Anchorage releases gradual roadmap for reopening of the economy

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz at a recent COVID19 press conference in Anchorage.

The city of Anchorage is releasing a roadmap for re-opening as the coronavirus pandemic changes in the weeks and months ahead. The document is not a timetable, but a series of public health conditions officials say they need to see in order to ease current restrictions. 

Leaders in Anchorage say the city has fared well so far in minimizing viral spread, as well as hospitalizations and deaths. But they are resisting pressure to quickly relax restrictions, saying that re-opening the municipality will happen in phases. At a press conference Monday, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said the city is coordinating closely with the state on guidelines for lifting some current restrictions.

“The plan is simple to understand, it’s divided into four parts. We are in the first part. We are in the ‘hunker down’ phase,” Berkowitz said. “What is critical to this entire process is that we’re driven by metrics, we’re driven by things we can measure.”

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Many of the public health benchmarks laid out in the document are relatively concrete. Among other criteria including medical capacity and the availability of personal protective equipment, officials need to see a 14-day downward trend in hospitalizations and new virus cases to begin easing current “hunker down” restrictions.

Other metrics, such as the “capacity to screen and test widely” are less well-defined. The administration says it is looking primarily at the advice of public health officials to make determinations on policy changes. 

The fourth and final phase, according to the roadmap, will not be reached until an effective vaccine is widely available. According to Dr. Bruce Chandler, medical officer for the city’s health department, that is a long way out.

“I think it’s very clear this is not going to be a short-term event,” Chandler said.

He also said the state’s current testing capacity is insufficient due to supply shortages, but state officials said later that capacity is growing. 

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Correction: an earlier version of this story mistakenly stated public health officials needed to see 28-days of downward trends to modify the hunker down orders.