Protests loom as Anchorage mayor imposes new round of COVID restrictions

    As of Aug. 3, all indoor gatherings in Anchorage, including religious services, are restricted to 15 people or fewer. The new emergency order was imposed by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz in response to COVID-19.

    Berkowitz thumbs up
    Mayor Ethan Berkowitz begins his July 31 press conference in Anchorage.

    The sweeping order imposes far greater restrictions on religious gatherings than it does on grocery stores and retail outlets.

    The mayor’s 15th order limits outdoor gatherings involving food or drink to 25 people, and outdoor gatherings without food or drink to 50 people. There are some notable exceptions. The order does not apply to farmer’s markets or outdoor food-truck events. Day cares, day camps and educational institutions for K-12th grade are also exempted, as are retail stores and other public facing businesses.

    While churches must limit attendance to 15 or fewer congregants, they are permitted to hold drive-in services so long as vehicles are spaced at least six feet apart and nothing is passed between them.

    On the business front, bars and nightclubs are required to shut down except for takeout or delivery. Restaurants and breweries are limited to outdoor service with tables at least 10 feet apart. Bingo halls and theaters must close completely.

    Save Anchorage is organizing a protest of the mayor’s order at 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 3 at the Lousaac Library.

    The mayor’s order does not mention protests such as the Black Lives Matter gatherings that took place earlier this summer in Anchorage, one of which the mayor attended. Alaska Black Caucus is organizing a “March on Alaska,” which is set to begin at Town Square in Anchorage on Aug. 28.

    In response to the mayor’s latest order, a group called Save Anchorage is organizing its own protest at 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 3 at the Lousaac Library.

    In a community of 290,000 residents, Anchorage currently has 22 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Three of those are on ventilators. Hospital capacity includes 111 available non-ICU beds, 44 ICU beds and 125 available ventilators. Over the past five months, Anchorage has recorded 12 COVID-19 related deaths.

    “Ideally if we could hire more compliance officers, I think that would be important to do,” Berkowitz said.

    Berkowitz justified his latest mandate based on the fact that a professor at UAA predicted that local hospitals “may run out of ICU bed capacity by mid-September if we do not act immediately to flatten the curve.”

    In terms of enforcing his order, Berkowitz said it will be complaint driven.

    “Ideally if we could hire more compliance officers, I think that would be important to do,” he said in a July 31 community briefing. “But we do not live in a police state and for much of what we do, we count on people to do the right things for the right reasons.”

    Berkowitz said he will rely on residents to implement “social correction” on one another.

    The order expires Aug. 30.

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