As state rolls out plan to reopen economy, coronavirus case count rises to 329

Published: Apr. 21, 2020 at 5:01 PM AKDT
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Watch the replay of the state press conference on the Channel 2 News Facebook page. You can also watch on Channel 2 News, KTUU, for updates.

As eight new cases of coronavirus in Alaska were reported by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Tuesday, bringing the state's cumulative case count to 329, the state shared early plans to reopen the economy starting as early as April 24 in various communities across the state, though officials with

until April 27.

"We are consulting with local businesses to develop protocols that match Anchorage needs so that businesses can operate safely," said Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz in a release Tuesday evening, adding that protocols will be in place "later this week."

Berkowitz has the legal authority under his emergency powers as the mayor of a home rule municipality to extend local orders in the name of health and safety. He and the governor, the MOA said, are working closely together on timing.

As for the state, officials said in a press briefing Tuesday that many restaurants across Alaska will be offering limited dine-in services and retail stores offering limited in-store shopping, with certain non-essential services also being able to slowly open with adjusted requirements as soon as Friday. Workers in most all these places are expected to be utilizing face masks and gloves.

While the mandate requiring a 14-day quarantine for anyone coming out of state has been extended through May 19, and the social distancing and intrastate travel limit mandates are in place until rescinded, there will be five phases to the economic opening, Dunleavy said, though the state will "always put health first." The governor also said the state will pull back on the rollout of the reopening plan if a spike in coronavirus cases was identified.

The full original mandates can be found on the

, though written updates about the Friday openings and beyond were not yet posted to the side. Instead, a note was in their place, saying, "More information on the first phase of reopening Alaska will be released on April 22, 2020."

State officials did release some details of the plan on Tuesday. Phase 1, for example, will include most non-essential businesses, including some of those mentioned above. DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum said that in this phase, many of these businesses will be allowed to reopen with about 25 percent capacity. Entertainment outlets such as bars, theaters and bingo halls will remain closed through Phase 1. Take out dining will still be encouraged, but restaurants would be able to have a 25 percent capacity, where household parties can be at the same table with 10 feet between tables.

Personal care services such as hair salons, tattoos and piercings parlors, will have an opportunity to reopen, with one provider serving one client at a time, working by appointments only and abiding by sanitation protocols. Down the road, indoor activities will still be banned for gyms but outdoor activities will be allowed so long as social distancing can be employed.

Changes under certain mandates are also underway. An adjustment to Health Mandate 11, for example, will allow for religious gatherings, weddings and other events so long as there are 20 people or fewer in attendance.

"It's not that we're celebrating," Dunleavy said, "we're just cautiously optimistic.

"We thought our numbers would be much higher, that hundreds of thousands of Alaskans would be infected," he continued. "We knew we would have two disasters at the same time: One was going to be a pandemic, and one would be an economic disaster at the same time."

With approval from the legislature, Dunleavy said he also hopes to allocate monies from the CARES Act as follows: $562.5 million would go to local governments; $300 million would be reserved for small businesses; $50 million would go to non-profit groups; and $337 million would be in reserve for DHSS, to "support ongoing response and mitigation efforts" and to "maintain a contingency to address potential unknown impacts."

As for the new cases announced Tuesday, those included four out of Anchorage, two out of Juneau, one out of Eagle River and one out of Ketchikan. Six of the patients are male and two are female, with the youngest between 10 and 19 years of age, and the oldest between 60 and 69 years of age.

Seven more cases were reported as having recovered, totaling more than 150 at this point.

showed 42 people remain in hospitals, including those who are under investigation.

"No new deaths, and no new hospitalizations," said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, "so that's great to see."

Testing-wise there are now 119 individual test sites around the state, with more coming, according to Zink, who also said anyone who shows coronavirus symptoms should get tested.

Dunleavy said the state is feeling confident and is closely watching cases daily. Officials will make decisions on phases "within two weeks," he said.

"For those chomping at the bit to get stores and services opened," he said, "We're heading that way. And for those that are concerned and rightfully so, we can assure you we're going to continue to use the best practices and use the data."

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