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Anchorage

Citing spike in COVID-19 cases, Anchorage mayor announces new restrictions for bars, restaurants and gatherings

A customer picks up takeout from Humpy's on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced new capacity restrictions for bar, restaurants, gyms and other gatherings beginning at 8 a.m. on Friday. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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Starting Friday at 8 a.m., new capacity restrictions will be imposed on Anchorage bars, restaurants, gyms and other establishments.

The new emergency order, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s 14th during the COVID-19 pandemic, was announced Wednesday afternoon.

The changes once again make for a more fettered city as residents won’t be able to enjoy activities like dining out or gathering in large groups as freely as before. For many Anchorage businesses, the new order means fewer customers coming through the doors. It also means many businesses must now keep a log of customers who visit for longer periods, to aid with the city’s strained capacity for contact tracing.

The restrictions come as cases in Anchorage and Alaska have surged, and follow capacity restrictions being imposed in several other U.S. cities and states.

“We’ve seen a rapid acceleration in the number of cases,” Berkowitz said in a community briefing Wednesday. Berkowitz said the medical infrastructure is currently unable to keep pace with the rise in COVID-19 transmission.

“We are experiencing exponential growth at this time,” Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda said during the briefing.

Since Friday, there have been 260 more cases in Anchorage, Pineda said. The city is averaging 37.9 cases per day. Last week, the city reported 24.9 cases per day. State data updated Wednesday showed 1,068 total Municipality of Anchorage residents have tested positive for COVID-19, including 391 recovered cases, 668 active cases and nine deaths.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced new capacity restrictions for bar, restaurants, gyms and other gatherings beginning 8 a.m. on Friday. (Bill Roth / ADN)

On Sunday, the city saw a daily record with 65 new cases, Pineda said.

“Currently, our reproduction rate is one of the highest in the country, for the state. I am sure that the Municipality of Anchorage is contributing to that increasing reproduction rate,” she said. “Which means our virus is growing fast.”

Fifty-nine percent of the city’s ICU beds are occupied. While those aren’t all COVID-19 patients, the city is starting to see a ”creep-up” in need for beds for patients with the virus, Pineda said.

“The cases are rising and the pressure on our system is imminent,” she said.

Under the mayor’s new order, indoor gatherings will be limited to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings where people are consuming food or beverages will be limited to 50 people.

Bars will be limited to 25% of their maximum building capacity, including staff.

Restaurants and breweries can reach 50% of their maximum capacity indoors, including staff. Outdoor space will be limited to table service only, and tables must be spaced at least 10 feet apart.

When bars and restaurants were operating under limited capacity in May under the second phase of Berkowitz’s reopening plan, several cited concerns about being able to turn a profit or break even with limited customers.

Last week, Alaska’s main service industry trade group called on Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Anchorage officials to impose more mandates on restaurants and bars to potentially avoid another shutdown for the industry. The group’s recommendations included requiring employees to wear masks and keeping a log of customers, but did not include a specific ask for capacity restrictions.

Under the new order, other indoor entertainment facilities, such as gyms, bingo halls and theaters, are limited to 50% of their building occupancy. General retail businesses and personal care businesses such as salons do not fall under the capacity restrictions.

The new regulations will not apply to farmers markets, outdoor food truck events or drive-in events where people are in their cars.

A notice requiring patrons to wear masks is posted at the entrance of Spenard Roadhouse on July 22, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Also, all businesses that have sit-down service lasting at least 15 minutes must keep a log of all adult customers, recording their first and last names, phone numbers and email addresses to be used by contact tracers in the event of people being exposed to COVID-19 at their establishment. This record must be kept for 30 days.

Places like banks would also have to keep a log of visitors involved in extended, sit-down situations such as applying for a loan.

If a business does have COVID-19 exposure, employees as well as the state and local health departments must be notified. They also must assist public health authorities in alerting customers to the exposure.

Finally, hotels and other lodging are required to inform employees of any guests who are in quarantine or isolation due to travel or COVID-19 exposure. The hotels and lodges must also provide adequate personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to employees.

Alaska has seen a significant and consistent increase in cases since reopening its economy, regularly hitting record single-day case counts. Recently, there have been several days with more than 100 cases.

“Standing still in the face of adversity is not the kind of option that we have,” Berkowitz said.

Deaths and hospitalizations have increased, though to a much lesser degree. On Wednesday, the state announced 92 new cases in residents, four new hospitalizations and the 19th death tied to COVID-19.

While hospitalizations and deaths are believed to be an especially lagging indicator of how present the virus is, all data is on somewhat of a delay. Pineda said daily case numbers are actually indicative of what was happening 10 to 14 days before.

“That is why when we see this significant increase in numbers, we’re concerned,” she said. “That means the community spread has been happening over the past two weeks, and it’s still incubating and moving around our community.”

On June 26, Berkowitz imposed a face covering mandate within the municipality to try to limit the spread of the virus when people are in public.

Anchorage Economic and Community Development Director Chris Schutte said there has been enforcement of the city’s mask mandate. When someone files a complaint to the city about a business not complying, city workers will call the business and inform them of the mandate, Schutte said.

Schutte said there have been instances where businesses or employees were not complying.

Pineda said compliance is something the community is still working on, and said people should be wearing masks outside if they are coming within 6 feet of non-household members.

Berkowitz and Pineda said the decision to limit capacity is partially driven by the virus surging statewide, and in other parts of the country. Anchorage is the health care hub for Alaska, so outbreaks in other parts of the state can put a strain on the local health care infrastructure.

Part of Alaska’s surge has involved the seafood industry.

“When we are looking at hundreds of cases coming in from seafood workers, that will put a burden on our ability to provide capacity for people in Anchorage,” Berkowitz said.

Businesses with questions about the emergency order can email COVID-19-business@anchorageak.gov.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story cited Mayor Ethan Berkowitz saying general retail businesses would be limited to 50% capacity. The mayor misspoke when he announced that, his spokesperson later said. Those businesses will not be under a capacity restriction.

Also, an earlier version of this story cited Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda saying the city has had 430 new cases since Friday. The city later said that is incorrect; there were 260 new cases in that time.

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