Alaska is set to fully reopen on Friday with a handful of restrictions remaining in place.
At 8 a.m., all businesses will be allowed to operate at 100% capacity, along with houses of worship, libraries, museums and amenities like recreational activity and sports facilities.
Some social distancing guidelines and restrictions will still apply, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a news conference Tuesday. “But for all intents and purposes, we are opening up businesses, we’re opening up entities.”
“It will all be open,” he added, “just like it was prior to the virus.”
Many states have chosen to reopen in phases, Alaska among them. State officials previously outlined four phases that would take place before a final, fifth phase marking a complete return to “normal business practices.”
But with Friday’s reopening, the state, currently in phase 2, is set to implement phases 3 and 4 simultaneously.
Under phase 2, the state has allowed businesses like retail, restaurants, personal care and offices to operate with 50% capacity, while gyms, bars and theaters are allowed to operate with 25% capacity. Social and religious gatherings are allowed with up to 50 people, as long as social distancing is followed.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Alaska has had about 400 cases of coronavirus — the least of any US state, exceeding only the case counts of several US territories like Guam, the US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. Ten people in the state have died.
During his news conference Tuesday, Dunleavy announced the state had no new cases, hospitalizations or deaths to report from the day prior. The state has reported single-digit new cases since mid-April.
The governor acknowledged reopening will make the spread of the virus more likely, but said the state was ready to respond to any outbreaks.
“We should have this well under control in terms of managing it,” the governor said. “If there are spikes, if there are clusters, we’ll deal with that.”
State officials will continue to monitor case numbers after reopening, he added, and are prepared to tighten restrictions again, though he didn’t believe it would be necessary.
“I don’t foresee us going back to something that’s statewide,” the governor said.
Every US state is at one stage of reopening or another. But the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Thursday it’s still to early to completely reopen.
In an interview with actress Julia Roberts for anti-poverty organization ONE, Fauci said, “Now is not the time to tempt fate and pull back completely.”
Some restrictions remain in place
While Alaskan officials recognized that the coronavirus isn’t gone, Dunleavy said it was important the state learn how to live with the virus and emphasized individual responsibility.
“We have to learn to manage the virus, we have to learn to live with it until those vaccinations come and those anti-virals,” he said.
“We now have the knowledge of this virus, we all know how it operates,” he added, “so it’s going up to us as individuals to deal with it.”
A document on the state’s website outlined the restrictions that will stay in place, including 14-day quarantines for interstate or international travelers. That policy will be reevaluated by June 2, the document says.
Additionally, organizers for any large public gatherings like festivals or concerts are required to consult with public health officials before scheduling the event.
Alaskans are encouraged to continue following health guidelines, like keeping 6 feet of distance between themselves and people who are not part of their household.
They should also frequently wash their hands, clean high touch surfaces and wear a face mask in public when in close contact with others, the document says. Residents should stay home if they’re sick and get tested for Covid-19 if they have symptoms.
Dunleavy also stressed the importance of respecting community members who remain vulnerable to the coronavirus, like the elderly and those with certain health conditions.
The governor acknowledged some communities may not entirely reopen on Friday, and sure enough, not all locales seem ready to take the next step.
The mayor of Anchorage — which has outlined its own plan for reopening — said in a statement Wednesday his office anticipated moving to the next phase of its plan next week if certain metrics remain steady or trend downward.
According to CNN affiliate KTUU, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz pointed to concerns about PPE supplies and hospital capacity.
“The hospital capacity in Anchorage is effectively the hospital capacity for the entire state,” he said. “If there are major issues elsewhere in Alaska those patients come here.”
“I think the idea that we are going back to the way things were ignores the reality that we can’t go back to the way things were,” the mayor said.