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Gyms, spas and community swimming pools will be allowed to open Wednesday, and professional sports leagues will be allowed to begin practicing in Arizona after the state's current stay-at-home order expires Friday, Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday.

Movie theaters also were given the green light to open Saturday.

Those activities can resume as long as appropriate health precautions are in place, Ducey said in an announcement that marks just the latest loosening of policies enacted over a month ago to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"This is a green light to continue going forward on the way out of this pandemic. Now, this is not a green light to speed. This is a green light to proceed with caution," Ducey said at a press conference in Phoenix.

The announcement does not signal the end of the new coronavirus in Arizona.

Asked if the coronavirus has peaked in Arizona, the governor said: "I don’t know. That’s what we’re doing is preparing for the worst-case scenario."

Ducey called on Arizonans to continue physical distancing and practicing the sort of hygienic measures that have become a new way of life for many.

But Ducey said data show Arizona meets the White House's criteria for loosening some public health precautions. As the state has ramped up testing for COVID-19, a declining percentage of those tests are coming back positive, he said.

Those numbers come as the state tests far more people through a testing blitz. The governor faced repeated questions about whether that has skewed the numbers. But Ducey defended the data as a positive development. Meanwhile, the state has hospital capacity sufficient to handle an increase in cases, he said.

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A total of 11,736 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus in Arizona as of Tuesday and 562 people had died. The state reported it had completed nearly 123,000 tests for COVID-19 statewide as of Tuesday, with 7.5 percent coming back positive. A little more than 36,000 tests for COVID-19 antibodies had been completed, with 3.2 percent positive.

And if the Navajo Nation were a state of its own, it would have the second-highest per-capita rate of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, behind only New York, as of Monday. The tribe spans a large area of northeast Arizona, and parts of New Mexico and Utah.

Public health officials have warned against skipping over the guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which call for restrictions to remain in place until the number of cases in a state have declined for two weeks and the state has a robust testing program in place for health care workers at risk.

Ducey said Arizona had checked the necessary boxes to loosen restrictions in explaining why the current stay-at-home order would expire after Friday.

“Overall, it’s a defensible decision. Hopefully, people and business respond thoughtfully,” said Dr. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the state Department of Health Services, arguing the key will be how individuals as well as businesses, churches and event organizers proceed.

The governor announced a second order, which requires businesses and other institutions to implement policies for limiting the spread of COVID-19, in accordance with guidance from state and federal governments.

It also encourages Arizonans to avoid social situations where physical distancing is not possible.

Businesses such as movie theaters can reopen Saturday, if those businesses have appropriate measures in place.

And while major league sports would resume without fans, that part of Ducey’s announcement comes just after Major League Baseball owners on Monday sent a proposal to the players association that would, if approved, open the 2020 MLB season on July 4.

“I was pleased to hear the Governor’s comments on the state’s willingness to allow sporting events in a controlled environment,” Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall said in a statement. “We have been in constant communication and he has consistently shown cooperation and support to us and league leadership. Both he and I have made it clear we are more than willing to be part of a solution if there is a need for us to host more teams or games.”

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In announcing the new policies, Ducey nodded to the disruptions in daily life around Arizona that have come with the stay-at-home order and the coronavirus more broadly.

The state is grappling with an unprecedented spike in the number of Arizonans out of work as businesses have slashed hours or ceased operations altogether, leaving many to depend on unemployment insurance and charities for support.

Political pressure has mounted, too, with some elected officials increasingly casting the public policy options for responding to the virus in deeply partisan terms.

Ducey has already tweaked pieces of the stay-at-home order, which he had previously extended to May 15.

The state allowed retailers to partially resume in-person service last week and restaurants could resume dine-in service on Monday.

But polls show a majority of Americans still support measures such as closing sit-down areas of restaurants and limiting gatherings to promote social distancing.

Within Ducey's Republican Party, however, legislators openly question whether he has gone too far.

Some Arizona lawmakers have called for a resolution to end the current state of emergency. One group of activists launched a campaign to recall Ducey. Though it is unlikely to gather the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed, it is a sign of the times, much like the protests that have come to the Capitol and the few sheriffs who have said they will not cite anyone for disobeying the governor's stay-at-home order.

A coalition of restaurants under the banner Too Soon Arizona marked the first day of dine-in service at restaurants by pledging to stay closed, however, arguing that it is too soon to open their doors and endanger their staff and communities.

"We feel proceeding incautiously with the reopening of businesses will worsen human suffering in our communities and prolong the negative impact this pandemic is having on small businesses & the economy," the group said in an open letter.

And Tuesday at the Capitol began with demonstrators setting more than 20 body bags outside the building in a protest against lifting public health precautions in a manner organizers argued would be premature.

Contact Andrew Oxford at andrew.oxford@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter at @andrewboxford.

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