‘We’re open’: Alaska businesses can operate at full capacity on Friday, Dunleavy says

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference about COVID-19 in early May. (Office of the Governor)

Alaska businesses can open at full capacity on Friday and sports can resume, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Tuesday evening. 

“Friday, we’re open for business across the state of Alaska,” Dunleavy said at a news conference. 

Alaska will enter phase three and four of the government’s five-phase reopening plan simultaneously at 8 a.m. Friday. That means restaurants, bars, gyms, retail shops and other businesses can fully open. All churches, libraries and museums can too. Sports and recreational activities can resume, Dunleavy said. It’s the governor’s latest major lift of the state’s coronavirus-related restrictions. Previously, certain businesses could only operate at 25% to 50% capacity. 

“It’ll all be open, just like it was prior to the virus,” Dunleavy said.

However, Dunleavy said, while the state is lifting its restrictions, some local governments may decide to keep their rules in place longer.

In a statement late Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said the city is making decisions on lifting restrictions based on the metrics tied to its reopening plan. If metrics hold steady or improve by the end of the week, the city could move to the next phase of that plan, which includes increasing the number of people allowed at gatherings.

“As the Governor’s materials directly acknowledged today, local communities are permitted to have stricter health restrictions,” said the statement from spokeswoman Carolyn Hall. “Businesses and organizations within the municipality are required to comply with local as well as state law.”

In Juneau, City Manager Rorie Watt said there will likely be some trepidation from the Borough Assembly and from the public about relaxing restrictions, especially if they’ll result in more people traveling to the city.  

“Our statistics are really good,” Watt said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re ready to let our guard down.” 

Over the past couple of months, Alaskans have helped keep the state’s number of coronavirus cases low, Dunleavy said, allowing the state to build up testing and other health-care capacity. 

“The understanding we had with the people of Alaska was: Give us some time to build up our health-care capacity to deal with what we thought was going to be a spike,” Dunleavy said. “People of Alaska have given us that time. It’s come with great sacrifice. So we believe we can manage this virus. We have to manage this virus.”

Alaskans should continue to try to stay at least 6 feet apart from those not in their households, and remain careful about gathering in big groups, Dunleavy said. He said it will be up to businesses to decide how they’ll operate. The state is moving from mandates to guidelines, he said.

“We want to give businesses and entities opportunities to open up and conduct business like we used to, with the understanding that 6 feet or more from each individual is going to slow down the spread of that virus,” he said. “Sanitation, wiping down, washing hands is going to be crucial.”

Some mandates remain in place for now, including the 14-day quarantine requirement for people traveling into Alaska. The state is working with airlines and airports to come up with other protocols, so the mandate can be lifted, Dunleavy said. 

Related: Alaska’s quarantine order has helped thwart COVID-19 but devastated tourism. Will Dunleavy keep it?

Classrooms remain closed as the school year comes to an end. The state is asking Alaskans organizing large gatherings, such as concerts, to contact health officials to make sure there’s a proper plan in place.

Read our most recent coverage of the coronavirus here

Dunleavy said the state expects the number of coronavirus cases in Alaska to increase as mandates ease and businesses reopen. The state is prepared to deal with that community by community, he said. 

In Alaska, at least 400 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and about 87% of them have recovered so far. A total of 43 Alaskans have been hospitalized and 10 have died. More than 36,000 tests have been administered. Alaska currently has one of the lowest per-capita infection rates compared to other U.S. states.

Related: First positive coronavirus case reported in Kotzebue

Across the country, states are moving to reopen after the coronavirus swiftly shut down the economy. The total number of cases of the contagious disease in the U.S. has topped 1.5 million and more than 90,000 people have died, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

KTOO’s Rashah McChesney contributed to this report.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.