COVID-19 restrictions loosen as positive cases drop
by Victoria Petersen
Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announces a new emergency order, mental health concerns, resident and business owner assistance and vaccine rollout.
COVID-19 restrictions in Anchorage were loosened in February. A new emergency order, announced in a Jan. 28 press conference by acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, will allow more residents into bars and restaurants, while also relaxing limits on gatherings and sports events. Some businesses, like retail, salons, and gyms, saw little change to the citywide regulation of their operations.
Dr. Janet Johnston, Anchorage Health Department epidemiologist, was present at the press conference, along with municipal attorney Kate Vogel, Anchorage Health Department Director Heather Harris and the Director of the Office of Economic and Community Development, Chris Schutte. Johnston said the city is still considered “high-risk,” but is at the lower end of that risk level.
Mayor Quinn-Davidson said Anchorage is heading in the right direction, for now, but that the city’s public health progress could still be reversed if residents are not careful. She said the new emergency order leaves critical public health measures in place, while easing restrictions on industries who have been hurting.
Indoor dining was reopened at the beginning of January, and over the last month, the city has seen a steady decline in positive COVID-19 cases, not seen since October 2020. Emergency Order 18 took effect at 8 a.m. Feb. 1 and will stay in place until the acting mayor revokes it.
Bars, restaurants, and breweries can now operate at 50% capacity, and alcohol service at bars will be allowed to operate until midnight — extending service by one hour.
Under the new emergency order, entertainment facilities may operate at up to 50% capacity, and organized sports between teams within the municipality will be allowed to compete indoors. Teams from outside the city are still not allowed to compete locally.
Indoor gathering restrictions have also been loosened. Indoor gatherings with food and drinks are limited to 10 people, and 15 people without food and drinks. Outdoor gatherings are restricted to 30 people with refreshments, and 50 people without food or drink.
The Anchorage Health Department is urging residents to stay vigilant by wearing a face covering when in public and by limiting outings and contact with others outside of their household. When asked about the new, highly contagious COVID-19 variants, Johnston said it is more important than ever to remain socially distant.
Citing local economists, Quinn-Davidson said the best way to strengthen the economy is to reduce the spread of COVID-19, while also providing government relief to businesses and residents who may be suffering from the economic fallout. More economic assistance is on the way, for both businesses and residents, Quinn Davidson said during the press conference.
In addition to the city’s rental relief program, which has provided assistance to 7,400 families, the city is also providing utility relief to help offset past due accounts. Schutte said the city is also looking at ways of funding a gift card program, which the city had previously implemented to get gift cards from local grocers and stores into the hands of folks who need assistance purchasing necessities.
The mayor also addressed the impacts of the pandemic on mental health. She said the city is planning on launching a video series that will give mental health experts a platform to share information for anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed with recent events. She also offered the number for the Careline Alaska, a local mental health resources hotline -- 1-877-266-4356.
The mayor’s press conference also addressed current vaccination rollouts. The city has been working with the state on coordinating vaccinations for residents who are eligible, which is currently employees in the health care sector and those who are 65 and older. The state’s vaccination call line has access to the “language link,” and can assist residents who do not speak English. The city is also working with their emergency operations office and community partners to connect with leaders across Anchorage’s communities to “make sure information and resources are getting to all people, and all residents in the municipality” Harris said at the press conference. Harris said the city has also worked with Peer Navigators throughout the pandemic, and that work will be heightened throughout the vaccination effort. Students and staff are also moving back into the classroom, grades three through six will be returning in early February. Despite the reopening in schools, many teachers are still unable to access the vaccine. Residents under 65, who are frontline workers like teachers, will likely not have access to the vaccine until after February, given the number of doses the city has already been allocated, Harris said. A state advisory committee prioritizes who receives the vaccine.
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