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Citing expanded vaccine availability and declining COVID-19 case numbers, Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday announced he would relax emergency restrictions previously placed on businesses. 

While mask and physical distancing requirements will not change, the state is lifting occupancy caps on businesses including bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters and water parks.

Spring training and Major League sports also can operate after they submit and receive approval for safety plans. 

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year,” Ducey said in a statement accompanying the surprise announcement. “Our businesses have done an excellent job at responding to this pandemic in a safe and responsible way. We will always admire the sacrifice they and their employees have made and their vigilance to protect against the virus.”

The rollback comes as health officials herald the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines but caution against lifting restrictions before the shots are more widely available.

Epidemiologists have said abruptly reversing course on prevention measures could lead to an avoidable surge in cases, criticizing, for example, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to eliminate a statewide mask mandate earlier this week. 

In his statement, Ducey acknowledged Arizona was not fully “in the clear” but said he had “hope for the future” given the state’s vaccine distribution progress.  

“We withstood the calls from the extremes on both sides, and we will continue to ignore them,” he said. “We always knew that fighting this virus would be dependent on the personal responsibility of everyday Arizonans.”

As of Friday, more than 16,200 Arizonans had died of COVID-19.


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This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-653-6807. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.

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