Hundreds of patrons packed into a handful of downtown Scottsdale bars and clubs over Memorial Day weekend in apparent defiance of social distancing guidelines, drawing sharp criticism from city leaders.
“The images from Old Town Scottsdale this weekend are disturbing and frankly show a real lack of common sense and civic responsibility,” Mayor Jim Lane said in a statement on May 26.
Lane two days later softened his stance after meeting with club owners and management.
He said the clubs took some precautions but were overwhelmed by an unexpectedly robust turnout that may have included visitors from California, Las Vegas and even the Midwest seeking to escape more stringent closures.
Lane said seven area hotels were booked to capacity over the weekend – a stark change from just weeks ago, when hotel occupancy in the area dropped below 10 percent.
“And even with some well-meaning entertainment venue owners and their protocols in place there was an overwhelming of what they could do, a near-mob scene in some cases,” Lane said.
Videos showing packed pool parties and crowded bars at venues like Maya Day & Nightclub, W Scottsdale hotel and the INTL went viral over the long weekend, making headlines across the country.
Management at the bars also insisted they are taking necessary safety precautions despite those photos and videos.
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead urged both businesses and patrons to adhere to recommendations from health officials.
“I respect the governor’s decision to reopen the economy, but the intent was that he trusted all of us – the business owners, the residents and visitors – to acknowledge and behave like we are in a pandemic to protect everybody else,” Whitehead told the Progress.
She said most restaurants in the city have put precautions in place but that “a few bad eggs are going to risk the whole economy, so yes, I’m very disappointed.”
Beginning on May 23, photos and videos began circulating on social media showing hundreds of patrons packed in to popular Scottsdale hotspots like Maya and the pool at the W Scottsdale.
The same night, Instagram posts by Floyd Mayweather made national news, showing the boxer partying in Scottsdale with his crew without masks in the crowded INTL club.
According to posts on Instagram, staffs at both Maya and the W Scottsdale were wearing masks but patrons were not. The videos also showed patrons closely packed in pools, tables and at the bar.
While cloth masks do not stop the wearer from becoming sick, medical experts have said they can help reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Thus far, Gov. Doug Ducey has been mum on the conditions at the downtown Scottsdale bars, which appear to conflict with guidance issued by his office when her allowed restaurants to reopen on May 11.
The May 11 order did not actually include bars but it appears some downtown Scottsdale clubs that serve food opened under the assumption they qualify as restaurants.
The guidance he put in place was meant to continue a downward trend in new virus cases, but some state numbers indicate cases are still increasing and local pols and health experts have warned that opening too soon or without the proper precautions in place could result in a new spike in cases.
Rep. Amish Shah, D-24, posted an update on Facebook on May 4 that acknowledged the need to reopen businesses but also emphasized the need to do so safely.
Shah, an emergency room doctor who represents parts of southern Scottsdale, wrote “Clearly, Arizona and the country will need to reopen, as we cannot remain in an economic and social freeze for months.”
“But we do not want to see our sacrifices wasted and eventually experience a greater loss of life,” Shah wrote. “The virus is still out there, and if we suddenly remove all of our restrictions, it will quickly run amok and cause mayhem.”
Whitehead warned that the effects on the economy could be even worse if another surge causes a new round of business shutdowns or stay-at-home orders.
“It’s not about protecting yourself,” Whitehead said. “It’s about protecting everybody else and the economy, because just as (Ducey) opened the economy, he can close it and the economists say if it closes, it will deeper (and) it will be longer and it will hurt all the restaurants.”
A model by University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that the number of cases in Arizona would increase significantly following the gradual reopening of the economy.
The model predicted infections in Arizona began rising again on May 4 and will continue to rise through mid-June – reaching an estimated peak of 13,974 daily infections – before starting to decline.
The Washington Post reported that a presentation prepared by Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicted a second wave of infections could overwhelm ventilator stocks in multiple states, including Arizona.
But others – including protesters who showed up at the state capital weeks ago to protest the shut down – have argued the measures implemented by the governor are hurting businesses and that the state’s hospitals were not as taxed during the first wave as health experts predicted.
In early May, Scottsdale Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said they planned to make motions to terminate Ducey’s emergency declaration that included the executive orders shutting down businesses.
“Why isn’t the governors top concern both, public health AND economic health?” Ugenti-Rita posted on Twitter on May 4. “We do not have to choose one or the other. Both can exist in harmony.”
In Scottsdale, the bars appear to have adopted some pieces of Ducey’s guidance while ignoring others.
Bottled Blonde, for instance, had signs encouraging patrons to stay six feet apart but there was no enforcement.
Social media posts from both Maya and the W hotel pool showed large groups of people partying closely together.
Management at those venues said they are taking the proper steps to protect customers and staff.
Representatives from both Bottled Blonde and Spellbound Entertainment Group – which manages Maya and the poolside deck at the W hotel – said they were limiting tables to 10 people at a time.
“Our focus is a more intimate setting once we reopen to closely focus on the social distancing aspect set forth,” Spellbound Director of Operations Jason Adler said prior to reopening. “Patrons will be able to mingle and dance as they choose and no more than 10 people will be at a table at a time.”
However, dozens of photos and images posted by W and Maya patrons over the course of the weekend showed the opposite.
Bottled Blonde, located across the street from Maya, had a dense crowd of patrons standing four to five people deep around its entire bar and people dancing in front of the DJ booth at around 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.
“Our goal as soon as we reopened was to make sure that we followed all of the CDC and Governor Ducey’s social distancing guidelines,” Bottled Blonde GM Charlie Brooks said.
Bottled Blonde reduced its capacity from 436 to 250 people, Brooks said.
He also said the bar took a number of steps to comply with the governor’s order, including putting up Plexiglas between booths, limiting booth seating to 10 people, placing hand sanitizer throughout the venue, and requiring all staff to wear masks.
Scottsdale’s response to the situation has differed from Tempe’s after crowds at a bar there elicited criticism on the day that restaurants reopened.
On May 12, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell issued an emergency proclamation requiring some venues, including bars that serve food, to file reopening plans with the city documenting how they will comply with distancing guidelines.
Mitchell told reporters that violations would come with a warning and fines will be left up to the discretion of Tempe Police.
Lane said Scottsdale would not follow that path but was taking steps to ensure compliance with a law enforcement summit with area business owners hosted by Scottsdale Police Department on May 28.
It’s unclear how effective the summit will be, however, as Brooks said he gave Scottsdale officers a walk-through on Memorial Day weekend to show them the bar’s protocols prior to the situation that caused the controversy.
According to the governor’s May 4 press release, “The operators must establish and implement safety protocols and best practices, including enacting physical distancing policies.”
But another document, entitled “Guidance for Restaurants Providing Dine-In Services.” seems to indicate wiggle room for operators.
“To the extent possible, restaurant establishments should take measures to ensure that customers may follow these guidelines,” it states.
Whitehead said it’s up to the businesses to use common sense to protect public safety.
“I’m sick and tired of businesses saying ‘well, it says here we can do x,y,z’…the businesses should not worry about the letter of the law, they should worry about the intent of the law,” Whitehead said.
Kristine Cannon contributed to this report.