Anchorage

Anchorage rolls out details of new emergency order easing coronavirus restrictions

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Anchorage on Monday will relax its COVID-19 restrictions under a new emergency order that will allow more people in bars and restaurants and ease limits on gathering sizes and organized sports.

Emergency Order 18 goes into effect at 8 a.m. Monday, Feb. 1, and will remain in place until it is revoked, Acting Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s office announced Thursday.

While easing up on some of the businesses that have been most restricted under the two previous orders, the new order makes few changes for other businesses like retail, salons and gyms.

Many local businesses have had to adapt as changing COVID-19 restrictions drastically altered their operations. The virus has also deterred customers from shopping and dining and left many businesses hurting. Restaurants, bars and breweries went through multiple indoor dining closures, most recently for the month of December.

Anchorage eased some restrictions and opened indoor dining in January. The city has seen a slow but steady decline in coronavirus cases over the last month.

The new order aims to strike a balance, slowly reopening the city further while remaining careful, Quinn-Davidson said Thursday.

“It leaves critical public health measures in place while strategically easing restrictions on some of the most impacted sectors that we’ve been hearing from,” she said.

[Read the full text of Anchorage’s new Emergency Order 18]

Quinn-Davidson said the city has made “incredible progress” and attributed the decline in cases to the community’s sacrifices.

“We’re in a position that we have to navigate carefully,” Quinn-Davidson said. “For now we’re heading in the right direction. And we need to keep it that way.”

The most notable changes under Emergency Order 18 include:

• Starting Monday, bars, restaurants and breweries can begin operating at 50% capacity. The time limit on alcohol service will also be loosened slightly — alcohol service can run until midnight. The previous emergency order, which remains in effect through the weekend, required businesses to stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m.

• Sports teams will be able to compete indoors with other teams from within the municipality. Previously, indoor competition had been banned.

[Anchorage’s new COVID-19 plan opens the door for high school basketball]

Bingo halls and theaters will also be able to expand to 50% capacity under the new emergency order.

• Slightly larger gatherings are now allowed. Indoor gatherings with food and drinks will be restricted to 10 people; without food and drinks, indoor gatherings are restricted to 15 people.

• Outdoor gatherings with food and drinks will be restricted to 30 people; without refreshments, outdoor gatherings are restricted to 50 people.

The city is still asking residents to keep outings and physical contact with others to people within their own household.

A separate mask mandate remains in effect in Anchorage, requiring people to wear a mask or cloth face covering while at indoor public spaces, or while they are outdoors if they’re unable to stay socially distant.

Capacity limits for businesses that offer personal care services such as salons or tattoo parlors; gyms and fitness centers; and retail and other public-facing businesses will remain unchanged at 50% capacity.

Because bars and restaurants had been heavily restricted by the two previous emergency orders, it was important to ease up on that sector as much as possible to protect it, Quinn-Davidson said.

The food and dining industry in Anchorage saw a loss of about 4,000 jobs, a third of the sector’s employment, in 2020, according to a state labor report.

Though capacity restrictions are being further eased, some in the industry question how much impact it will have on many businesses. Distancing requirements between customers and tables also play a big role in how many people a restaurant or bar can serve.

“Fifty percent of occupancy with a 10-foot separation doesn’t allow us to do anything more than we’re currently able to do today,” said Chris Anderson, president of Glacier Brewhouse and ORSO in downtown Anchorage, on Thursday.

If more people could be seated at one table, that could help, he said.

Still, Anderson said he understands the city is in a tough predicament.

“I respect what they’re doing and I think they’re probably doing the right thing, and unfortunately I’m in a business that is being dramatically affected,” he said.

City attorney Kate Vogel said that the city is enforcing its emergency orders, which are laws.

For the most part, code enforcers have found widespread compliance, she said.

“That’s not to say that there haven’t been incidents of violation and opportunities for education and corrective action,” she said. “Those have existed and that’s part of why we need and have code enforcement available.”

Though health metrics are improving, Quinn-Davidson said that the city does not have specific date set as a goal for reopening its economy further.

“That’s just not the way this pandemic works,” she said. “... We could have multiple new variants show up and have spread that is super quick and need to ratchet back.”

In an effort to provide more transparency to businesses, the city on Thursday released documents outlining health metrics it uses to decide what restrictions are in place, including daily COVID-19 case counts, health care capacity and the infection rate.

It also released a document outlining the restrictions that would be in place in various phases, ranging from lower risk — when 6-foot social distancing determines restaurant capacity, for example — to very high risk, when restaurants must be shut down entirely to indoor service.

Health officials announced this week that a new, highly contagious variant of the coronavirus has been found in Alaska. Quinn-Davidson said that if the community is not careful, its progress could be reversed.

That could impact further citywide reopening, as well as the reopening of Anchorage schools, which began earlier this month starting with elementary schools. Thousands more students are slated to return in February.

[Anchorage School District plans to bring students in grades 3 to 6 back to classrooms in February]

Dr. Janet Johnston, epidemiologist with the health department, said that while the variant is very contagious, the same precautions work — social distancing, wearing masks and hand-washing.

“We need to be extra vigilant about them, and by extra vigilant, I mean when we say we need to be 6 feet apart, we need to be really 6 feet apart,” she said.

Quinn-Davidson said by easing COVID-19 restrictions, the city is leaving things more to individual decisions.

“If we continue doing the things we know work, we are hopeful that we can continue to keep the virus in check, long enough for vaccine to become widely available,” she said.

[Below: Watch the acting mayor’s announcement of the new emergency order.]

Acting Mayor to announce new Emergency Order

Today, the Acting Mayor is announcing a new Emergency Order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Acting Mayor is joined by Anchorage Health Department (AHD) Epidemiologist Dr. Janet Johnston, AHD Director Heather Harris, Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel, and Office of Economic and Community Development Director Chris Schutte, Director. The community briefing is available on Acting Mayor Quinn-Davidson’s Facebook page and Municipal Channel 9 on GCI cable. American Sign Language (ASL) access is available at www.muni.org/ASLBriefing.

Posted by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson on Thursday, January 28, 2021
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