Anchorage Assembly approves removal of COVID-19 requirements for businesses, gatherings

The changes go into effect on May 3
Municipality of Anchorage.
Municipality of Anchorage.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 9:26 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Members of the Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday night to remove the city’s current COVID-19 requirements for gatherings and businesses.

The assembly revoked elements of the city’s Emergency Order 20 when it passed a resolution that terminated two categories of requirements. Starting next week, there will no longer be COVID-19 requirements for any gatherings, and the assembly also approved removing requirements for businesses, clubs, hotels, gyms, organized sports, childcare and other similar entities.

These changes to the emergency order, which go into effect on May 3, will remove limitations for indoor gatherings, including the requirement to physically distance, said Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel during the meeting. There are currently no limits on outdoor gatherings in the city.

Removing the requirements for businesses means customers and patrons will no longer need to stay 6 feet apart. Advance screening for COVID-19 at certain events will no longer be required, and capacity limitations on indoor gatherings will no longer be in place.

Terminating these requirements does not keep any business from implementing the COVID-19 requirements owners feel are best for their establishment, Vogel said.

Assembly Member Christopher Constant proposed the amendment to the resolution that removed requirements for gatherings and the business sector.

Constant said he’s seen deaths related to COVID-19 decline in Anchorage over the last several months.

“At this time I believe it is in order to rescind the requirements on businesses and the gathering limitations, leaving only the requirements for individuals likely to be contagious, travelers entering the municipality and I think there’s one more, plus the mask mandates, at this time,” he said.

Constant’s amendment terminating the requirements for businesses and gatherings passed 9-1 at the Tuesday night meeting, with Assembly Member Kameron Perez-Verdia casting the no vote. The amended resolution passed unanimously.

The changes to the emergency order will likely not affect current requirements for the Anchorage School District, according to Vogel, who said the primary operations authority over the district rests with the Anchorage School Board.

An exception had already been made for schools when it came to social distancing and gatherings, Vogel said.

Anchorage Health Department Director Heather Harris said during the meeting that when people stop following COVID-19 recommendations, it has a “dramatic impact on our overall success of the community.”

“From a health department perspective, we definitely prefer these in emergency order form,” she said. “We have seen just a great reduction and a lack of compliance when these ... types of recommendations or orders are turned into advisories.”

Harris said it does feel like Anchorage is getting close to reaching the goal the emergency order sets for a 70% vaccination rate, and that case counts are lower at the moment.

“And we’re concerned that this is going to increase those rates,” she said.

Constant said he’s spent time recently traveling around the municipality, and has witnessed various levels of commitment when it comes to following the current COVID-19 requirements. It’s 50/50 at best, he said.

“And yet still the numbers are coming down,” Constant said. “And still people are getting vaccinated.”

Constant said the idea that the city’s requirements are being clearly implemented across different disciplines is “just not happening.” He said there’s also nothing to stop Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson from issuing a new emergency order if cases and deaths begin to creep up again.

In her comments before the vote on the main resolution, Assembly Member Jamie Allard pushed for lifting the city’s emergency proclamation altogether. She moved to terminate the city’s emergency proclamation, but her amendment was voted down 6-4.

Later in the meeting, Constant also introduced a resolution that converts the requirements for gatherings and businesses into recommendations. That resolution also passed unanimously.

Requirements set out in the emergency order that will remain in place are:

  • Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19, who have tested positive or who are a close contact must remain at home for the amount of time recommended by the CDC.
  • Those traveling into the municipality from out of state are encouraged to be tested and to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
  • Employers are required to notify their employees in the case of a potential COVID-19 exposure.
  • Employers shall not knowingly allow an employee with COVID-19 to enter the workplace.

The city’s emergency order requiring masks is a separate order and is still in effect.

During the meeting, Constant said the municipality will also be redrafting its mask order to be more in line with the recently-loosened Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, within the next few days.

As of Wednesday, more than 53% of eligible people age 16 and older in the Anchorage region had received one dose of a vaccine, and more than 46% were fully vaccinated. Anchorage’s average case rate per capita over the last 14 days is 15.72 per 100,000 of population. The municipality is in the high alert level, but its case rate is still below that of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which is 37.21, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, which is 18.79.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional details from Tuesday’s assembly meeting.

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