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Alaskans will soon be able to get professional haircuts and manicures, eat at favorite restaurants, book outdoor recreational tours and shop for retail items. Gov. Mike Dunleavy will announce details to reopen certain sectors of the economy during his April 21 live-streamed press conference at 5 p.m.

At his April 20 press conference, he said Alaska’s hospitals now have the capacity to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The caveat, however, will be whether Alaskans can continue following health guidelines to keep the number of COVID-19 cases below capacity to care for patients.

As of April 21, Alaska has had 329 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 168 recoveries, 36 hospitalizations and nine deaths. In terms of overall medical capacity, the state has more than 1,000 unused inpatient hospital beds, more than 120 available ICU beds and 311 unused ventilators.

“Our healthcare workers – doctors, nurses – they have been waiting for this wave, but because of you it’s not hit us in a manner that we thought it would,” Dunleavy said, while continuing to urge Alaskans to be vigilant about social distancing, washing hands and wearing face coverings in public.

Dunleavy encouraged business owners to contact the state if they have questions about whether they fall within an approved category for reopening.

Health commissioner Adam Crum said the state feels good about where it stands with regards to personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses, and the ability to respond rapidly to isolated clusters of the disease.

The governor is meeting with mayors, tribal leaders and local governments to iron out how to reopen businesses. As “open” signs become more common, operations may look a bit different.

Dunleavy said restaurants will be allowed to open soon if they have protocols in place to maintain social distancing between separate parties. If COVID-19 cases spike within a specific area, the state will respond quickly to address those localities.

As far as enforcing health mandates, Dunleavy stuck to earlier comments that he trusts Alaskans to voluntarily “do their part” to keep communities safe.

He was asked about a recent outdoor BBQ gathering on a Homer beach in which people were reportedly not wearing face masks or practicing social distancing.

“Again, we are a free country. We are a free people here in Alaska – I get that,” Dunleavy said. “I understand totally why people want to get back to a life they once knew, and they once enjoyed.”

He added, however, that opening the economy “is only going to work if Alaskans want it to,” which includes following health guidelines. “We’ll see where things go,” he said.

Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said coronavirus would probably be around for a while, but so long as cases trend downwards, restrictions can ease.

“We know this virus is with us and is going to be in the world for some time,” she said. “But at some point, we have to slowly venture out of the more protective waters.”

Regarding statewide travel, Dunleavy said Alaskans are free to drive between communities but he asked that vehicle passengers be restricted to members of the same household. Rural communities, however, will retain the right to limit non-essential visitors in order to check the virus’ spread in areas with limited medical services.

Crum briefly addressed Alaska’s fast-approaching commercial fishing season. He said rapid testing machines have been deployed to fishing communities and that processors are establishing protocols for quarantining incoming employees who present a risk to communities.

As restrictions ease, Dunleavy encouraged business owners to contact the state if they have questions about whether they fall within an approved category for reopening.

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Alaska set to begin reopening restaurants and retail stores

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.