ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A decrease in the rate of COVID-19 infections buoyed by vaccinations has led Alaska’s largest city to relax restrictions placed on businesses to combat the pandemic, officials said Thursday.
The municipality will double the occupancy rate to 50 percent for bars, restaurants, storefront businesses, gyms, bingo halls and theaters as of Monday, acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson said. Last call will also be moved back an hour, with alcohol service ending at midnight.
Anchorage is averaging about 60 new COVID-19 cases a day, said Dr. Janet Johnston, the epidemiologist for the Anchorage Health Department. While that’s still considered high, it’s a level not seen since last October.
“We’re heading in the right direction, and we need to keep it that way,” Quinn-Davidson said.
“We’ve made incredible progress thanks to the sacrifices made by this community, and every day more residents are receiving their vaccine,” she said. “On the other hand, if we are not careful, that progress could be reversed, especially now that we’ve confirmed a more contagious variant here in Alaska.”
This week, an Anchorage resident was confirmed to be the state’s first case of the COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom. Two cases of another variant from South Africa were confirmed Thursday in the U.S., in South Carolina.
The new highly transmissible variants are worrisome, Johnston said.
“On the more hopeful side, approximately 12 percent of Anchorage residents, including frontline health care workers and seniors, have been vaccinated,” she said. “This will work first by relieving the demand on our health staff as the health care workers are being vaccinated, and then we’ll see a reduction in demand for hospital care.”
Children are also returning to schools. “We hope it will have minimal impact,” Johnston said.
Other changes that go into effect Monday include allowing sports teams to again compete, but only against other squads from within the municipality.
People are encouraged to limit contact with those outside their household. If there are gatherings of people from different households, everyone is required to wear masks and socially distance.
There are also crowd-size limits on these gatherings, which are decreased if food and beverages are served.
“If we continue doing the things we know work, we are hopeful that we can continue to keep the virus in check long enough for vaccine to become widely available,” Quinn-Davidson said, mentioning wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and socially distancing.