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Anchorage mayor threatens to fine businesses violating ‘hunker down’ order, but holds off from harsher restrictions

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Non-essential businesses operating during Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order are risking a $1,000 fine and possible criminal charges.

Berkowitz said during a Monday media briefing that the city’s code inspectors have been going around the city to check for compliance with his order. So far, they’re issuing warnings. If a business that is supposed to be closed remains open after a warning, the city will issue a $1,000 fine, the mayor said.

“We are looking at a prospect of thousands of people dying here and overwhelming our medical capacity,” Berkowitz said. "The more disciplined we are, the more that we protect ourselves and one another, and do it without the government telling people to do it, the better off we are going to be. “

On March 22, Berkowitz imposed an order banning all non-essential businesses from operating to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and avoid overwhelming the health care system. Essential businesses range from grocery stores to electricians to telecommunications companies.

On Monday, Berkowitz spoke following the release of a report from the University of Alaska Anchorage, which detailed modeling for the potential fallout of the virus, depending on what measures elected officials take.

One of the report’s recommendations was narrowing the criteria for what businesses are considered essential. It also recommended enforcement of the “hunker down” order.

On Monday, Berkowitz said he was not yet ready to impose stricter emergency orders, like narrowing the definition of “essential.”

Berkowitz repeatedly has said he would like residents and businesses to follow the order because it’s the right thing to do. However, on Monday he said the city will use its authority to ensure compliance.

“There are multiple ways to induce people to do the right thing,” Berkowitz said. “I would appeal to their better angels. Do it because it’s the right thing. For those who don’t think the rule applies to them, they absolutely apply to you.”

The mayor warned that if a business stays open after being warned and fined, the business and everyone inside of it will be fined $1,000. Berkowitz said there is even the option of levying criminal charges.

The closure of businesses doesn’t have a hard end date. It’s in place at least until April 14, but Berkowitz said it’s likely it will be extended. The virus is in the early stages of running its course through Anchorage and Alaska, he said.

Additionally, Berkowitz said there is no specific threshold for number of cases or deaths that would trigger harsher measures.

“I don’t consider that there would be a numeric threshold,” Berkowitz said. “We’re going to be monitoring all the data that’s available to us, and if we see changes in trend lines, if we hear about additional problems, we will do more.”