Rocky Point Begins Reactivating The Economy, Welcomes Tourists Back

By Kendal Blust
Published: Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 1:02pm
Updated: Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 9:31am

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Rocky Point
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
The sunsets on a quiet beach in Rocky Point in January 2020.

After more than three months on strict lockdown, Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point or Arizona's Beach, is welcoming tourists back to its shores as phase three of the city's reactivation plan. But the city expects visitors to respect restrictions, including wearing a mask, social distancing and a 10 p.m. curfew.

"People visiting Peñasco must know that those rules are in effect and we are not being relaxed or we’re not tolerating the disobedience of those rules because it exposes us and it will expose you," said Mayor Ernesto "Kiko" Munro. "Most likely if there is an outbreak we will have to shut down again. We don’t want that to happen, so that’s why we’re strict in the regulations and also in the enforcing of the regulations.”

For now, all visitors must have their temperature taken, pass through a sanitation tunnel and show proof of a reservation at an approved hotel, resort or rental.

For at least the next two weeks, no one will be allowed to enter the city to stay at a private residence, including property owners, unless they had special permission to leave for medical reasons.

Beaches are still closed, as are bars and nightclubs and the city's boardwalk. But Munro says tourists can enjoy pools, golfing, restaurants, ATV rentals and other attractions. Health and sanitation rules will be in place for all activities, he said.

Munro hopes a full reopening of the city could come in July, but he said that will depend not only on the the coronavirus situation in Rocky Point, but both Sonora and Arizona as well.

Full details of Rocky Point's entry protocols, and a list of approved hotels, resorts and rental condos and homes can be found here.

Rocky Point
Kendal Blust/KJZZ
The Sonoran beach town Puerto Peñasco is a popular destination for Arizona tourists.

Munro implemented a phased plan to reactivate the economy in Rocky Point starting in late May. First, some businesses reopened. Then property owners outside the city were allowed to come back and quarantine at home. Now, in phase three, it’s tourists’ turn.

But the plan remains gradual.

While restaurants, golf courses and pools are open, beaches, bars and the boardwalk are still closed. A 10 p.m. curfew is in place; masks are required in public places; and officials at a checkpoint into town are screening tourists to prevent anyone with a fever or other symptoms from entering the city. They also have rapid testing kits available to test anyone with a fever for coronavirus at the checkpoint.

"We’re strict, of course, because we care about the health of our community. But we’re also strict because we don’t have the clinic capacity to manage an outbreak," Munro said.

Phase three is a first step toward allowing more movement in and out of the city, and for now, Munro said, "we don’t expect to have loads of people coming into town."

Only those with a reservation at an approved hotel, resort or rental property will be allowed in for the next two weeks. Visitors who want to stay with friends or family are out of luck. Even city residents who didn’t come back during phase two, or who want to leave and re-enter, won’t be allowed in unless their travel is approved by the city.

Munro admits the measures are controversial.

"Some sector of the community is afraid to open up. Another is desperate to open up. And then there’s people who validate the gradual opening," he said with a laugh. "So you have all sorts of voices."

For his part, Martin Medina, who owns the restaurant Chef Mickey's Place, is hopeful.

"It looks like there might be a tiny little light bulb turning on at the end of the tunnel," he said.

The pandemic hit Rocky Point during the high tourism season, and has been devastating to the economy. There is little help from the federal government for small businesses like Medina’s, he said, so his employees have been working reduced hours for the past few months. The dip in their paychecks has been a struggle. Many others in town are out of work entirely.

Medina said everyone jut wants things to go back to the way they were before the pandemic started, but they realize it be a long time before that's possible. And he credits local leaders taking action to keep the virus at bay.

"I think they did the right thing. A lot of people don’t like it, but so far we’ve kept it to a very minimal of cases. And we’re hoping it will stay that way," he said.

If not, the city could face another lockdown — something everyone hopes to avoid.

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