With thousands of Alaskans out of work and the economy battered by the pandemic, the loosening of more restrictions on gatherings and businesses statewide Friday reflects a push toward a new normal under COVID-19.
But all of the public health advice still applies, officials say, including continued physical distancing from others, the use of face coverings in public settings and rigorous hygiene practices.
Friday’s changes allow for the statewide reopening of bars, gyms and theaters, according to guidelines released by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration Thursday. Those businesses have been closed since March under health mandates intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Also, other businesses are now allowed to expand their capacity from 25% to 50%.
Anchorage’s similar “phase 2” plans go into effect Monday morning, and the municipality’s guidelines largely reflect the state’s.
Both Anchorage and state officials touted COVID-19 data as the reason for initiating a second step of reopening. Daily case counts of the virus remained low statewide and the state’s health care capacity has expanded.
"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,” Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said Friday. “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.”
But officials continue to warn Alaskans that although the virus isn’t spreading as rapidly as it once was back in March, the risk of transmission is still present.
A number of people who weren’t showing symptoms of the virus tested positive for COVID-19, city and state officials said. That means there’s likely some percentage of asymptomatic people with the virus in Alaska.
“We’re going to get cases here and people will get sick," Dunleavy told reporters Friday. “But it is also important that we start to restore balance back into our life."
Here’s what the next phase of the state’s plan to reopen the economy involves.
Bars and restaurants
Bars may reopen for the first time since March 18, but they are limited to 25% of their total capacity. If you’re sitting at the bar, you’ll have to stay 6 feet from the person next to you. Plus, tables have to be at least 10 feet from one another, and only people who live together can share a table.
Bars won’t need to take reservations if they keep customer logs for contact tracing. Tables and bars should be sanitized after each customer, and everyone should get a new coaster for each drink. And, officials are asking that people avoid using cash, and as separate entry and exit points are encouraged.
Restrictions on restaurants were also loosened, as they can now accommodate half of their maximum capacity indoors, and walk-ins are now allowed if the establishment keeps a visitor log.
Theaters, bowling alleys, bingo halls and other entertainment venues may open to a quarter of their capacity, according to the state guidelines.
If you’re heading to the theater, expect to leave two seats between you and other theatergoers who aren’t part of your household. Seating is limited to every other row, and you’ll also have to make a reservation in advance and undergo screening.
Anchorage’s guidelines for theaters was forthcoming as of Saturday afternoon. [The state’s guidelines can be found here.]
At Alaska’s bowling alleys, guests have to stay 6 feet away from each other, and lanes are staggered. You can only bowl with members of your household, and you’ll have to make a reservation beforehand and go through a screening. Alleys have to sanitize their bowling balls every four hours, though guests are encouraged to bring their own ball.
Gyms and fitness centers, previously limited to indoor classes, may now open to indoor activities, with several restrictions. The building cannot exceed a quarter of its capacity, face coverings are encouraged and people have to be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before the activity. Steam room, sauna and hot tub use is still suspended.
You can head into the gym without a reservation if the business keeps a visitor log. Workout stations and equipment have to be 10 feet apart. Gym restrooms can be open, but they have to be cleaned every hour, along with high-touch surfaces like doorknobs. Gym equipment must be disinfected between uses by different guests.
Stores in Alaska can now expand their capacity to 50% of their maximum capacity or to 50 people, depending on which number is smaller, according to the new guidelines.
Public-facing businesses can now allow for walk-ins and may allow half of their usual maximum capacity at once. Non-public facing businesses must also keep up social distancing, and keep employees at least 6 feet apart.
Alaskans may gather in groups as large as 50 people indoors and outdoors, which includes meetings and social or religious gatherings. People are still encouraged to stay a minimum of 6 feet from others and wear cloth face coverings.
Personal care services
Barbers, hair salons and tanning salons must still use reservations to allow for customers to be screened by phone, according to the guidelines, and work stations still need to be 6 feet apart, but the business can expand to 50% of their occupancy.
In Anchorage, personal care businesses need to keep a log of guests for 30 days with name and contact information.
In a statement Thursday, Juneau officials said the borough “does not intend to open public facilities, like pools and libraries, until the Assembly has had time to understand the Governor’s approach and his rationale for implementing it.”
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