Anchorage mayor loosens pandemic restrictions, plus adds incentive to get vaccinated

signs on a door
Signs at a downtown Anchorage café encouraging patrons to wear masks and keep their distance on Dec. 8, 2020 (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Acting Anchorage mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced further loosened pandemic restrictions on Monday. Under the new emergency order, starting at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, outdoor events no longer have gathering limitations, though masking and physical distancing are still required. 

Embedded in the new emergency order is an incentive to get a COVID-19 vaccine: once 70% of eligible Anchorage residents are vaccinated, the restrictions become merely an “advisory” instead of law. As of Monday, 46% of eligible Anchorage residents ages 16 and up had received their first vaccine dose, and 36% are fully vaccinated, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

Quinn-Davidson said the primary barrier to getting people vaccinated isn’t hesitancy, but getting people information and access.

“Now we’re really getting in those hard to hit areas, doing small mobile clinics, showing up at churches, just showing up where people are,” she said. “And that has made a huge difference, but it’s slower. It takes a little time, and we’re up for the task.”

Until the city reaches that threshold, under the new emergency order, indoor gathering limits remain at 25 people for events with food and drink, 35 people without. There’s an exception for large conference spaces, which can hold seated events with up to four times the number of people allowed under indoor gathering limits as long as tables are spaced 6 feet apart.

Outdoor sports competitions no longer have gathering limits as long as spectators physically distance. Indoor sports competitions are allowed four spectators per athlete competing. 

Health officials stressed the need to reach the vaccination threshold in order to make more substantial changes to coronavirus restrictions. 

“Right now, case counts are increasing faster than Alaskans are getting vaccinated. It’s time for an all-hands-on-deck effort to get our community vaccinated,” Anchorage Health Department epidemiologist Janet Johnston said in a statement. “The target vaccination rate of 70% of eligible residents is an attainable goal that would put the community in a much safer position.”

Quinn-Davidson said she’s hopeful Anchorage residents will be able to enjoy a relatively normal summer. “The way we get there is by getting vaccinated,” she said in the statement.

Correction: We initially reported the new emergency order goes into effect at noon on Friday. It goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday.