49th State Is First to Fully Reopen After Pandemic Closures

About 400 Alaskans have tested positive for Covid-19, and 10 have died.

Alaska’s Mt. Susitna, also known as the Sleeping Lady, near the state’s largest city, Anchorage. (Julie St. Louis photo/Courthouse News)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — The 49th state to join the union will be the first state to fully reopen for business after two-plus months of pandemic shutdowns.

Alaska is a striking contrast to its noncontiguous counterpart Hawaii, which remains mostly locked down, tracking and arresting travelers and sending them back home if they break the mandatory two-week quarantine. Alaska also has a two-week quarantine, but no arrests have been made and officials say it is essentially voluntary, in hopes people will do the right thing once they arrive in the Last Frontier.

Retail stores, restaurants, gyms, museums and churches were allowed to reopen statewide on Friday for the long weekend, while Anchorage, the state’s most populous city, phased into a 100% opening on Monday. Alaska entered what officials dubbed as phases three and four of its five-phase reopening plan simultaneously at 8 a.m. Friday. Before this latest easing of restrictions, businesses that were able to operate were doing so at only 25% to 50% of capacity.

“The understanding we had with the people of Alaska was: Give us some time to build up our health-care capacity to deal with what we thought was going to be a spike,” Governor Mike Dunleavy said. “People of Alaska have given us that time. It’s come with great sacrifice. So we believe we can manage this virus,” he said in a statement.

Dunleavy and state officials say Alaskans should continue to practice physical distancing by staying at least 6 feet apart from those not in their immediate household, and avoid large gatherings. However, it will be up to each business to decide how to operate safely as the state moves from mandates to guidelines.

“Sanitation, wiping down, washing hands is going to be crucial,” Dunleavy said.

The 14-day quarantine requirement for people traveling into Alaska is still in place, at least through early June, when state officials say they will reassess the rule. According to Dunleavy, the state is working with airlines and airports on protocols that will allow the mandate to be lifted. 

Major population centers like Anchorage, and even smaller remote communities, continue to make decisions based on the metrics it tied to individual reopening plans in each location.

“As the governor’s materials directly acknowledged today, local communities are permitted to have stricter health restrictions,” according to a statement from Anchorage spokeswoman Carolyn Hall. “Businesses and organizations within the municipality are required to comply with local as well as state law,” she said.

Despite reopening of business, most major festivals, including the Alaska State Fair, have been canceled for this year. One new Covid-19 resident case was reported Monday, with two new nonresident cases reported by those traveling to the state to work in seasonal fish processing jobs. Those people were said to be quarantined upon arrival and kept separate from local populations.

So far about 400 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Alaska, and nearly 90% have recovered. Forty-three Alaskans have been hospitalized and 10 have died. More than 36,000 tests have been administered. Compared to the rest of the country, Alaska has one of the lowest per-capita infection rates.

In contrast, Hawaii has reported no new cases in the past two days, with more than 600 confirmed cases, 17 deaths, approximately 50,000 tests administered and 90% of cases recovered. Officials in the 50th state say businesses are beginning a phased reopening with the majority opening on June 1.

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