Alaska businesses close their doors as more COVID-19 cases are confirmed

Schools, public facilities closed statewide, Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race continues toward Nome

A growing list of governmental, non-profit and business facilities announced temporary closures in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, as the number of confirmed cases in Alaska through March 17 grew to six.

The six individuals, who are unrelated, tested positive in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Ketchikan, with three already released from hospitals to isolate on their own.

On the heels of a public health disaster emergency declaration issued on March 11 for mandates deemed necessary by state health officials, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has ordered all schools, public libraries, museums, archives, public event centers, bars, breweries, restaurants, and other establishments serving food closed through April 1, following on a mandate issued Monday for Anchorage by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

The restrictions do not apply to establishments offering food and beverage for consumption off of the premises, including grocers, markets, convenience stores, pharmacies, drug stores and food pantries. Also ordered closed to the public were all theaters, gyms and fitness centers, bowling alleys and bingo halls.

Access to the Capitol building in Juneau has been limited to written and telephonic testimony, as legislators push to get a state budget passed.

Cordova District Fishermen United has closed its office to foot traffic. Executive director Chelsea Haisman said CDFU would continue work as usual, albeit with its staff not at the office., and would reopen the office when schools reopen.

United Fishermen of Alaska announced closure of its offices in Juneau for an indefinite period.

ComFish, the annual fisheries forum and trade show at Kodiak, was postponed from March 25-27 to Sept. 17-19, and the April meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage, one of five sessions held annually by the council, was cancelled.

On the private sector level, non-profit facilities like the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, announced closure through March 31, but said essential staff who continue their work there. GCI said it was closing many of its urban retail stores to the public to promote social distancing and to meet the growing demand of customers calling, rather than visiting Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Valley locations. The telecommunications company said that its Cordova store would be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, but closed on weekends.

Starbucks stores in Anchorage went to instore grab and go only or drive-in window service and ordered texted to the store. The national recreational equipment cooperative REI said it was closing all of its stores, including one in Anchorage, through March 27. Other companies including Apple and Footlocker also closed temporarily in the Anchorage area.

Dunleavy has suspended any visitations to Department of Corrections facilities, Division of Juvenile Justice facilities, the Alaska Military Youth Academy and Alaska Psychiatric Institute, and limited visitation to Alaska Pioneer Homes.

The governor’s office also said people coming to Alaska from areas identified by the Centers for Disease Control as areas of widespread coronavirus infection should stay home and avoid contact with other household members and not go to work or school for 14 days. Others who had traveled outside of Alaska within the past 14 days, including areas of the Lower 48 states, were told to keep a six-foot distance from others and avoid crowds for a two-week period. Both groups were advised to take their temperatures twice daily, monitor for fever and call a health care provider if they developed a fever or shortness of breath.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued an emergency order prohibiting dine-in service at the city’s restaurants, bars and breweries, effective at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16, extending through March 31. The mayor’s order applies to all entertainment facilities including theaters, gyms and bingo halls, all of which are to remain closed through March 31.

What with the closures, albeit temporary, of so many facilities, state labor officials said they were bracing for a surge of people applying for unemployment benefits. Meanwhile Costco stores in Anchorage were looking for some additional temporary employees because of the surge of customers on a daily basis buying for more than their usual purchases.

Anchorage port officials said that the pandemic had not disrupted shipments of goods and supplies to Alaska, but noted that high consumer demand was emptying store shelves and delays of about one week to restock shelves could be anticipated.

The mayor said closures were consistent with Centers for Disease Control recommendations and with the city’s strategy to reduce the possibility of transmitting COVID-19.

Organizers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the only major sports event in the nation currently underway, cancelled its popular Meet the Mushers event on March 21 and its awards banquet on March 22 in Nome, and urged fans of the race not to come to Nome to cheer the mushers arriving there. Veteran Iditarod musher Thomas Waerner of Torpa, Norway, crossed under the burled arch in Nome at 12:37 a.m. on Wednesday, March 18, becoming the third musher from Norway to win the Iditarod.

Four major cruise operators also have voluntarily agreed to suspend cruise ship operations from all U.S. ports, including Alaska, for 30 days.

The Cruise Lines International Association confirmed the voluntary suspension of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC cruise ships.

“During this time, we will continue to work with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and others to prepare for resumption of sailings when it is appropriate,” said Adam Goldstein, CLIA global chairman. “We know the travel industry is a huge economic engine for the United States and when our ships once again sail, our industry will be a significant contributor to fueling the economic recovery.”

According to CLIA, the U.S. cruise industry supports some 420,000 jobs and generates about $50 billion in economic activity.

Meanwhile Norwegian Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Celestyal Cruises, Windstar and Virgin Voyages separately announced interruptions in their cruise operations due to the coronavirus outbreak, adding to previous announcements from Viking and Princess Cruises. Small businesses in Alaska who were already geared up with supplies in anticipation of a robust visitor season were expressing concern over the potential adverse economic impact from the lack of cruise ship visitors.

With concern over the economic impact from the pandemic growing, Dunleavy also announced creation of the Alaska Economic Stabilization Team, a bipartisan group to work on a plan to protect the state’s economy from the impact of the coronavirus. The governor named former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, as team leaders. Remaining seats on that team are to be filled by a cross section of Alaska economic leaders and former elected officials, and also engage with the state’s congressional delegation.