Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration continued its slow reopening of Alaska society and the economy on Friday night with the announcement of guidelines for social, religious and other kinds of gatherings, which will now be able to take place.
Gatherings of any kind had been suspended under the state’s social distancing mandate as the threat of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, grew. Now that Alaska has increased testing and hospital capacity, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, the state has started dialing back some restrictions on businesses and social activities.
A health mandate aimed at reopening Alaska’s economy, issued earlier this week, allowed many businesses to reopen starting Friday at 25% capacity and with many health and safety protocols.
Upon getting the green light from the governor, businesses have started taking to the Facebook page to announce soft, cautious reopenings. Many are advertising limited hours and business done by reservation only.
Some, like Captain’s Toy Chest on the Sterling Highway and Sustainable Wares on Ocean Drive in Homer, are encouraging online purchases and curbside service, but are opening their doors in a limited fashion for customers who call ahead to make appointments. Captain’s Toy Chest in Homer is limiting its in-store appointments to one adult with no more than three children.
Hairdresser Ashley Story of Short Cuts on Lake Street in Homer is excited to have her clients back. By Friday, she already had the day fully booked at 20-minute intervals.
“I’m spacing people out with enough time to clean in between each person, and asking that, unless it’s a direct family (member) like these guys,” Story said, gesturing to the family member of her client waiting on a sofa across the room. “… one person at a time in the salon. So people wait in the car, and then they come in.”
Then when Story gives her next waiting customer “the signal” that it’s safe to enter, they also leave their car and take a seat in her chair.
Story said it hasn’t been too difficult following along with the state mandates and the loosened restrictions for businesses — she tunes into the nightly press conferences hosted by Dunleavy and his administration.
Mostly, Story said she’s “excited to see everyone and catch up, and see how everyone’s doing.”
An attachment to the mandate announced during Friday’s evening press conference by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum spells out guidelines for the restarting of social and religious gatherings.
”Attachment N” and other new social distancing guidelines specify that people are no longer required to remain home. Indoor gatherings can now take place but will be limited to 20 people, or 25% capacity of the building they are in, whichever is smaller. There must be at least 6 feet of separation maintained between people from different households, Crum said.
“This applies to different types of gatherings of individuals and social organizations, including funerals and weddings, but not otherwise referred to in any other attachments,” Crum said. “ So really, what this puts together is, it actually takes some of our social distancing guidance that was in mandate No. 11 and it talks about that we’re increasing the group size to 20.”
Universal mask wearing by any gathering of people is “strongly encouraged,” according to the guidelines.
“Moving toward these opportunities of reopening businesses and groups getting together is something that is good for our state,” Crum said. “And we look forward to it, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation.”
In addition to indoor gatherings, outdoor gatherings will also have a maximum cap of 20 people, whether social, religious or otherwise, Crum said.
“In all gatherings that include multiple households, cloth face coverings should be worn by all participants,” the guidelines for gatherings state.
If gatherings are being held in a building that is open to the public, as opposed to inside someone’s personal home, the organizer or facility “must provide handwashing capability or sanitizer at (the) entrance and in communal spaces,” according to the mandate guidance.
Venues cannot provide food or drink. If a venue allows food or drink, it must be brought by individuals.
For outdoor gatherings, the protocols state that if people are singing or projecting their voices, the 6 feet of social distance must be increased to 10 feet.
Venues holding religious indoor services are also required to establish a COVID-19 mitigation plan, according to the mandate guidance, that addresses practices and protocols to protect staff and the public. Signs must be posted at religious gathering places “stating clearly that any person with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 may not enter the premises,” the guidance states.
As the state moves to reopen sectors of the economy, it has expanded the guidance under mandate 16 to include specific documents for different kinds of businesses. They include separate guidelines for childcare and day camps, gyms, remote lodges and camping, restaurants, retail businesses, personal care services, non-public facing businesses, public-facing businesses, and fishing charters. There are also separate guidance documents for intrastate travel and activities, graduation ceremonies and social and religious gatherings.
To read the full guidelines for each of these categories, visit covid19.alaska.gov/reopen/.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.