Dunleavy outlines steps for cautious reopening of the economy

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference about COVID-19 on April 14, 2020. (Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Monday the state will soon outline plans for opening hair and nail salons, restaurants and retail businesses with added protocols to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. 

He said the state will begin giving details on Tuesday and may begin to relax regulations as early as next week. He will also meet with mayors over the phone on Tuesday.

“Hopefully, if you’re like me, you can get excited about the prospect of getting a haircut, getting your nails done, talking potentially about going to one of your favorite restaurants,” he said.

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But not every business will be opening and those businesses that are allowed to open will have to observe added hygiene and social distancing practices. 

“In those businesses, we feel there are protocols those businesses can put in place — face coverings, sanitizing, spacing within their businesses,” Dunleavy said.

While he left details for Tuesday, the governor did hint at what some of the business openings would look like. 

Restaurants with enough dine-in space, for example, might be allowed to have customers inside, provided that they call in for a reservation in advance and are part of the same family.

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Outside of their ability to observe health protocols, Dunleavy said there was another reason for having those businesses re-open first: “They employ a lot of Alaskans.”

Alaska has recorded 14 straight days of a downward trend in new COVID-19 cases, state officials said. Capacity to test, as well as hospital capacity, has increased. As the state reopens some sectors, it will watch carefully for movement in the wrong direction, Dunleavy said.

“If we see a spike in cases, clusters of cases, we’re going to go in and investigate that very quickly,” he said. “We may have to suspend the operations of a certain establishment or locale and then deal with it in that manner, but it’s our hope, it’s our plan not to have to go back to where we were where a lot of things were suspended.”

Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said that even as some of the restrictions on businesses relax, residents should continue to avoid large groups, practice social distancing and wear masks in public. Zink said the decrease in positive tests shows that Alaskans efforts have been effective, but they should continue being careful. That trend is a leading requirement for reopening the economy.

“There has just been a really progressive downward trend,” she said.

She stressed that new guidelines released on Monday say that people who have any symptoms aligning with COVID-19 should get tested. Testing data is another key for those who are tracking the disease. The state lab has the capacity to test as many as 7,000 people a week. According to the state’s website, it has done as many as 800 tests per day, but conducted just over 200 on Sunday. Zink said that the state is hoping to increase that number 

While testing has become a key focus for states around the country, she said there is no magic number for how many tests need to be performed per day.

“The goal is to really make sure we’re testing broadly and widely across all populations and all regions in our state,” she said. 

She also encouraged people to track their movements using an app or on paper, so that if they do test positive, disease trackers can help isolate where their exposure came from.

Dunleavy noted that all of the health guidelines for hygiene and social distancing won’t be enforced by the government and will rely on the participation of Alaskans. 

“We have to have faith in Alaskans, it’s only gonna work if Alaskans want it to,” he said. 

Rural communities that are off the road system, have fewer than 3,000 people and don’t have hospitals will still be able to enforce additional travel restrictions to their communities, but Dunleavy did not announce whether the statewide travel ban would be extended. That restriction expires on Tuesday.

Alaska Public Media Editor Julia O’Malley contributed to this story.