New COVID-19 emergency order relaxes restrictions, sets goal for 70% of eligible Anchorage residents to be vaccinated

Teachers and staff members in the Anchorage School District may have to wait until January 2021...
Teachers and staff members in the Anchorage School District may have to wait until January 2021 to receive COVID vaccinations(none)
Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 2:06 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 12, 2021 at 3:37 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Acting Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson has announced a new emergency order for the Municipality of Anchorage that sets a goal for 70% of eligible residents to be vaccinated and relaxes current COVID-19 restrictions in the city.

Once 70% of eligible residents are vaccinated, the emergency order will become an advisory and no longer a requirement, Quinn-Davidson said in a Monday afternoon press conference. The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Friday.

“All of us want to be on the other side of this, and emergency order 20 sets a tangible, realistic goal for how to get there,” she said. “... This goal also tells potential visitors, both in state and out, that we’re actively working to create a safe place to visit here in Anchorage.”

Quinn-Davidson was joined by several health and economic officials, including Anchorage Health Department Epidemiologist Janet Johnston and Kevin Berry, an assistant professor of economics at University of Alaska Anchorage.

Watch the press conference:

Officials said they are concerned that daily new COVID-19 case counts are increasing for Anchorage even as vaccination continues.

“To get population-level protection, we need a high level of vaccine coverage across the entire community,” Johnston said.

That’s why 70% of eligible residents was settled on for the emergency order, she said. City officials said they studied similar orders in other communities when crafting the emergency order, and also talked with other communities within Alaska that are considering similar measures.

Currently, about 46% of all eligible Anchorage residents age 16 and older have gotten their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and roughly 36% are fully vaccinated.

Asked by a reporter whether the current trend of vaccination rates in Anchorage slowing recently concerns her, Quinn-Davidson said vaccination is up to the public.

“I think initially, I just want to say yes, it’s attainable,” she said.

In addition to setting the vaccination goal, the emergency order relaxes certain COVID-19 restrictions in the city. Moving forward into spring and summer, there will be a capacity limit of 25 people for indoor events where there is food, and 35 when there is no food.

For larger venues, like ballrooms or conference spaces, there is an exception in the emergency order that those facilities may host events with up to four times the gathering limit as long as 6 feet of distancing can be maintained between tables.

There will be no limit on the number of people at outdoor gatherings, but people must still distance themselves and wear masks. These outdoor activities include high school graduation ceremonies.

Front-facing businesses like restaurants, gyms, entertainment and personal care venues, will continue to operate with social distancing and masking.

Organized sports will also see a change under the new emergency order. Up to now, there has been a limit of two spectators per athlete for indoor sporting events. Under the new order, each athlete can have up to four spectators for indoor events, and there is no limit on spectators for outdoor sporting events. Food can also be served at outdoor sporting events.

When asked how long the city expects it to take for the 70% vaccination goal to be achieved, officials said it will be up to residents. Officials noted that, outside of hesitancy among some to get the vaccine, there is also a barrier of accessibility and information.

That accessibility and education is what Quinn-Davidson said the city will focus on moving forward.

“Really there’s this in-between bit that we were referring to earlier that’s access,” she said. “And not everyone can access the sort of really easy ways that we’ve done vaccines so far, vaccine appointments. So now we’re really getting in those hard to hit areas. You know, doing small mobile clinics, showing up at churches. Just showing up where people are.”

These smaller, more targeted ways of offering vaccines to the community take longer, Quinn-Davidson said, but the city is up for the task.

Speaking from a financial health perspective, Berry explained that the economics of the COVID-19 pandemic are similar to those of any natural disaster.

“You can’t get the economy back to normal until the natural disaster ends,” he said.

Berry said there are three ways the pandemic could end: through reaching herd immunity naturally, through driving case counts down to nothing through social distancing and lockdowns, or through a mixture of mitigation measures while encouraging vaccinations.

Until the pandemic ends, Berry said the economic aid flowing from local, state and federal sources is really serving to keep people and business afloat, rather than recover, he said.

“Whether or not we have a summer tourism season, how big that season is and our argument that we can make both to the Canadian government and our own federal government to have, you know, restrictions of cruise ships lifted, depend on the condition of the pandemic in Anchorage,” Berry said.

Berry noted that while Alaska initially led vaccination rates in the country, the state has recently “tumbled down those rankings.”

“We’re no longer the leaders,” Berry said. “And this is difficult because when it comes to economic activity, when it comes to convincing people to take trips, we’re trying to convince them to come to Alaska. And our argument is the best when we are leading in vaccination.”

The new emergency order comes over a month after the city’s decision to ease restrictions across the municipality in response to dropping COVID-19 case rates through an emergency order that lifted capacity restrictions on businesses and eased gathering size restrictions across the municipality.

At the end of March, the city also updated a previous mask mandate, allowing fully vaccinated people to not wear masks at work when separated from the public and unvaccinated coworkers.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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