Alaska will fully reopen its economy on Friday at 8 a.m., Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Tuesday evening.
Bars, restaurants, gyms, retail stores and all other businesses will be able to open ahead of the Memorial Day weekend without any capacity restrictions imposed by the state.
“It will all be open, just like it was prior to the virus," Dunleavy said.
The state is moving to phases 3 and 4 of its reopening plan simultaneously, he said.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether some communities would follow the state’s decision. Dunleavy said it was possible that some would lag behind the state guidance.
In a Tuesday night interview, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said his team would review the data through the week and make a decision Friday that would go into effect Monday, as the city did in previous phases of reopening.
Berkowitz said if the data continues the way it has, he might consider lifting capacity restrictions while keeping in place “best practices” like having hand sanitizer near entrances to businesses.
“What are businesses going to do to maintain the physical separation and the hygiene? Which is a change from just the percent opening, and a move to what the best practices are,” Berkowitz said. “But we’re still debating whether we can implement something like that, and whether that makes the most sense.”
Berkowitz said he saw the governor’s plan and does not feel there will be a large disconnect between state and city policy.
“I don’t see a significant difference in practical terms,” Berkowitz said.
The governor said the state is still advising protocol like staying six feet away from each other while in businesses and wearing masks when near other people in public places, but the regulations previously imposed will be lifted.
Businesses will not be required to have hand sanitizer or enact social distancing policies as they are now.
“I think the people of Alaska get that they need to stay away from folks if they don’t want to get the virus,” he said. “That they need to wash their hands and wipe things down. People get that.”
The governor’s initial “Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan” showed that businesses in Phase 3 could open to 75% of their usual capacity, but the Dunleavy administration clarified Tuesday that there are no capacity restrictions during this new phase.
The reopening also includes places of worship, libraries, museums, recreational activities and sports, according to the governor’s office.
Alaska is currently in phase 2, which means restaurants and stores are allowed to open at half their capacity while bars, gyms and theaters can open at a quarter of their capacity.
Berkowitz said it’s important to make sure people feel comfortable going into a business. But he also said when there are clear rules, it helps protect businesses from liability lawsuits that could arise. All those things need to be considered before transitioning further.
“You don’t just flip a switch and open a business in a pandemic and expect things to return to normal,” Berkowitz said.
Dunleavy said he knows that case numbers will increase, but the state is prepared to deal with that.
The low number of cases overall drove the state’s decision, he said.
“It’s going to be up to the establishment and the individual," Dunleavy said.
The transition keeps Alaska at the forefront of states moving to reopen their economy as the spread of the coronavirus starts to taper off locally.
“There are a whole host of issues that occur when you tell people to hunker down and hide,” Dunleavy said. “The economy gets in trouble, people’s mental and emotional health goes sideways. Spiritual health as well, when you’re dealing with churches.”
Dunleavy said individual cities and boroughs may choose to move at a different pace. The 14-day interstate travel quarantine remains in place and is set to expire June 2. Dunleavy said his staff is talking with airlines this week to find ways to allow travelers to enter the state in a safe way, and that quarantine mandate will be reevaluated daily.
Dunleavy said large gatherings, like festivals, should be organized with the assistance of public health officials.
When asked if there is concern that Alaska is moving to phase 4 without fully understanding the impacts of phase 2, Dunleavy said he believes some businesses will stay closed and others will remain operating with limited capacity.
In addition, the state is still restricting visits to senior living facilities as well as prisons. Several other mandates put in place by the governor remain in effect, including limited travel to Alaska communities off the road system, precautions surrounding elective medical and dental procedures, and measures to protect commercial fishing vessels.
Dunleavy said because of that, he believes the increase in cases will remain manageable.
“You’re going to see business done differently, you’re going to see people behave differently, on their own,” Dunleavy said.
An email from a Dunleavy spokeswoman said that the official guidelines for the next phase, which begins Friday, would be posted to the state’s website on Thursday.
There were no new cases of COVID-19 reported by the state Tuesday, based on Monday’s statewide test results. But new cases announced by others Tuesday will likely be reflected in state data released later.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Maniilaq Association, a Northwest Alaska health care provider, announced that a person in Kotzebue had tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving there from a different community.
Additionally, the state’s Department of Corrections announced that an inmate at the Anchorage Correctional Complex tested positive for COVID-19.
State guidance for Alaskans
A presentation by Gov. Dunleavy on Tuesday reminded the public that “the success of remaining open now lies fully in the hands of Alaskans.” As the state moves toward a more comprehensive reopening, officials recommend that Alaskans continue taking the following measures to protect themselves and others from contracting COVID-19:
• Stay at least 6 feet from people who aren’t members of your household.
• Continue washing your hands frequently.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces regularly.
• If you’re feeling sick, stay at home. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested.
• Wear a mask or face covering in public places where it’s difficult to maintain physical distancing.
• If you’re working remotely, work with your employer to see if you can continue doing so.
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