The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District building is closed on March 26, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District building is closed on March 26, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly pushes for opening economy, with caveats

On Wednesday, Dunleavy rolled out a plan to reopen sectors of the economy.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is encouraging Gov. Mike Dunleavy to modify his mandates after the state has “procured a sufficient” amount of COVID-19 testing supplies. A resolution, passed unanimously by the assembly at their Tuesday meeting, encourages the governor to lift restrictions on some businesses as soon as “reasonably practical.”

Since March 16, Dunleavy has issued a number of mandates, shuttering businesses and gatherings across the state to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. The resolution says Dunleavy’s mandates are some of the “most aggressive measures limiting virus exposure amongst the states.”

“The continued closure of businesses is impacting all Alaskans, resulting in a significant loss of jobs, business failures, and the loss of important sales tax revenues to municipalities jeopardizing essential services,” the resolution said.

The resolution asks that mandates closing restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, personal care services are reopened once sufficient testing supplies have been gathered. Before the assembly meeting Tuesday evening, Dunleavy announced in his nightly press conference that certain businesses will be allowed to reopen on Friday if they follow a number of health conditions.

Only one community member spoke to the assembly about the resolution. Carrie Henson of Kalifornsky said she did not support the resolution and said Alaska needs to take a “measured response” to the pandemic.

“I think we should leave these decisions up to the experts,” Henson said.

She said she was “very disappointed” with Dunleavy’s decision to allow dine-in services, salons and retail shops to reopen on Friday.

“It was pressure — like this resolution — from local governments that is prompting the governor to make hasty decisions that will likely bring about a repeat of past mistakes,” Henson said.

Assembly member Brent Johnson said he also feels like there is “a lot of pressure” on the governor to open businesses.

Johnson amended the resolution to say that the assembly encourages the governor to change his mandates only if the state has gathered enough testing supplies. The amendment passed five to four, with assembly members Jesse Bjorkman, Brent Hibber, Norm Blakeley and Kenn Carpenter opposing the change.

“I get we have elderly in our communities and people who are at risk and I would say to those people to just please stay home and protect themselves, because I don’t want anyone getting (COVID-19) either,” Hibbert said. “… the sooner we get back to work and can save some businesses, the better off our community, our state and our nation will be.”

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce said the governor has “tough decisions” to make, when it comes to the “fragile balance” of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and restarting the local economy. The mayor asked residents who are “high risk” to stay home and quarantine.

A copy of the resolution will be sent to Dunleavy and Kenai Peninsula lawmakers.

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