The Orca Theater in Kalifornsky, Alaska, is shuttered on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The Orca Theater in Kalifornsky, Alaska, is shuttered on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Alaska businesses allowed to reopen Friday

Cloth face coverings are strongly encouraged when going out in public.

Starting this Friday, bars, movie theaters and all other businesses in Alaska that had not already reopened will be able to do so, with some limitations, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said during a press conference Wednesday night.

Dunleavy announced the first details of “phase two” of the Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan Wednesday night, which will involve increasing the maximum occupancy of most businesses and allowing social gatherings of up to 50 people.

Beginning May 6 at 8 a.m., businesses that were allowed to open during phase one of the plan, which included restaurants, retail establishments and many non-public facing businesses, will have their allowable occupancy increased from 25% to 50% of their maximum capacity.

In addition, restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in service on a walk-in basis, not just through reservations only.

Personal care services, such as nail salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors should still operate by reservation only so that clients can be screened for symptoms related to COVID-19.

Bars, libraries, museums and other entertainment venues not included in phase one will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity starting Friday.

Swimming pools will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

Social gatherings, including churches and other religious gatherings, can now be up to 50 people or 50% of the maximum occupancy of the building.

Adam Crum, commissioner for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said that details on phase two, including the best practices for maintaining social distancing and proper sanitation techniques, will be attached to Health Mandate 16 and will be available on the state’s website by Thursday.

More announcements will be made on safe practices for intrastate travel and youth services like day cares, overnight camps and organized sports, Crum said.

Dunleavy said that the decision to open up more of Alaska’s economy is based primarily on two factors: Alaska has not seen a significant surge in new COVID-19 cases in several weeks, and the capacity within the state to test for the disease continues to increase.

“As we mentioned when we went through phase one of opening the economy, we were looking at our numbers and looking at the metrics,” Dunleavy said. “It’s very important that we keep an eye on that. As you saw today, we had one additional case, and unfortunately, we had one individual pass away, which brings us to 10 (deaths). Our numbers are still pretty much the lowest in the country, and we’re going to continue to watch these numbers because health is No. 1. We went through this whole process to help protect Alaskans. We’re going to continue to do that, but at the same time, I think we all realize that we have to make sure that we don’t lose our economy. Every day that goes back we have workers laid off, historic numbers of workers that are out of a job right now, as well as businesses that are on the brink of failing or have already failed. So our numbers compel us, in a way, to open up responsibly.”

April 18 is the last time that 10 or more cases were identified in the state on a single day, according to the state’s Coronavirus Response Dashboard. Dunleavy said that 23,655 tests have been administered statewide as of Wednesday. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said that Alaska’s current positivity rate is about 1.57%.

Dunleavy said that, while moving forward with this plan, the state will continue to rely on the behavior of individual Alaskans to help prevent the disease from spreading.

People are still encouraged to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet when interacting with someone outside of their household, and to limit those interactions as much as possible. In instances where people are exerting themselves or projecting their voice, like while exercising or singing, a distance of at least 10 feet should be maintained.

People who are over the age of 65 and those with other underlying health conditions should continue to take extra precautions to avoid interactions with others, Dunleavy said.

Cloth face coverings are strongly encouraged when going out in public, as is frequent hand-washing and sanitizing.

People who are feeling sick, especially with any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, should stay home. Currently, the following symptoms are associated with COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills or repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of sense of taste or smell.

When asked what is stopping business owners from disregarding the current guidelines and operating at a pre-pandemic level, Crum said that business owners are not likely to make decisions that would endanger their business or their community.

“We imagine that a lot of businesses and business owners, they have put their heart and soul into this,” Crum said. “They’re going to want to make sure that they’re protecting their patrons, because nobody’s going to want to go to that one place that’s known as the hot spot. So we want to make sure we protect them that way and give them the best guidance possible.”

Dunleavy also said that he is confident that establishments will follow the guidelines laid out by the state, as they already do with health and safety regulations that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We often get questions like: what are you going to do to entity X or business Y if they don’t do this,” Dunleavy said. “And we’ve said over and over again, we got where we are today because Alaskans wanted to get there. And we’re going to get where we want to go with Alaskans by working with them together.”

Dunleavy said that if there is an instance of a business that is determined to be a health risk in a particular community, the state will step in, but for the most part the state is not using punitive measures to enforce the health mandates or guidelines.

“Everyone we’ve talked to understands that this is incredibly serious,” Dunleavy said. “That we all have a responsibility. And the last thing a business owner wants to do is jeopardize having clientele come there. So we’re confident, in working with individual Alaskans and working with business owners, that this is going to work. We’re going to police ourselves, and I think it’s going to work out. I really do.”

For more information on the Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan, visit https://covid19.alaska.gov/reopen.

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