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‘It will all be open’: Alaska governor says state will fully reopen this week amid pandemic

UPDATED: Wed., May 20, 2020

Fish industry worker Tucker Uruski, left, reaches for a document as he checks his bags for his trip to Alaska at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday, May 18, 2020, in SeaTac, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Fish industry worker Tucker Uruski, left, reaches for a document as he checks his bags for his trip to Alaska at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday, May 18, 2020, in SeaTac, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Teo Armus Washington Post

As America opens back up in fits and starts, one state is racing to get there.

Though many states do not yet meet federal benchmarks for reopening, all 50 began this week to loosen some of the restrictions they had put in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as public health officials are sounding warnings about the possibility for a surge in new infections, governors – encouraged by downward curves or pressured by antsy constituents – have moved to reopen their economies.

But one is going much further: Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said at a news conference Tuesday that the state would be open to pre-pandemic levels starting Friday.

“It’s time to get Alaska back on its feet,” he noted. “It will all be open just like it was prior to the virus.”

The nation’s most sparsely populated state is currently in “Phase 2” of its five-step plan to reopen the economy. Dunleavy said Alaska would be skipping straight to “Phase 4” on Friday.

Bars, theaters and gyms, which are all allowed to open at a quarter of their capacity, will be allowed to resume business without any kind of limitations, Dunleavy said. The same goes for restaurants and retail stores, which are currently permitted to operate at 50% capacity.

As of late Tuesday, Alaska was reporting fewer than 400 infections and just 10 deaths – a case count low enough that Dunleavy, who is facing a recall effort, decided to fully reopen houses of worship, libraries, museums and sports activities.

His effort underscores the wildly varying paces at which the country is moving.

Georgia, an early adopter of loosened policies, let hair salons and gyms open weeks ago, at the same time California’s governor was saying professional haircuts may not be safe for months. Movie theaters have been allowed to be up and running in Texas all month, but virus-stricken Massachusetts only allowed construction to resume this week.

Just four other states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri and Wyoming – appear to have orders comparably lenient to Alaska, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

But all four will remain somewhere in their reopening process through Memorial Day: Wyoming still has a ban on gatherings of more than 25 people. Concert and sporting venues remain closed in North Dakota, and Missouri is still in its first phase. While South Dakota never really closed to begin with, its state government is ostensibly still under government guidance to “Get Back to Normal.”

Large gatherings and festivals also got the okay in Alaska, though organizers have been instructed to consult with public health officials.

Dunleavy’s decision, he told the Anchorage Daily News, also rests on his belief that not all businesses within the state will rush to fully reopen Friday.

“You’re going to see business done differently, you’re going to see people behave differently, on their own,” the governor said.

Alaska residents are still encouraged to practice social distancing and wear face masks near other people, while senior centers, prisons and other facilities will restrict visitors. A mandatory two-week quarantine for those arriving in Alaska will last through June 2, and individual cities and municipalities may continue to put other restrictions in place.

But orders from the state government will be over.

“It’s going to be up to the establishment and the individual,” Dunleavy said.

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