Unalaska's restaurants and bars can reopen to limited dine-in services starting Wednesday, despite the city's high coronavirus risk level, after a vote by the City Council.
Businesses are limited to using 35 percent of their maximum building occupancy or 10 people per room, whichever is greater, as long as there's six feet between tables.
City councilors voted 6-0 to adopt the resolution at their Tuesday meeting, citing the importance of keeping Unalaska's service industry in business.
A number of individuals from local restaurants implored the council to allow their establishments to reopen to limited dine-in services at a special meeting last week.
"They need to accumulate as much revenue as they can to keep themselves afloat," said City Councilor Darin Nicholson. "We are having a lot more people coming in and out of our community now, so we still have to keep everything as safe as we possibly can."
Councilor Dave Gregory said he was concerned about loosening health mandates, but ultimately voted in favor of the resolution.
"I'm just really concerned that now might not be the time to start loosening things when we've had more community spread in the last week or so than we've ever had," Gregory said.
Since Friday, the city has reported three additional community-acquired cases of COVID-19, as well as seven industry-related cases. There are some two dozen people who have been identified as close contacts of the three locals who tested positive, according to Melanee Tiura, chief executive of the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic. The clinic is still conducting testing on those individuals.
Tuesday's resolution also eliminates the city's "hunker down" order and instead focuses on limiting the size of indoor gatherings, according to City Manager Erin Reinders.
When gathering in person is necessary, individuals are required to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing between household groups, and meetings and events are limited to 10 people or fewer, she said.
In addition to excepting restaurants and bars from the 10-person limit, the resolution also includes exceptions for schools and churches.
Grades pre-K through 12 can use up to 50 percent of classroom occupancy, or 10 people per room, whichever is greater, as long as they are in accordance with their pandemic plans they drafted at the start of the school year.
Places of worship are subject to an indoor capacity limitation of up to 35 percent of maximum building occupancy or 10 people per room, whichever is greater, as long as social distancing can be maintained.
Even as they loosened some of the restrictions they've had in place since the island moved back into the high coronavirus risk threshold last week, some councilors spoke at their meeting about the importance of enforcement.
In addition to routine security checks on businesses around town, police officers will now be taking note of any violations of local mandates, said Police Chief Jay King.
"What we'd like for the citizens to do is, number one, adhere to the mandate," King said. "If not, then our officers are going to remind them of the mandate and ask that they comply. Any refusal will be met with the issuance of a citation."
Violators can be fined up to $500, King said.
At the meeting, Councilor Thomas Bell said he was concerned about people who don't believe in the severity of the coronavirus. He urged Unalaskans to help their neighbors and follow local and state health guidance.
"We may be able to medevac you out of here, but if the case counts are high in other towns, where are you getting medevaced to?" Bell said. "There may not necessarily be a bed easily available for you. So it's important that we try to stay the course here and mitigate as much as we can."
Tuesday's resolution leaves in place other longstanding public health orders, like requiring masks, a 14-day quarantine for anyone traveling into Unalaska, and the posting of mitigation plans on entrances and exits of businesses.
Councilors will revisit the public health measures at their meeting in two weeks.