Come Monday, some Anchorage businesses will be able to open up to the public for the first time in a month.
Specifics of what can open and under what circumstances will be released in written form Friday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said during a Wednesday public address. Berkowitz said the city’s policy will be similar to what the state releases this week.
While Alaska continues to report confirmed cases of COVID-19 each day, the mayor and Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the numbers are low enough to allow some places to begin reopening in a limited way. On Wednesday night, state officials described in greater detail how Alaska businesses like restaurants, retail and personal services like salons can operate.
Retail can have up to 20 people or 25% of their maximum capacity at a time. Restaurants will also operate at 25% capacity, taking reservations only. Personal services likewise will not be able to accept walk-in customers.
“There’s mixed feelings on opening, not opening, opening to what extent,” Dunleavy said during a Wednesday night public address.
Both Dunleavy and Berkowitz said the sacrifices Alaskans have made over the past month allow the city and state to begin easing up on the restrictions.
“What we are doing is driven by data,” Berkowitz said hours before. “All the data that we have collected shows that we are in the right place, or moving toward the right place, in so many areas."
Dunleavy announced Tuesday night that the state was accelerating its plan to open businesses, with some restrictions being lifted on Friday. Anchorage would follow by lifting some of its restrictions Monday, Dunleavy said.
Berkowitz addressed the public Wednesday as more than 100 vehicles parked outside of the Loussac Library, protesting the mayor’s “hunker down” order. The mayor’s move to open up the city wasn’t quick enough for some of the protesters, who appreciated Dunleavy’s pledge to open up three days earlier.
They condemned the mayor for his emergency orders. One sign had Berkowitz’s face glued on to the body of Mao Zedong, former chairman of the People’s Republic of China, and an infamous communist dictator.
Berkowitz said he sympathizes with Anchorage residents who want to see the economy on the mend, but he disagrees with them on how quickly that can be done. As he has before, he said there is a much larger group of people not protesting, and following the “hunker down” order.
“As a decision-maker, I am much more prone to being persuaded than I am being pressured,” he said.
This week, as states like Georgia and Alaska move to open their economies back up, some worry moving too fast could be dangerous. On Wednesday, that included President Donald Trump, who has been a strident champion of reopening the economy.
“I think spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlors and barber shops in phase one…is just too soon," he said in a press conference.
Dunleavy said that’s likely correct for many states, but not Alaska, which has one of the lowest per capita case rates in the country.
“We’re going to watch it carefully, but we think we have the ability. We think with Alaskans’ help, we will keep our numbers low,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy said Alaskans are afforded opportunities right now that don’t exist in other states due to the sheer size of the state and its low population.
“I have a lot of faith in the business folks of Alaska,” he said. “They’ve invested a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of money, a lot of emotion in their businesses. And this pandemic has taken a toll on all of us.”
Berkowitz said the past month has allowed medical providers to develop the capacity to handle an increase in cases as residents and businesses have more freedom. That capacity is needed for people around the state who will rely on the medical infrastructure of Alaska’s largest city.
“It’s one of the reasons why we are moving a little bit more deliberately than the state is, in terms of opening things up,” Berkowitz said. “We have a responsibility here as the biggest city in the biggest state to make sure that as we open up, we are protecting not only our own community, but communities across Alaska.”
Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda said an increase in cases is anticipated.
“There will be a natural uptick in those cases,” Pineda said. “What we are working to establish is ensuring that we’re able to manage for that.”
Berkowitz did not have specifics on how Anchorage’s policy will differ from the state’s, but said he’s working with the governor’s team to limit confusion.
Anchorage does have the legal authority to impose more strict regulations than what is issued statewide, he said.
“There are going to be protocols that might involve having a certain amount of personal protective equipment and if those protocols can’t be met, then the businesses shouldn’t open,” Berkowitz said.
Dunleavy said there is a competition for supplies like hand sanitizer and gloves. If a business can’t acquire those products, they should not open. He said these supplies will go to hospitals first, but if things like sanitizer and gloves become available, the state will announce it.
Just because businesses can open doesn’t mean they have to, Berkowitz said. Similarly, people do not need to patronize non-essential businesses.
“If you don’t have something critical to go do, you shouldn’t go do it,” Berkowitz said.
When asked about permitting some activities while at the same time discouraging them, Berkowitz said, “I’m not going to a tattoo parlor. It’s not critical for me to go to a tattoo parlor, I would not encourage members of my family to go to a tattoo parlor.
“Now is not the time for that,” he continued. “This is part of a risk calculus that businesses have to ask themselves. Even if they are opened up, will the business exist?”
The move to set a specific date for opening up nonessential businesses was a shift for the mayor. On Monday, when asked if there was a date to start opening businesses up, Berkowitz rejected the idea of setting a date.
“I think we need to change the question from when to what,” he said at the time.
During the Wednesday address, Berkowitz said he has not decided if he plans to move to a “phase two” of the reopening plan on May 8, as the state does.
Berkowitz said he has worked extensively with the state in deciding how to move forward. But when asked if he planned for Anchorage residents to find out about local restrictions being lifted from the governor during a public briefing, he said, “The governor and I are still learning how to work well together in a seamless way."
The state of Alaska announced six new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including four people in Anchorage, one person from Wasilla and one person from Juneau. Of the people who tested positive, four are children and two are in their twenties. Cases are reported by residency, and may not reflect where a person is when sick.
The cases reported Wednesday reflect the total number of positive results returned to the state by Tuesday at midnight.
A total of 335 Alaska residents have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state, including 196 people who have recovered — 28 of whom were new recoveries Tuesday, according to the announcement.
The state also reported for the first time Wednesday that fewer than 10 non-Alaska residents have tested positive for COVID-19 in the state, according to the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink.
A total 10,858 tests were performed through Tuesday evening statewide, Zink said. The state had previously reported that over 12,000 tests had been returned by Monday at midnight, but Zink said Wednesday night that a group of tests had been double counted.
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