Anchorage to ease COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, indoor sports

Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant is empty on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The normally busy dining room was shut down on Monday to comply with the city's new order.
Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant is empty on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (Matthew Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage will further ease several COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and organized sports beginning Feb. 1, Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced Thursday.

The move follows a continued decline in COVID-19 case counts in the city and state. 

Under Emergency Order 18, bars and restaurants will be able to operate indoor and outdoor service at 50% capacity, up from 25%. Alcohol service must stop after 12 a.m. Previously, the cut-off was 11 p.m.

Entertainment facilities can operate at 50%, up from 25%.

Gathering limitations have been raised to 10 people indoors and 30 people outdoors when food is present, or 15 people indoors and 50 people outdoors for gatherings without food.

Indoor sports competitions, previously banned, will be allowed between teams within Anchorage. Organized sports still can’t hold competitions with teams outside the city.

Gyms, salons and retail businesses will remain limited at half capacity.

Quinn-Davidson said the reduction in cases is a good sign that people are following social distancing, masking and other regulations. But she cautioned if residents aren’t careful, that progress could be reversed.

“Easing restrictions shifts more responsibility to individual decision,” she said. “If we continue doing the things we know work, we are hopeful that we can continue to keep the virus in check long enough for vaccine to become widely available.”

Anchorage Health Department epidemiologist Dr. Janet Johnston said despite the progress, she’s concerned about the new variants of coronavirus, some of which are reported to be much more contagious. The first Alaska case of the UK variant first appeared in Anchorage in late December.

“I will admit that I am very nervous about these variants, because of what I’ve seen in other parts of the world. So we are watching, we’re in constant communication with the state. And we will certainly continue to evaluate if anything needs to change.”

COVID-19 case numbers had reached an all-time high in late November, when the acting mayor announced a month-long shutdown for December. Case numbers dropped significantly during the shutdown and have continued to gradually decline this month, even as businesses have opened again at a reduced capacity. 

The order goes into effect on Feb. 1 at 8 a.m.