JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Anchorage is on a “dangerous path” as coronavirus cases rise, the city’s health director said Wednesday as officials implored people to avoid gatherings and follow orders to wear masks in public.
Acting Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson told reporters she has been meeting with business leaders, health officials and others to make decisions that protect health but also impose minimal restrictions on businesses so they can stay open.
“None of us wants another hunker-down” order, she said, adding that it’s people’s actions “that set us up for success or not. So, please, we are all asking you to make those good health decisions.”
Statewide, virus transmission has accelerated over the last month, according to the Alaska health department, which says most residents known to have COVID-19 are getting it from family or someone they work or socialize with. State officials on Wednesday announced plans to bolster testing and expand contact tracing efforts, using the National Guard as a resource.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state has been planning, anticipating rising case numbers as people interact more. “We’re going to keep an eye on this. And as I said, we will do what needs to be done to make sure that our hospital systems don’t become overwhelmed,” he said.
Heather Harris, director of the Anchorage Health Department, said some people, after months of dealing with the pandemic, may have let down their guard or don’t think COVID-19 is a serious threat.
“But we are on a dangerous path,” she said.
A health advisory for Anchorage, signed by Harris, urges people to stay home except to get food, exercise outside or go to work; wear masks and keep distance in public; and avoid contact with those at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
“Gatherings are not safe,” the order says in bold letters.
Since the start of the pandemic, the state health department has reported nearly 14,100 COVID-19 infections among residents and 71 deaths. The department now lists about 7,600 active cases. The number of infections could be higher because of a lack of testing, people who are infected but have no symptoms and other factors.
Quinn-Davidson, the acting mayor, said some businesses have been “begging” the city to enforce its mask mandate.
“We have somewhat limited capacity to do that, but we’re talking internally about what more we can do,” she said.
Former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz faced a backlash over the summer after issuing an order restricting indoor gatherings, closing theaters and barring indoor service by bars and restaurants. Some argued Berkowitz’s order was overreaching.
After that order expired, it was replaced with a modified one allowing limited capacity for theaters and for sit-down bar and restaurant service and restricting certain gathering sizes.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and death.