After four-week “reset,” Anchorage opens bars, restaurants to indoor dining

A ASL interpreter signs on the left, a screen with four faces in the middle, and Berkowitz on the right.
Mayor Berkowitz speaks at a news conference on Aug. 28, 2020 (Screenshot from Mayor Berkowitz’s Facebook)

After a month-long attempt to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases, the Municipality of Anchorage is again loosening restrictions on businesses.

Starting Monday, restaurants, bars, breweries and nightclubs can resume indoor, sit-down service, but they must limit capacity to 50%. No standing or bar service is allowed, the city says. Tables must be spaced at least six feet apart or be physically separated with barriers. Only members of the same group will be allowed to sit at the same table, and groups are limited to six people.

Outdoor dining has the same restrictions. Visitor logs are required at all hospitality businesses and any other businesses where people spend more than 15 minutes.

A proclamation from Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s office on Friday said the average number of new COVID-19 cases in Anchorage over a 14-day stretch dropped from 21 per 100,000 residents to 12.5 over the course of the reset. However, community transmission remains widespread and “threatens to overwhelm our health system,” the proclamation said.

Berkowitz said the reduced case numbers and increased capacity for testing and contact tracing contributed to the decision to relax restrictions.

“We saw declining numbers, we have flattened the curve, we have raised the bar. And so we have increased confidence that we’re in a better position today than we were a month ago,” he said.

The city is also loosening restrictions on the size of gatherings. Indoor gatherings can now have up to 30 people. Outdoor gatherings with food or drink are limited to 50 people, while ones without food or drink are limited to 100 people.

Gathering limitations don’t apply to child care centers or farmers markets. Drive-in events are also not limited, so long as cars are spaced six feet apart — ten feet, if audience members are singing — and nothing is passed between cars.

Friday, August 28, 2020, Community Briefing:Today the Mayor will give an update on COVID-19 with Dr. Janet Johnston, the Anchorage Health Department's epidemiologist and Bill Falsey, the Emergency Operations Center incident commander. Chris Schutte, Director of the Office of Economic and Community Development and Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel will also be available to answer questions.Anchorage residents are encouraged to ask questions in the comments of the Facebook Live video and we will do our best to get them answered.

Posted by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Friday, August 28, 2020

Bingo halls and theaters are also allowed to reopen on Monday. Along with gyms and other entertainment facilities, they must remain at 50% capacity. Places of worship and political expression are also limited to 50% capacity. Masks and social distancing are still required at all gatherings and in public. 

Over the last month, hundreds of residents have protested restrictions on dine-in service outside Anchorage Assembly chambers. Some restaurants refused to comply with the restrictions on indoor dining, resulting in a lawsuit and fines.

RELATED: Judge orders Kriner’s Diner to stop dine-in service

Berkowitz said the public outcry had nothing to do with loosening restrictions.

“Of course we try and incorporate the positive constructive suggestions that people make into the decisions that we make. But the decisions we make are science driven,” he said. “Had we bent to those kinds of louder voices, we would never have done anything.”

RELATED: ‘We’re all angry’: Anchorage restaurants lay off workers and shut down dine-in, while others defy order

Anchorage remains at the high alert level for measuring the pandemic, especially with recent outbreaks among vulnerable populations. Officials with the Anchorage Health Department hope to see cases drop further in the coming weeks.