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Anchorage making pandemic business, gathering rules advisory

Last Updated Apr 28, 2021 at 1:38 pm EDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Anchorage Assembly has voted to revoke pandemic-related restrictions on businesses and gatherings and to make them recommendations instead.

The changes take effect Monday and were approved unanimously despite concerns raised by the municipality’s health department director.

A local mask mandate remains in effect.

Assembly member Christopher Constant, who sponsored the motion to revoke gathering limits and business requirements, said the purpose was to send a message “that we recognize it’s time to do what we’ve heard from a number of people, which is trust the people to do the right thing.”

Constant said an emergency declaration remains in place and the mayor could enact restrictions through another emergency order if there is a dramatic change with COVID-19 numbers. Austin Quinn-Davidson has been the acting mayor since October.

The policy changes come ahead of a runoff in the race for mayor between Assembly member Forrest Dunbar and Dave Bronson. The city’s pandemic response has been a flash point in the community for months.

Anchorage Health Department Director Heather Harris cited concerns with turning the requirements into recommendations.

“I’ve seen just a great reduction and a lack of compliance when these types of recommendations or orders are turned into advisories, which has a dramatic impact on our overall success of the community,” Harris said.

Assembly member Meg Zalatel said she would watch for any fallout from the changes.

“I hope these recommendations are wholeheartedly followed,” she said. “Because if we start to see an unfavourable trend, I will be one of the first asking for action from this body or from the acting mayor.”

Anchorage officials previously said the emergency order would become advisory instead of mandatory when 70% of the municipality’s eligible population was fully vaccinated. As of Tuesday, less than 50% were, according to figures provided by the city.

The approved changes include making a 6-foot (1.8-meter) social distance requirement in businesses and gyms an advisory and making advisory limits on the sizes of indoor gathers and on the number of spectators at sporting events.

Employers will still have to notify employees if there has been probable exposure to COVID-19, and individuals with COVID-19 symptoms or who have tested positive or been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive are still to isolate.

Municipal attorney Kate Vogel said businesses can put in place their own limitations.

The Associated Press