May 2—The Anchorage Assembly last week voted to revoke most COVID-19 restrictions in the city and instead turn those requirements into recommendations. The change officially takes effect Monday.
The city's mask order will stay in place, along with requirements for quarantining and isolation. But physical distancing and other rules at businesses and limits on gathering sizes are set to become advisories.
While the shift changes which rules the city can enforce, businesses can still — and are recommended to — continue with existing precautions.
"Nothing about this, of course, changes the ability of business or a restaurant or event planner to impose the limitations that they believe are right for their particular business," municipal attorney Kate Vogel said last week.
Public health officials continue to recommend that Alaskans wear masks in public, avoid large gatherings, wash their hands frequently and get vaccinated to limit the spread of COVID-19.
What's still required
One prominent part of the city's response to COVID-19 that's not changing is the Anchorage-wide mask mandate. People in the municipality are still required to wear masks in public and communal places, but fully vaccinated employees working away from the public don't have to wear masks.
As part of the municipality's separate mask order, businesses and building owners can still deny entry to anyone who doesn't comply with the order and can require them to leave.
Additionally, businesses must still communicate to their employees and others about a known exposure to COVID-19. People who might be contagious with COVID-19, either through a close contact of someone with the illness, a positive test or symptoms, "shall stay home for the length of time recommended by the CDC except to seek medical care and testing," the existing order states.
What becomes an advisory
The assembly revoked gathering restrictions, turning them instead into advisories. The changes advise that indoor gatherings with food and drink be limited to 25 people, while indoor gatherings without should be limited to 35 people. During the gatherings, people are still advised to stand 6 feet apart.
The previous requirements did not apply to gatherings like educational settings or places of political expression or worship.
Previously, gatherings needed to have some sort of log available for contact tracing in case of attendee exposure to the virus. Now, under the changed order, that's a recommendation as well.
The city's previous requirement that people space out by 6 feet inside Anchorage businesses also becomes optional. The recommendation applies to all sorts of businesses in Anchorage, including restaurants and bars, entertainment facilities like bingo halls and theaters as well as personal care businesses such as spas and hair salons.
Restaurants and bars
Restaurants, bars and breweries will no longer be required to space different group of people 6 feet apart, but instead are advised to do so. Additionally, bars and restaurants will not be required to limit their service to people seated at tables.
In addition, indoor dancing and live performance restrictions will turn into advisories under the new change.
Similar to gatherings, restaurants and bars will be advised — but not required — to keep a guest log that tracks who's been to the establishment in case of an exposure.
Arcades, bingo halls and theaters and other entertainment facilities are no longer required to space customers and staff out by 6 feet and do not require patrons to be sitting down for food and beverage service, though it's still encouraged under the new changes.
Keeping a guest log also becomes optional for entertainment facilities.
The revised order now advises, instead of requires, that large crowds keep from forming at the start or finish of sporting events. A limit of no more than four spectators per athlete at indoor events along with a prohibition of food service during indoor sporting events also become optional.
During indoor competitions that involve only teams from within the municipality, athletes are advised to stay six feet apart when not playing.
Also recommended, but no longer mandated, under the city's revised order: pre-competition COVID-19 testing for wrestlers and participants in indoor tournaments that host teams from outside Anchorage for sports that have a "high risk" for transmission, as outlined in the guidelines.
Teams are also encouraged, but will no longer be required, to get pre-competition testing completed before heading out of the city or state for an event.
Gyms and pools
Recreation facilities like gyms and pools are now advised, but not required, to maintain 6 feet between people exercising. A requirement that facilities provide markings to indicate where participants should stand during workout classes to maintain physical distancing now becomes optional. Steam rooms will also be able to open under the revised order; previously, they were required to remain closed.
Previous requirements for child care facilities such as daily screening for staff and children as well as temperature checks are now recommendations.
Additionally, child care facilities are still encouraged — but no longer required — to let families know about COVID-19 exposures, and vice versa.