Anchorage will enter ‘modified hunker down’ for December

Downtown Anchorage, as seen from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in April, 2020. (Abbey Collins/Alaska Public Media)

Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced a new emergency order on Wednesday to place Anchorage in a “modified hunker down” mode to curb the massive uptick in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks. 

“Today, we find ourselves in a situation that nobody wants to be in. There are no easy answers, but we must act because continuing on this path is the worst of all bad options,” said Quinn-Davidson at a Wednesday press conference announcing the order.

The order, which goes into effect on Dec. 1 at 8 a.m., closes bars and restaurants except for takeout, delivery or outdoor service. Bingo halls, theaters and other entertainment centers are closed. Salons and personal care businesses are limited to 25 percent capacity and are not allowed to perform services that involve removing masks. All other retail and public-facing businesses are limited to 25 percent building occupancy.

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Indoor gatherings are limited to six people and outdoor gatherings to 10 people, with exceptions for drive-in events, classrooms and political or religious gatherings. Indoor gyms are restricted to 25 percent capacity and organized sports are closed to indoor competitions. 

In a statement, Quinn-Davidson said the choice to hunker down again was not an easy decision, but the current trajectory of COVID-19 cases is unsustainable. With record-breaking case counts, contact tracers are no longer able to keep up, hospitalizations have continued to rise and more healthcare workers are sick.

“The patients keep coming and they’re coming faster and they’re coming sicker and they’re staying longer,” said Providence Dr. Megan Clancy. “We’re drowning and we need your help.”

“There are no easy answers, but we must act because continuing on this path is the worst of all bad options,” Quinn-Davidson said on Wednesday. “It would mean jeopardizing our healthcare capacity, and it would cause unnecessary long term illness and deaths in our community.”

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Restaurants and other businesses have been anticipating this new emergency order since last week. Quinn-Davidson said she put it off in hopes case numbers would come down.

“I’ve been trying to do the least possible restrictions that we need to get through this and to preserve life and avoid unnecessary death,” she said. Since the administration’s warning to take COVID precautions seriously and the mask mandate earlier this month, she said, “we saw some behavior change, but not enough to overcome the rapid increase in cases.”

The acting mayor said the administration is working with the Assembly to allocate the remaining $15 million in CARES Act money for rental and mortgage assistance, small business support and other high-need areas. She said she is also meeting with Alaska’s congressional delegation to urge another federal economic stimulus package.

“Economic hardship can be avoided with just an act of Congress. Congress has the power to do right by the businesses and individuals that have been struggling,” she said. “There is no legitimate reason that they have not done this.”

Assemblymen Felix Rivera and John Weddleton echoed the acting mayor in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re close to running out of money for rental and mortgage relief,” said Rivera. “We will be releasing the final round of small business grants soon. The well is running dry and people’s livelihoods are on the line.”

The city is hiring code enforcement officers to ensure businesses comply with the new order. Additionally, Municipal attorney Kate Vogel said the emergency order allows the city to temporarily close individual businesses as a consequence of noncompliance. Fines and stop work orders are also possible repercussions.

Despite the enforcement options, it’s still up to individuals to adhere to the mask mandate, social distance and avoid gatherings. UAA assistant professor of economics Kevin Berry said reducing transmission now ensures that the economy remains intact until a vaccine is widely available. 

“The way that we return to normal is just by beating the virus. Avoiding these sorts of orders and allowing things to return to normal was a fantasy, it’s not a real option,” he said. “Because people don’t want to get sick, they don’t want to go to the hospital, and they don’t want to put their loved ones at risk.”

The order lasts until Jan. 1, 2021.