Anchorage shuts down bars, restaurants for indoor service

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz speaks at a July 31, 2020 press conference (Screenshot from Mayor Berkowitz Facebook)

All Anchorage restaurants and breweries will be closed to indoor service starting Monday, said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Bars and nightclubs will also be closed to dine-in service as coronavirus infections in the municipality soar.

Berkowitz announced the restrictions under a new emergency order at a news conference on Friday.

The order also closes bingo halls and theaters. It limits indoor gatherings to 15 people and outdoor gatherings with food and drinks to 25 people. Outdoor gatherings without food and drinks are limited to 50 people.

Bars and restaurants, Berkowitz said, “are unfortunately bearing the brunt of what’s going on right now.”

Berkowitz acknowledged that while the closures have disproportionately affected the hospitality industry, since bars and restaurants have frequently been major transmission sites for COVID-19, the restrictions are “necessary, nonetheless.”

The order goes into effect on Monday, Aug. 3, at 8 a.m. and will last for four weeks.

“By waiting for four weeks, we should see be able to judge whether these measures are helping to reduce transmission or whether we need to do additional steps,” Anchorage Health Department medical officer Dr. Bruce Chandler said on Friday.

Berkowitz also extended the city’s mask order, and added that masks will now be required at all indoor and outdoor gatherings.

Gyms remain under a prior emergency order and can operate at 50 percent capacity.

Retail and other businesses are encouraged to reduce public interaction by using telephone or online ordering and curbside pickup and delivery, Berkowitz said.

Related: The rules for crossing the Canadian border into Alaska just got even stricter

The new emergency order also requires people to work from home if that can be done without “significantly impeding business operations.”

Anchorage’s Roadmap to reopening status on July 31, 2020 (Screenshot from Muni website)

As with other recent orders, Berkowitz said the city will respond to complaints of non-compliance by educating businesses about new measures. He said education has been largely effective as an enforcement method.

The mayor indicated the municipality may step in to provide assistance for out-of-work businesses and employees, but he said they are currently waiting to see what happens at the federal level.

In the last week, COVID-19 cases have continued to rise rapidly.

Anchorage had 494 new cases this week, up from 187 the week before.

Department of Health Director Natasha Pineda said the city’s public health capacity remains at a “red light” level, the most urgent level on the city’s scale for measuring response capability. Health care capacity is still at a “yellow light,” but city officials warn that current trends indicate Anchorage could run out of ICU beds by Sept. 17. 

This week the city opened five new testing sites spread around town. Bill Falsey, incident commander of the city’s emergency operations, said all five are free and don’t require a doctor’s referral.

“We’re encouraging anyone with even mild symptoms, or who thinks they may have been exposed to go to those sites to get covid tested. We’ll also test people who are asymptomatic if they feel like they have been exposed,” he said.

The new testing locations are ChangePoint Church, Fairview Community Recreation Center, Anchorage Church of Christ, Muldoon Community Assembly and Z.J. Loussac Library. All of the sites accept drive-through and walk-up patients, and will be open Mondays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Fridays, noon to 8:00; and Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.