Local restaurants and businesses will now be allowed to reopen — with some state-mandated restrictions.
While Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a mandate last week that lifts statewide measures restricting dine-in access, restaurants and businesses in Unalaska were still being held to a local order that kept the restrictions in place until April 29.
But at its meeting Tuesday night, the Unalaska City Council chose to modify the local orders and adopt Dunleavy's Health Mandate 016: Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan.
City Manager Erin Reinders said the city's resolution extends local measures already in place, but removes language that would restrict businesses from reopening. In other words, while businesses are now open for dine-in service, local measures regarding social distancing, travel requirements, and quarantine periods are still in place.
Specifically, Unalaskans are still required to hunker down, face masks must still be worn, anyone traveling into the community must quarantine for 14 days, businesses that are required to submit safety plans to the state must submit those to the city as well, and businesses not required to submit those plans to the state must identify basic protection measures they are taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and post those measures on all entrances and exits of the building.
Under these conditions, local restaurants will once again be allowed to serve patrons as dine-in guests. However, that dining experience will likely look far different from before.
Upon entering a restaurant during this initial phase of the gradual reopening, patrons will likely be met with signs on the doors that warn anyone who displays symptoms of coronavirus not to enter the building, employees will be wearing face masks, utensils will likely be disposable, reservations will be mandatory, and tables will be 10 feet apart to maintain social distancing, to name just a few restrictions.
A number of city councilors were skeptical of Dunleavy's gradual reopening. Councilmember Shari Coleman expressed concern about opening businesses up and accelerating the spread of the disease.
"I'm pretty hesitant on this one," said Coleman. "Statistically speaking, we've hardly tested anyone at all, so it's hard to say no one is infected here."
Councilors asked for input from Melanee Tiura, clinic director at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS). Tiura said it was a tough call.
"Opening up additional businesses does increase the risk of transmission if someone is COVID-19 positive," said Tiura. "But I do understand businesses do need to operate, and people do need to feed their families. I'm torn because I understand the benefits, but there certainly is more risk."
Tiura added that clinic staff feel "very strongly" that the 14-day quarantine is the best protection for the community at this time, and that they are fairly confident there are no cases of COVID-19 on the island, based on what they're seeing with regards to respiratory illness. As of Wednesday afternoon, 47 people had been tested for the virus at IFHS. All had confirmed negative test results.
Despite the skepticism, four Unalaskans spoke in support of following the state's lead and reopening local businesses.
Brett Richardson, general manager at the Grand Aleutian Hotel, plans to lead his staff in reopening the Grand, Chart Room, Margaret Bay Cafe, Harbor Sushi, and Harbor View Bar and Grill—all restaurants which reside under UniSea's ownership. He said in a letter to council that the first priority of staff is the safety of the community. During the partial closure, UniSea's restaurants have been able to maintain the employment of all staff, and have complied with all state and local regulations in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His staff have been trained on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sanitation and cleanliness protocols as well as recommended social distancing measures. Tables and chairs in their restaurants have been set up to allow for households to safely eat per state-mandated guidelines.
"We have taken every precaution to create a safe and secure environment," said Richardson. "We would love to serve you, safely-distanced, with our masks on. We appreciate the opportunity to live and work in a unique and diverse city like Unalaska."
After some debate, the City Council voted 6-0 to adopt the resolution, which went into effect Wednesday at noon.