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Anchorage

‘We will not allow hospitals to become overrun’: Mayor warns COVID-19 trends aren’t sustainable without new mandates

Austin Quinn-Davidson, Oct. 16, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Anchorage’s acting mayor said she has no new mandates in store for the city this week, but if COVID-19 cases continue to surge, the city will need to take action.

“I am not planning to take any action this week, but we are monitoring the situation closely. We will not allow our hospitals to become overrun,” Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson said in a statement Wednesday evening provided by a city spokeswoman.

The statement followed rumblings of a possible new set of mandates in Anchorage, which circulated through the restaurant and hospitality industry Wednesday, stoking already growing fears of another shutdown.

The mayor said she’d been in discussions this week regarding what a new emergency order would look like, but it was not immediately clear what it would restrict or change.

Citing serious concerns around the city’s health care system given the current trajectory of cases, the mayor urged people in the city to stay home, wear a mask and celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday safely.

Alaska and Anchorage are in the middle of an unprecedented COVID-19 surge. In recent weeks, public health officials and local leaders statewide have sounded the alarm regarding an increase in the number of people hospitalized with the virus and a strained health care system as hundreds of health care workers are in either quarantine or isolation.

Quinn-Davidson said she wants “to handle this public health crisis in the least restrictive way possible” and that she has previously strengthened existing mask and gathering limits.

“We are looking for signs that these efforts have had a large enough impact to bring cases down because we simply cannot sustain current case trends,” Quinn-Davidson said.

Sarah Oates, Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association president, said the acting mayor reached out to industry leaders this week about options to reduce coronavirus spread, including a possible shutdown.

But Quinn-Davidson had not yet made a final decision when word got out, Oates said.

“It’s really unfortunate that something that was a proposed idea was blasted everywhere,” Oates said. “It just created a lot of tension and frustration and terror, really, in the industry.”

The last time the city instituted more stringent mandates was for a four-week “reset” in August, as surging virus cases numbers over the summer prompted the move from former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Restaurants, bars, breweries and cafes could not continue with indoor dining for the month.

The monthlong reset kicked off legal battles between the municipality and a few restaurants that defied the orders and continued serving food indoors.

As coronavirus cases have climbed across the nation in recent weeks, leaders in some other states have announced shutdowns of the hospitality industry or enacted other restrictions in an effort to reduce virus spread. In Oregon, the governor last week ordered a two-week “freeze” which restricts bars and restaurants to takeout only.

Lee Ellis, president of the Brewers Guild of Alaska, said he expects to see further restrictions in Anchorage and possibly another closure of indoor dining.

The acting mayor on Wednesday had communicated with Ellis and others that she was considering a shutdown, and word got out and “spread like wildfire,” Ellis said.

“What I was told this morning and what I’m being told right now have changed. Let’s put it that way,” Ellis said during an interview Wednesday night. “So apparently it’s a very fluid situation at the moment.”

Read the mayor’s full statement here:

For several weeks we have seen dangerous new highs in the numbers of COVID-19 cases and those hospitalized as a result. Our public health capacity has already been overwhelmed; continuing on this trajectory risks exceeding our hospitals’ ability to treat critically ill patients.

My goal is to handle this public health crisis in the least restrictive way possible. We have implored the public to wear masks, to avoid gatherings, and to maintain physical distancing. The Governor, JBER Commander Colonel Aguilar, health care providers, and businesses have echoed this message. We strengthened the mask order and tightened gathering limits. We are looking for signs that these efforts have had a large enough impact to bring cases down because we simply cannot sustain current case trends.

We do not want to impose tighter restrictions on the community. But without seeing improvement, we will have to act. We have been in discussions this week about what a potential emergency order would look like. I am not planning to take any action this week, but we are monitoring the situation closely. We will not allow our hospitals to become overrun.

If you, like me, want to keep our economy open and our community healthy, please take this seriously. Wear a mask. Stay home. Plan for a safe Thanksgiving celebration. Tell your friends and family to do the same.

Each one of us has a responsibility to this community. And in Anchorage, we have the profound responsibility of protecting the health care system that serves most of the state. I take that responsibility seriously, and I ask you to join me.

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