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Anchorage

Anchorage will halt indoor service at restaurants and bars, shrink gathering size limits starting Monday

Empty outdoor seating tables line G Street in Anchorage on July 31, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

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Starting Monday, a broad emergency order in Anchorage will prohibit indoor dining at restaurants, restrict bars to delivery and takeout, limit gathering sizes, require people to keep their social bubbles tight and require working from home whenever possible.

The new order announced Friday will be in effect for four weeks, and it marks the most significant action the municipality has taken to tamp down on COVID-19 since the “hunker down” order this spring. Emergency Order 15 also comes as Anchorage experienced the “worst week of the epidemic, in terms of new cases, active cases and cases per day,” Anchorage Health Department Director Natasha Pineda said in a community briefing.

The new restrictions, which will be in effect from 8 a.m. Monday to 11:59 p.m. Aug. 30, require that bars and nightclubs be closed except to provide takeout or delivery service. The city will also prohibit indoor dining service at restaurants and breweries, which may still offer outdoor table service as long as tables are spaced at least 10 feet apart. The city is encouraging these businesses to offer delivery, curbside and takeout service.

The order, described as a “four-week reset,” also says that people in Anchorage “shall limit outings and physical contact with those outside of their household and a small chosen group of other individuals.”

The text of the emergency order describes widespread community transmission in Anchorage, maxed-out contact tracing capacity and the potential for hospitals to run out of intensive-care unit beds by mid-September, and the order states that it is intended “to preserve the health and safety of our community.”

Since July 24, the municipality saw 494 more cases of COVID-19, contributing to a total of 1,088 active cases of the illness, Pineda said Friday. That puts the city above the state’s parameters for a high alert level, with 17 cases per 100,000. Cases are being identified at more than double the rate they were in the previous week, Pineda said.

“We have entered a period of time where we know there is a COVID storm coming, and we hunkered down once. I think this is a time for us to batten down,” Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said Friday.

Berkowitz has said in the past that restaurants and bars with known COVID-19 exposure haven’t necessarily done anything wrong, and that many have followed city guidelines.

On Friday, he acknowledged the “uneven burden” being placed on restaurants and bars under the new order, in part because of the nature of the virus and the way it spreads.

The virus is “particularly susceptible to spreading in those kinds of close environments where people aren’t able to stay masked, and where their social inhibitions might be relaxed a little bit,” he said.

Mask requirement signs are taped to the entrance of Darwin's Theory in Anchorage on July 31, 2020. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

He said he was hopeful that there would soon be support at the federal level for this industry and its workers as Congress and the White House continue negotiations on the next federal pandemic relief package.

If the federal government “doesn’t come through with some measure of support” for these businesses, he said the municipality would consider stepping in.

“We’re aware that it is such a high price,” he said. “I want to make sure that they are not left alone in these times.”

The Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association recently called for more mandates that would require additional health precautions in bars and restaurants, in the hopes of avoiding a broader shutdown like what the city announced Friday.

CHARR President Sarah Oates said she is disappointed with the municipality’s decision.

”This will be completely devastating to many businesses and will certainly result in many permanent closures of bars and restaurants in the municipality that we know and love,” Oates said in a text message Friday.

Also during the “four-week reset” period, theaters and bingo halls must remain closed under the order.

Indoor gatherings — including political and religious gatherings — must be limited to 15 or fewer people under the new order. No more than 25 people may be involved in an outdoor gathering where food and drink are consumed; other gatherings are limited to 50 or fewer people.

Masks and physical distancing of 6 feet will be required at all gatherings.

The gathering size limits do not apply to day cares or day camps; K-12 education facilities; farmers markets or food truck events where customers can maintain 6 feet of distance from others and there’s no on-site dining; or drive-in events where vehicles are spaced 6 feet apart (or 10 feet if singing is involved) and food, drinks or other items aren’t passed among vehicles.

The emergency order also states that employers “shall require employees to work from home when their work can be accomplished remotely without significantly impeding business operations.”

Public-facing businesses such as retail stores don’t face new capacity limits under the order, but they’re “encouraged to prioritize telephone and online ordering; increase their offerings of curbside, entryway, and delivery services; and implement reserved hours of operation limited to high-risk populations.”

Gyms and personal care businesses are under other restrictions, Berkowitz said, so they’re not affected by the new order.

In order to tell if the measures are working, officials look at several metrics locally in terms of disease spread, health care capacity and public health capacity, as well as recommendations from the state and the White House, Pineda said.

At the end of the four-week period, the city will be able to tell if the order is helping to slow the spread or if more measures are needed, said Dr. Bruce Chandler, medical officer for disease prevention and control at the city health department

In terms of enforcing the order, Berkowitz said that when the city receives a complaint, they inform that business about compliance. He noted that he would like to hire more compliance officers.

“But we do not live in a police state,” Berkowitz said. “Much of what we do, we count on people to do the right things.”

Under the new emergency order, anyone likely to be contagious with COVID-19 must also minimize contact with other people. For those experiencing symptoms, that includes staying home unless they are seeking virus testing or medical care, according to the order.

People traveling to Anchorage from outside the state must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival unless they receive negative results on two COVID-19 tests, following the process outlined in the city’s previous emergency order addressing travel from Outside.

The health department is delayed in reaching people who test positive for the illness, Chandler said. He stressed that people who test positive should isolate until they’re cleared by public health workers.

On Friday, the municipality also revised and reissued its emergency order on a face mask requirement for indoor public settings, which remains in effect until revoked.

The revised face mask emergency order now also requires people in Anchorage to wear face coverings at outdoor gatherings when it’s not possible to maintain 6 feet of distance from non-household members. That order takes effect today until 1 p.m. and will stay in effect until it is revoked or changed.

”We are in a place we didn’t want to be,” Berkowitz said. “Our strategy is that we are battening down, we’re going to steer straight, and we’re going to see our way through this.”

He stressed the importance of everyone working together to again flatten the curve.

“I’m calling on us to be strong,” he said. “We have done it before, Anchorage — we have flattened the curve, we have rode out an earthquake, we have done amazing things in this community. And it is time for us to behave that way one more time.”

Daily News reporter Emily Goodykoontz contributed.

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