Anchorage lifts capacity restrictions for all businesses, still requires masks and social distancing

A snowy street with cars parked around and a Fur Rondy banner hung above
Downtown Anchorage on March 2, 2021 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Restaurants, gyms, and other establishments in Anchorage will be allowed to open at full capacity beginning Monday morning provided they maintain social distancing.

Emergency Order 19, announced by Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson on Thursday, also lifts restrictions on organized sports and group gatherings, but it maintains a mask mandate for the city.

Anchorage health officials said that lower COVID-19 case rates in recent weeks gave the city room to ease restrictions. Quinn-Davidson emphasized that 80% of the city remains unvaccinated and warned that new, more contagious COVID-19 variants could threaten progress the city has made in fighting the disease. Quinn-Davidson said despite the risks, there is hope for a more-or-less normal Alaska summer with few restrictions. 

“We can get there if we stick with the responsible masking and distancing we’ve become accustomed to. If we remain vigilant this spring, we can make our vision for an Alaska summer a reality.” said Quinn-Davidson.

Anchorage Health Department epidemiologist Janet Johnston said on Thursday that COVID-19 case levels in the municipality are the lowest since September. With frontline workers and elders largely vaccinated and hospital staffing at stable levels, she said the city is in a much better place to gradually open up.

Compliance with masking and other public health measures remains high, said municipal attorney Kate Vogel.

“Our businesses are on board, they know how to function safely, they’ve become experts at doing so. And this just gives a little bit of extra flexibility to do that,” she said, adding that she doesn’t think eased restrictions will pose an enforcement challenge.

Under the new order, all businesses, including bars and restaurants, entertainment facilities, salons, gyms and retail stores will be allowed to open at full capacity, provided they maintain masking requirements and at least six feet of physical distancing between parties.

Indoor gatherings with food and drink may include up to 25 people; 35 people without food and drink. Outdoor gatherings with food and drink may include up to 60 people; 100 people without. 

Organized sports are now allowed to have spectators, provided they mask and social distance. Teams within the municipality are also now allowed to compete with teams outside the municipality, provided all participants comply with testing requirements. 

EO-19 will go into effect on Monday, March 8 at 8 a.m.