It’s getting harder to ignore the heightened risk for the coronavirus in Arizona, and that anxiety is seeping into business activity.
Some people and groups have canceled travel plans, churchgoers are being told not to touch other worshipers, and economists are warning of a slowdown, with the stock market on Monday suffering its worst-ever daily point loss.
So far, the impact has been muted around metro Phoenix, with most people going about their daily lives, albeit with a greater concern for washing hands and staying an arm’s length, or two, from everyone else.
For example, more than 2,800 people attended the opening of a Life Time fitness center at Biltmore Fashion Park March 6. Visitors tried out the exercise equipment, viewed the classrooms, rode elevators in groups, sipped glasses of wine at a bar and milled around the rooftop pool.
Though the company’s CEO did urge staff members to exercise common sense, wipe down equipment more often and take other precautions.
Feedback from the event and the official opening a few days later suggests it was “a great weekend” that featured “excited members trying classes, equipment, using all of the spaces and places inside the club,” said Natalie Bushaw, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota-based company.
Sporting events proceed, so far
In contrast to southern California, where a major professional tennis tournament, the BNP Paribas Open in the Palm Springs area, was canceled, sporting events have continued around metro Phoenix without many signs of reduced attendance.
Attendance at Cactus League baseball games is actually up a bit so far this year. The league recorded attendance of 797,239 fans over 17 days through March 8, up from 787,211 over the same number of days in 2019. Five games were canceled on Feb. 22 this year because of rain and haven’t been rescheduled.
Arizona State University hosted Washington and Washington State for men’s college basketball games March 5 and March 7. The March 5 game against the Huskies drew 9,829 people and the March 7 game against the Cougars attracted 8,829 — the first a bit above and the second a bit below the average season attendance of 9,251 at Desert Financial Arena.
The dip Saturday might reflect fewer students in the stands during spring break. The university said it didn’t make significant changes with coronavirus in mind.
Aron Baynes, a center for the Phoenix Suns, was asked about the coronavirus concerns with all the traveling he does as an NBA player and as a native of Australia, which also has been hit by the disease.
“It’s probably a bit more of a concern than the flu, but at the same time, it’s just about being smart,” he said. ” When we do travel, we travel with about 20 hand sanitizers anyway.”
Baynes called it a “worry” but not something that will likely change his post-season travel plans. “We’re just going about our daily lives (and will) probably wash our hands a few more times than normal right now but not much more than that.”
Fist-bumps replaced handshakes at a NASCAR race in Phoenix over the weekend.
“I think all of us, including the fans, are trying to be smart in how to interact with one another,” said former driver Jeff Gordon, who was on site as a Fox television booth analyst. He chose fist-bumps.
Still, the sports situation is fluid, with some leagues around the country discussing holding games or matches without spectators present.
Tourism faces risks
Coronavirus concerns come at a worrisome time for the state’s tourism industry, with spring training baseball underway and the number of winter visitors normally at a peak. However, the anxiety hasn’t yet translated into empty seats on a broad scale.
But the Tucson Festival of Books was a casualty. The event was scheduled to be held next weekend on the University of Arizona campus, but organizers canceled it after more than 100 authors said they wouldn’t attend, with some citing contagion risks.
The Valley’s hospitality industry also is feeling the pinch.
“While we have been informed of some meeting cancellations at hotels and resorts, it’s important to remember that many events and meetings are still taking place in greater Phoenix,” said Megan Trummel, a spokeswoman for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, without citing specifics.
“This situation has and will continue to affect the visitor industry, but we may not fully understand the impact for many months,” she said.
For example, doTERRA, which is headquartered in Utah and involved in aromatherapy and essential oils, announced it has postponed a March 11-13 conference at the Phoenix Convention Center, citing coronavirus risks.
Camille Irene Hartmetz, a Phoenix woman who provides home rentals through Airbnb, posted on Facebook that she has had 12 cancellations already and warned that “small businesses would feel a big impact from this in the next 1-2 months.”
Some people responding to her post said that they, too, have had cancellations, though others said they haven’t.
A news release on spring-break travel to Puerto Peñasco didn’t even mention coronavirus concerns but, rather, aimed to assure visitors that the resort city on the Gulf of California, also known as Rocky Point, has steered clear of the violence that has wracked other parts of Mexico.
“Rest assured, Rocky Point has one of the lowest levels of crime in Mexico,” said Keith Allen, director of sales at the new Encantame Towers condo development and a member of the Peñasco Business Coalition.
“Avoiding travel to Rocky Point because of news reports would be akin to avoiding travel to Phoenix because of reports of violence in Los Angeles,” he said in a statement.
Employment impact uncertain
The most recent national and Arizona employment numbers continue to show brisk job growth, but many economists now view those reports with suspicion because they were compiled before a surge in U.S. coronavirus cases started in late February.
Economists disagree as to whether a recession is in the offing, but most expect economic growth, at a minimum, to slow.
The stock market has lost nearly 20% of its value in recent weeks over concern that coronavirus anxiety will lead to an economic downturn.
News of the first job cuts tied to the coronavirus are starting to trickle in.
Oyo, an India-based hotel company, said it will cut 5,000 jobs from its global workforce of 30,000 because of a coronavirus-sparked downturn in demand at hotels. But most of those cuts are in China.
Conversely, many Arizona employers remain in a hiring mode. For example, Walmart, which already employs roughly 34,000 people in Arizona, is looking to add another 700 in metro Phoenix.
The full- and part-time positions include inventory stockers, cashiers and personal shoppers. Walmart stores seeking to add staff include those in the Paradise Valley area, Cave Creek and north Scottsdale.
Similarly, health and well-being company Humana, which employs 2,600 people in Arizona, is seeking to fill 90 new phone-sales positions in Phoenix at a job fair March 11. In addition to sales, the new employees will offer enrollment assistance for customers using the company’s Medicare benefits and other plans.
Houses of worship take precautions
Some churches are discouraging members from holding hands in service but otherwise haven’t reported a significant impact.
“Anecdotally, we haven’t heard of any drops in attendance, and I haven’t seen a drop in any of the churches I’ve recently attended,” said Brian Flatgard, a spokesman for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “We feel that when anxiety is high in our culture, gathering for worship is needed more than ever, and our churches will balance public safety with providing a place of hope and community.”
Doreen Feldberg, board president at Temple Solel in Paradise Valley, said her congregation hasn’t seen a decrease in attendance, either.
“We will continue to follow our building and school protocols regarding diligent cleaning of our building, and we will continue to encourage regular hand washing throughout the day to prevent the spread of germs,” she said. Members, she added, are being asked to greet one another verbally instead of with a handshake or kiss.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has advised members who are sick or vulnerable because of other medical problems to stay home and participate in Mass via television or streaming services.
For people attending services, “You should not feel obliged to shake or hold hands during the liturgy, and it is acceptable to receive the Eucharist in your hand,” the diocese said in a statement.
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Arizona Republic staff members Lauren Castle, Michelle Gardner and Duane Rankin contributed to this report, as did freelance correspondent Michael Knight.
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