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Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor Berkowitz announces he will extend ‘hunker down’ order to May 5

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, center, gives his report during the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Tuesday evening said he intended to extend his “hunker down” order through May 5. The announcement was made during an Anchorage Assembly meeting, shortly before the body renewed and extended his emergency powers to June 5.

Berkowitz said the transmission rate in Anchorage has slowed down.

“That indicates the efforts we’ve made have been hugely successful," he said. “We are going to continue with them.”

Berkowitz had originally asked the emergency declaration period to be extended to Nov. 15, matching what the Alaska Legislature gave to Gov. Mike Dunleavy. It would provide for consistency, Berkowitz said, while allowing him to be nimble and react if the number of COVID-19 cases in the municipality jumps.

Assembly members felt that was an excessive amount of time for the mayor to hold such powers and unanimously endorsed an amendment from members Meg Zaletel and John Weddleton, trimming the length of time to early June.

The June 5 date serves as a check and balance, Zaletel said.

“It brings us back to reassess the situation and convene a public conversation about the current state of COVID, the emergency and what the best course of action is,” she said.

The vote came after 14 members of the public testified via phone. Most advocated for the city to start opening up businesses that can operate in a safe way. A minority demanded that the “hunker down” order be removed immediately, and that the city return to normal.

The Assembly spoke at length about balancing economic suffering with potential loss of life.

“There is every intent from everyone to open things up as fast as we can safely do that, and very much before June 5,” Weddleton said.

Two testifiers, who both identified themselves as doctors, spoke in favor of extending the “hunker down.”

The testimony was emblematic of a rapid surge in emails to the Assembly advocating that the city go back to normal.

Berkowitz said Tuesday night that even though he wants the emergency declaration to last to November, he does not anticipate keeping the “hunker down” order in place for that long.

“Whether people are misinformed or not, there is definitely a stress out there that seems felt by most of the community,” Assemblywoman Crystal Kennedy said.

Berkowitz addressed the growing debate in the community over the emergency declaration and the “hunker down” order at the beginning of the meeting. He said people are falsely conflating the declaration and the order, and he believes that many of those people are being intentionally misled.

“Frankly I think that there’s some confusion that’s has been stirred up by people who have some very base political motives and under these circumstances when people are trying to pull together as Alaskans and as Americans those kind of partisan — that kind of partisan behavior is inexcusable,” he said.

Berkowitz’s chief of staff, Jason Bockenstedt, said there are several changes in the new “hunker down” order. Nonessential businesses will be allowed to have two staff members in the building to do essential work, like getting the mail. They will still not be allowed to do curbside service.

People are strongly encouraged to wear cloth masks outside of the house, so fabric and sewing stores can now do curbside pick-up or delivery. Farmers markets, food trucks and landscapers are also now deemed critical businesses.

Businesses are prohibited from knowingly allowing symptomatic employees from working outside the home, and they must strongly encourage employees to wear a cloth mask.

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