As cases rise, Anchorage restricts gatherings, capacity in Anchorage bars and restaurants

Nicki Hale, the owner of Van’s Dive Bar in Fairview, mixes a drink at the reopening of her bar in May. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

With the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz released new orders Wednesday to reinstate some limitations on bars, restaurants and other gathering spaces. The new orders go into effect at 8 a.m. Friday. In effect, they return the city to a modified version of Phase 2 of the reopening plan, which is where the city was in May.

“Reopening has allowed almost all businesses to get back to work, including high-risk industries, where a high percentage of current cases appears to be originating,” the proclamation read.

“We have looked at best practices around the country, and we’ve made a determination that it is time for us to throttle back,” Berkowitz said at a press conference this afternoon.

RELATED: Additional actions needed, state warns, or ‘cases are expected to continue to rise rapidly’

The new restrictions should look somewhat familiar. Bars and nightclubs will once again be limited to 25 percent capacity indoors and outdoors, including staff and customers. Restaurants will be limited to 50 percent capacity indoors, along with all other indoor entertainment and recreation facilities like gyms, theaters and bingo halls.

Guests at the rooftop of Williwaw Social in downtown Anchorage on July 21, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

All establishments that serve people in a sit-down setting or for appointments or services that last 15 minutes or longer will be required to keep legible visitor logs to aid with contact tracing.

Indoor gatherings and events will be restricted to 25 people maximum. Outdoor gatherings involving food or drink consumption will be allowed up to 50. There are exceptions for farmer’s markets and food truck events where social distancing of six feet or more can be maintained, as long as on-site dining is discouraged. Drive-in events will also be exempted from the 50 people maximum, as cars are spaced adequately and nothing is passed between them.

All businesses will be required to notify employees if “known or probable” exposure to COVID-19 occurred at work. Hotels will need to notify employees and local and state health departments if they are lodging people who are in quarantine due to travel or possible exposure.

Economic and Community Development director Christopher Schutte said that the city will approach any businesses that don’t comply with the limitations with education first, before they move to more formal enforcement.

Berkowitz said the city has been in communication with the hospitality industry about the restrictions. 

“There’s … a recognition that if we don’t contain the virus, if we don’t protect public health, then we can’t really make sure that the economy is in a stable place,” he said.

RELATED: Public health officials warn Anchorage is getting closer to max health care capacity

The state warned on Tuesday that community spread is occurring “in almost every business type that involves in-person interaction.” Cases rose by 25 percent in the week of July 12 to July 18 alone. Anchorage schools will likely be unable to hold in-person classes in the fall unless cases counts fall. City health officials have warned that Anchorage’s public health capacity is approaching max capacity. At the current rate of spread, they said hospitals are predicted to run out of ICU beds as early as September 22.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020, Community Briefing:Today, the Mayor will discuss the Municipality’s transition back to a modified version of Phase 2: Recovery, in the “Safe Anchorage: A Roadmap to Reopening” plan. Briefing participants are Natasha Pineda, Anchorage Health Department Director, and Chris Schutte, Director of the Office of Economic and Community Development. More information can be found on the Municipality of Anchorage’s COVID-19 website:

Posted by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at Read more about Kavitha here.

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