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Flagstaff braces for guests – Kdminer

FLAGSTAFF – Miranda Sweet implemented every recommendation from Coconino County Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when she reopened Rainbow’s End, the women’s boutique she has owned in downtown Flagstaff for 22 years.

She limited the number of visitors in her store. She sanitized every hour. She even purchased hundreds of masks and required customers to wear them long before Flagstaff started requiring face coverings.

With all that work to keep employees and guests safe, she says she was stung the first time a customer pushed back. Since then, that outright hostility has repeated itself, often coming from tourists she warmly welcomes to her town, which she called “disappointing.”

“I’m just trying to do the best thing for my community,” she said.

Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said she’s heard of incidents in which visitors were not respectful of the city mandate to wear a mask, which went into effect June 20, and took it out on the business owner.

“Part of being a good traveler is honoring the spaces that you visit and the places that you visit,” Evans said.

This year’s summer onslaught of visitors from metro Phoenix during triple-digit highs comes as Maricopa County is a hot spot for a second reason: the global COVID-19 pandemic. As of July 13, Maricopa County had 80,780 positive cases and 1,101 deaths, compared to 2,363 cases and 98 deaths in Coconino County.

Adjusted for population, Coconino had 1,681 per 100,000 residents, compared to 1,859 in Maricopa County.

Flagstaff’s mayor and business owners aren’t telling people to stay away, but they are reminding everyone to respect social distancing and mask requirements.

“We are still living in this new norm of a global pandemic and we all need to be mindful of that,” Evans said.

Packed downtown Flagstaff businesses asked people to wait outside their establishments for space to open up. Dine-in service resumed in Flagstaff with masks required until seated on July 11.

With plenty of outdoor areas to social distance in and highs in the mid- to upper 80s, Flagstaff is an idyllic weekend escape. Evans can tell the temperature in Phoenix based on the amount of traffic she sees in her city.

“As soon as it hits 100 degrees in Phoenix, you can see a change. And when it hits 110 it is very noticeable,” she said.

But, like much of Arizona, Flagstaff is balancing its gratefulness for the money tourists spend with the threat to public health. People spent $24.4 billion on travel in Arizona in 2018.

Evans said city staff are working on solutions to help businesses stay open safely and serve summer visitors, such as allowing more sidewalk space for outdoor dining.

“I think that’s a challenge we have clear across Arizona,” Evans said.

Owner John Conley has closed Salsa Brava and Fat Olives for the time being due to the pandemic. The two restaurants were closed on June 24, 2020.

John Conley, who owns Fat Olives and Salsa Brava restaurants in Flagstaff, believes part of the hostility is due to a lack of clear guidance from the state.

Flagstaff has instituted a face mask requirement. But with no statewide mandate to wear a mask, other cities have different rules.

There is no stay at home order nor any other travel restrictions even as Gov. Doug Ducey urges to Arizonans to stay home.

“Any excuse you can find to stay home will benefit the state of Arizona, will help us navigate this,” Ducey said during a July 9 press conference.

Conley criticized Ducey for not providing clear leadership, which he said has resulted in inconsistent implementation of suggested guidelines and some restaurants not requiring masks or limiting capacity.

“Then you had those of us that were ‘Hey, we’re at 30%, no mask, no service,‘” Conley said.

He said customers have sworn at him and then gone to another restaurant.

On June 24, an employee at Fat Olives tested positive for COVID-19 and Conley closed the restaurant. He paid for rapid testing of all his employees and sacrificed thousands of dollars in inventory.

After the relief of learning the rest of his staff testing negative, he decided it wasn’t worth jeopardizing employee health or the health-care workers who might need to treat them. He closed Salsa Brava on June 27. Both restaurants are now closed even for takeout.

“People can live without their pizza and burritos,” Conley said.

Travel is a concern to Coconino County Health and Human Services epidemiologist Matthew Maurer.

“There’s potential for spreading that virus into other communities and then also getting that virus while you’re in. You are staying in hotels. You have to eat out. These are all major places of transmission,” Maurer said.

He said the ICU beds at Flagstaff Medical Center, which serves not just Flagstaff but most of northern Arizona, were in high use, with limited to no capacity at times.

“It is something that our hospitals and medical staff are very concerned about – people traveling up here and inundating the system,” Maurer said.

Just last week, Miranda Sweet found out she has the new coronavirus.

With all the precautions she put in place at Rainbow’s End and experiencing no symptoms, she had no reason to suspect she had the virus. She only took a test because she had brought her son, who worked at a restaurant with an outbreak, to get tested and decided to do so as a precaution.

When she received her results over the phone, she was stunned.

“It was probably one of the most shocking, frightening conversations I’ve had because I had no idea what to expect,” she recalled.

She’s now in quarantine and still asymptomatic. The rest of her family is awaiting test results, which they were told would take 10-14 days.

She has closed Rainbow’s End and urged her employees to get tested. In the interest of transparency and community health, she disclosed her diagnosis on her business Facebook page so others could get tested.

Sweet has been consulting with Coconino County Health and Human Services on how she can reopen. She posted on Facebook that she is sanitizing her store, plans to limit the amount of customers to two to three and is taking personal shopping appointments.

“It’s becoming apparent just because we’re this cute mountain town, it doesn’t mean we’re immune to this virus,” Sweet said.

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