By Kavitha George
Anchorage COVID-19 restrictions are set to loosen significantly next week.
At a meeting Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously to remove all the city’s gathering limits and social distancing requirements starting Monday, May 3. The decision also lifts COVID-19 requirements for businesses, including hotels, bingo halls, gyms, salons and childcare centers.
Requirements included in sections 3 and 4 of Emergency Order 20, including physical distancing in businesses and limitations on indoor gatherings, will become “recommendations.”
The mask mandate remains in effect, though the municipality is likely to release updated masking requirements in the next week.
Assembly member Chris Constant proposed the change to emergency orders in response to updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Tuesday. He argued individuals and businesses that want to comply with the existing mandates will likely continue to do so, and cited decreasing COVID-19 death rates in Anchorage over the last few months.
“This is a practical test on the system to see if we’re ready. And I believe that we are,” said Constant. “Most entities now understand [COVID-19 guidance]. Those who don’t care, don’t care, and those who do have proven it.”
Anchorage Health Department director Heather Harris cautioned the Assembly against shifting requirements to recommendations, especially as Anchorage gets closer to its 70% vaccination goal.
“We have seen just a great reduction and a lack of compliance when these these types of recommendations or orders are turned into advisories, which has a dramatic impact on our overall success as a community,” Harris said.
Assembly member Meg Zalatel ultimately supported the move to ease restrictions, but said she would be watching for negative impacts, including health consequences for people who are ineligible for or cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I hope these recommendations are wholeheartedly followed,” she said. “Because if we start to see an unfavorable trend, I will be one of the first asking for action from this body or from the acting mayor.”
The city’s emergency proclamation, as well as the mask mandate, remain in effect.