After weeks with businesses shuttered and Alaskans hunkered down, reopening plans were unveiled by state and local officials this week.
The step toward reopening certain economic sectors comes as new daily confirmed case counts have trended downward. The state saw no new cases of COVID-19 among Friday’s test results, and reported no new deaths or hospitalizations. Sitka officials announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 there on Saturday, involving a resident of a long-term care facility. (That case will be reflected in the state’s official count Sunday.)
As reopening begins to take place, baseline hygiene measures like continued physical distancing, vigorous hand-washing and cloth face coverings in public places are still vitally important, health officials say.
“This is definitely a moment to celebrate but it doesn’t mean we can let our guard down,” Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said in a prepared statement. “As restrictions ease in Alaska, we’re counting on Alaskans to keep taking measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in our communities."
The work of Alaskans to heed public health advice is why the state can begin opening up, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital emergency physician Dr. Mark Simon told reporters Friday.
And as the state slowly opens again, Simon said, “we are entering a high-risk period.”
“It’s natural to think that as things open up, the risk must be lower, right? Not true. COVID-19 is here. And as we emerge from our homes, and interact more, the risk of transmission only increases," Simon said. "As our community starts interacting more, we will see an increase in COVID-19 transmission and positive COVID-19 cases.”
Social distancing at a minimum of 6 feet, hand and face hygiene and wearing a mask in public have proven that “we can protect ourselves, we can avoid a large loss of life, and we can continue to protect our health care infrastructure,” Simon said.
Going forward, those actions become all the more critical.
The plans announced by both the Municipality of Anchorage and the state of Alaska are nuanced and depict a world far different from the one we lived in before COVID-19 swept around the globe.
Here’s what those initial steps forward mean for Alaskans: what we can expect, and what’s still to come.
What’s opening up
Previously limited to takeout only, restaurants were permitted to reopen for dine-in service statewide on Friday, while the Municipality of Anchorage will reopen restaurants Monday.
This is what restaurants can look like:
• You can only go to a restaurant as a household, with no other guests at your table. And you have to make a reservation first — no walk-ins allowed.
• Restaurants can only be filled to 25% of their capacity at once.
• For outdoor dining, there can’t be more than 20 tables and they have to be at least 10 feet apart.
• Restaurant employees need to wear masks, and condiments need to be in individual packets or bottles that are sanitized between customers.
• Sanitizer should be at each table or at the restaurant’s entrance.
• In Anchorage, restaurants need to keep a log book with the names and phone numbers of customers from the past 30 days, to aid in possible future contact tracing.
• The state and municipality listed several other sanitization and employee guidelines for restaurants as well. [You can read the state’s full restaurant reopening requirements here, and Anchorage’s here.]
Alaskans aren’t being asked to stay home anymore, according to the new statewide mandate that took effect Friday and allows for small religious, social and other gatherings.
• Indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 20 people, or up to 25% of the building’s maximum occupancy for indoor events — whichever is less, according to the new statewide restrictions.
• Gatherings can include people of different households, but you still have to keep at least 6 feet apart. If you’re singing or projecting your voice, that minimum distance grows to 10 feet.
• Organizers of indoor religious services should also “establish protocols for sacrament, communion, or collecting offering with minimal handling of the offering plate and money and proper sanitization of hands and disinfecting of surfaces.”
• All participants of gatherings that include people from different households should wear cloth face coverings.
• If you’re sick, you should still isolate at home until 72 hours after your last symptom, unless you need medical care. If you’ve been a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you still have to self-quarantine for two weeks and you can’t take part in any gatherings.
[More details on state guidance for gatherings and religious services can be found here.]
• Only 20 people or 25% of the store’s capacity, whichever number is smaller, can be in the store at once.
• You have to stay 6 feet from others who aren’t part of your household and you need to wear a cloth face covering.
• Only one adult from a household can visit a particular store at a time.
• There are also specific sanitization and staff guidelines for shops, including hourly sanitation of frequently touched surfaces. [Those guidelines can be found here from the state, and here from the municipality.]
Personal care services
• The state and the municipality released an extensive list of personal care services that can launch back into motion under specific restrictions, including hair salons, barber shops, nail salons — businesses whose services require direct physical contact with a client.
• Like restaurants, you’ll have to make reservations for your next trim — walk-ins aren’t allowed.
• Customers should come alone or with a guardian.
• Individual staff are limited to working with one customer at a time. In Anchorage, each pairing of a staff member and customer must be at least 10 feet away from the next staff-customer pairing; under state guidelines, that minimum distance is 6 feet.
• You’ll have to go through a screening process by phone before your appointment. You’ll be asked about recent travel and exposure to COVID-19.
• Workout and fitness classes can take place outside, according to the state’s guidelines.
• Anchorage was set to release its own guidance on gym and fitness centers as well. That was not released by Saturday evening.
• Classes are limited to 20 people, and everyone must be at least 10 feet apart when exercising.
• The state asked that businesses provide markings for where class participants should stand.
• You’ll be screened before the activity, and if you’re showing symptoms or have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you won’t be allowed in.
• Indoor workout classes still aren’t allowed.
[The rest of the state’s fitness guidelines can be found here.]
In-state travel, plus camping and lodging
Though travel around the state was previously banned, Alaskans can now drive to different communities on the road system “for any purpose, including, but not limited to, recreational or sightseeing activities,” according to new state restrictions.
• You should travel only with members of your household, and remain 6 feet apart from non-household members. You should also wear a cloth face covering during recreation activities and not share food with people you don’t live with, the new health mandate says.
• You should minimize your stops while traveling and wear cloth face coverings while interacting with others.
• Several lodging and overnight camping sites can open if they follow certain distancing, hygiene and sanitation requirements listed by the state.
• Campgrounds, hotels, lodges, RV parks and other lodging businesses must operate by reservation only, with no walk-ins accepted.
Non-essential, non-public-facing businesses (like law firms or marketing offices)
• Desks or work stations need to be at least 6 feet apart, and employees must wear cloth face coverings.
• The state says employers must provide alternate workspaces for high-risk employees or address other special accommodations to mitigate their risk of exposure.
Non-essential, public-facing businesses
The state and city also issued guidance for service-oriented businesses that have a retail-like storefront, such as print shops or carpet/tile operations.
• All employees need to wear cloth face coverings.
• These businesses can operate by reservation only, and only 20 or fewer people (or 25% of the business’s capacity, whichever is smaller) may be in the space at one time.
• Workers who provide in-home services also need to wash or sanitize their hands upon entering a home and at their time of departure, in addition to sanitizing any surfaces they worked on, under the state guidelines.
Still to come
Playgrounds and bus service in Anchorage
• Playgrounds in Anchorage are closed for now. But officials said they’d be opening them back up soon.
• Bus service in Anchorage is still suspended, but the municipality is looking at ways to open it again safely.
Day cares and day camps
The state released guidelines for reopening day care and day camp facilities, including limits on group sizes, daily screening of children, pre-shift screenings for employees and other specific measures addressing social distancing and hygiene. Officials in Anchorage said Friday that they were still assessing how that reopening would work in the municipality.
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