Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said Friday that bars, theaters, bingo halls and gyms can reopen on Monday with a limited number of customers, joining restaurants and retail stores that have been operating under reduced capacity.
At 8 a.m. Monday, new sectors of Anchorage’s economy will be allowed to operate in some fashion for the first time since March, when closures were ordered due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The numbers behind the decision to move from one phase to another are based on the epidemiology, based on our health care capacity and based on our public health capacity,” Berkowitz said. “We are green-lit in all of those areas, with the exception of personal protective equipment, and that’s mostly due to uncertainty about what supply lines look like.”
Anchorage Economic and Community Development Director Chris Schutte said the plan will be almost identical to the plan the state released Thursday night.
As under the state plan, restaurants can move to 50% capacity. Entertainment sectors, including theaters and bowling alleys, can open up at 25% capacity.
“There’s a lot of risk with bars,” Berkowitz said. “Bars are essentially a social place and people will inevitably get too close together, and that poses some substantial risk. But we are opening up all these areas.”
If there is a surge in cases, Berkowitz said, the city will pull back and again shut businesses down.
“I do this with a degree of trepidation," he said. "There is nothing certain in anything we do. The disease is still out there, and people need to know that.”
City operations, such as libraries, do not yet have an opening date. Other than that, nearly everything should be open, though when asked if there are any businesses that cannot open Monday, city officials did not immediately provide an answer.
Other fitness businesses will be able to open up along with gyms. That includes yoga studios, rock gyms, hockey rinks and spin classes. Indoor locations are capped at 25% capacity, and people need to be 10 feet apart while exercising. Reservations are encouraged, though walk-ins are welcome if the business keeps a 30-day log of all participants.
Anchorage’s COVID-19 metrics have stayed in the “green light” category, said Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda. The only category listed in “yellow” is the municipality’s supply of personal protective gear because there’s some uncertainty about securing future supplies, city officials said.
The department is encouraging everyone to continue wearing masks, staying 6 feet or more apart from others and frequently washing hands.
The number of new COVID-19 cases has continued to stay low in Anchorage, Pineda said. A low percentage of the total tests administered were positive last week, Pineda said, which means the municipality is likely testing enough people.
There are still asymptomatic people with the virus in Anchorage who were discovered through hospital screenings. That means COVID-19 “continues to circulate in Anchorage,” Pineda said.
“So it’s really important to remember that the vast majority of Anchorage residents do remain susceptible,” Pineda said.
The city released its phase 2 reopening plan Friday afternoon, while the state’s phase 2 reopening plan was announced Wednesday evening. The state plan allowed phase 2 to begin Friday morning; the city’s phase 2 begins Monday morning.
Asked about Anchorage business owners who have expressed confusion about the lag, Berkowitz said in his experience, those complaints come with a “political asterisk,” and said the city is operating on a different timeline because Anchorage has needs that are unique.
“We are the largest city, and that means we have the greatest density, which means our conditions are different,” he said. “We have to answer questions about malls, for example, that they don’t have to answer on Anaktuvuk Pass.”
Berkowitz did not say specifically how the city’s phase 2 plan differs from the state’s. Schutte said city and state officials have been on twice-weekly calls to try and be as in-sync as possible, and have made improvements on that front in the past two weeks.
“By and large, almost without exception, the criteria that you will see issued by the municipality will line up with the state," Schutte said.
Schutte did not specifically outline any differences between the city and state plans.
Schutte said the city has fielded questions from businesses that are confused about where they fit in the plan, such as if they are considered a bar or restaurant.
“If they are unclear or uncertain on which category they fit in or how they can or should apply the criteria to their business, we are available to answer all questions,” Schutte said.
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Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has encouraged Alaskans to get out and patronize their favorite businesses as the state works to repair its depressed economy.
Berkowitz has repeated a message of caution, saying if residents, as consumers or business owners, don’t feel safe resuming old habits, they should stay at home.
When asked if his advice, given in connection with opening up businesses, was confusing, Berkowitz said it wasn’t.
“It is not a mixed message,” Berkowitz said. “If people are going to go out, they have to make a decision. It’s a personal choice whether to do that.”
The mayor said the municipality also would look at reopening guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “that apparently were garbled back in Washington, D.C,” Berkowitz said.
Several national news outlets reported this week that White House officials had held back from publishing detailed reopening guidelines written by experts at the CDC. The mayor said the municipality may use the recommendations for further clarity and potentially incorporate them into the city’s own recommendations.
“I understand bootleg copies of it have been published in newspapers across the country,” Berkowitz said. “So, it’s readily available.”
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