are still shutdown. There is still a shortage of PPE. Arizona is last in testing. My family will continue to social distance.”
Lynn Jillers of Mesa agrees, and has concerns about whether people will follow safe practices after the reopening. (Other states have experienced that problem — consider California’s experience when it tried reopening beaches.) “It’s too early, especially since people are going to be idiots and go rushing out in big crowds, without masks, thinking it’s no longer an issue. We will have a drastic rise once everything opens back up,” said Jillers, whose family will continue stay-at-home practices.
Some opponents of the reopening cite a fear of resurgence of the virus if people start mingling too freely and closely. “I have serious concerns that it is going to cause a spike in cases, and it will be much harder to go back to quarantine than to stay in. If it were only affecting the people that are choosing to go out and dine, etc., then I would say, fine, it’s up to them. But it affects everybody, and it will put the rest of us a greater risk,” said Susan Beth of Phoenix, mother of a teenager.
The “Ready to Roll” group
Arizonans who are eager to have more amenities available welcome the reopening, which comes nearly eight weeks after schools closed and other businesses soon followed.
Jen Headman, a mother of four in Queen Creek, plans to dive right back in as more services become available. “So excited! Ready to get my hair done and to go back to socializing in person. I’m just hoping that they open up pools soon…I have a hair appointment on Friday and plan to eat at a restaurant with my family next week.” She said she feels confident because she sees safety protocols in essential retail and other services that are currently open with no apparent issues.
A grim trade-off analysis is going on, however, even among supporters of reopening: how to weigh economic impact versus a higher possible death toll.
“I feel that the full eventual recovery outweighs the death rate,” said Shell Bell of Phoenix. “Yes, I will start going out if the state reopens.”
Others feel the reopening should have begun even earlier and is manageable. “Let us go back to work,” said Jennifer Cross, a Glendale real estate agent and a mother of three. “It’s a long-overdue reopening. How long have we been told stay six feet away, wash hands, wear masks? If people are still scared, stay home.”
The “Necessary Evil” group
Some employees and small business owners feel backed into a corner. While they voice concerns about the current COVID-19 situation, reopening offers them the much-needed opportunity to resume earning to support their households.
Yesenia Ramirez, owner of Salvadoreno Restaurant of Phoenix and a single mother, is wrestling with that dilemma. “I feel like reopening was politicized way too much, and here we are now,” she said. “I feel somewhat forced to open my dining room as customers will just flock to a restaurant that will allow dine-in. Debating how I will handle that now. It’s a casual place so it could be doable,” she said.
Those on the fence like Ramirez said they’d be less concerned if they saw their fellow Arizonans consistently following protective measures in public. “The problem is that we have a certain part of the population that is choosing to behave with bravado…Some people refuse to wear masks, etc. It’s a matter of common sense and caring for each other,” Ramirez said.
Dana Maciag, owner of Arizona Sleepy Teepee of Scottsdale, feels the economic pressure to resume business as usual. “I can’t not work. We need money to live…And this illness isn’t going away. We can’t lock down each season. It will kill the economy. We just need to be better prepared, handle groups/crowds differently, wash out hands, and be more aware of cleaning and disinfecting. It’s the best we can do.”
The “Proceed with Caution” group
Others look forward to coming out of shelter-in-place carefully and gradually. “We’ll be resuming life with modifications,” said Erica Odello of Phoenix. “It will be a long while before we go to a movie theater or festival, but it will be really nice to be able to shop again. I don’t mind wearing a mask.”
This group is clear they are accepting and living a new reality. Jenny Bailey of Mesa said she will venture out more as businesses reopen, under certain conditions that she calls the “new norm” of life in the coronavirus era. “There is zero chance that this virus is just going to disappear…We need to learn to live like this — social distancing and masks, etc. We just need to learn how to be careful. Kind of like the caveman way back when, when coming out of the cave was dangerous. But like the caveman, we will learn, adapt and survive,” she said.
The “Uncertain” group
Some families are undecided about their approach until they learn more. They will wait to see how the reopening progresses. David Bock of El Mirage said right now there are too many uncertainties for him to make a definitive call on his family’s plans. He wants to observe how well reopened establishments succeed in “holding the line with safety to their staff and public. With an overload of information and thousands of differences of opinions on the virus, my family and I will be laying low for a while. Better safe than sorry.”
Myra Reddy, director of government affairs at the Professional Beauty Association of Scottsdale, is also in the “wait and see” mode. She ties her uneasiness about the reopening to what she perceives as a lack of clear safety guidelines. “The executive orders seem oversimplified. We went from extending the stay-at-home-order one day, to ‘let’s open salons and restaurants’ the next. I support businesses and everyone working…I just hope we can manage safety precautions as well.”
The spirited exchanges covered many other nuances of the reopening. But in the end, the majority oppose moving too quickly. Najmah Sultan of Maricopa captured the big takeaway:
“I understand the urgency to reopen for the economy’s sake. However, the focus should be on containing and controlling the rise of this horrible virus. I think it is far too soon to reopen, and me and my family will not be rushing to leave our self-quarantine. Money can be replaced. Human life cannot,” Sultan said.
IN OTHER MEDIA: 12News has started a list of businesses that are reopening.