OPINION: The decline is obvious. Anchorage is ready to open.

  • Downtown Anchorage was quiet as people stayed away hours before a city “hunker down” order took effect on March 22. When the city can reopen is still unclear despite Mayor Ethan Berkowitz unveiling a plan to do so on April 20. (Photo/Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News)

The peak of new coronavirus cases in Anchorage came on St. Patrick’s Day less than 12 hours after Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz ordered bars, restaurants and “non-essential” businesses such as beauty salons to close.

On that day the state reported 9 cases in Anchorage. Every one of those cases could be traced to before the March 16 closure and the mayor’s eventual “hunker down” order that took effect the next week on March 22.

Since March 17, the state’s largest metro area with about 300,000 people has never, ever, not once, had more than 9 cases in a day. That happened on March 17, March 20 and March 23.

That’s right. Anchorage has not cracked double digits for new cases in a day, even in the week after Berkowitz shut down most businesses and ordered an end to gatherings of more than 10 people at a time when every new case could be traced to before the closures.

By any measure, Anchorage has been in decline since March 23.

The second-highest number of new cases in a day was March 30 with 8.

The average number of new cases per day from March 30 to April 21 in Anchorage is 2.7.

The rolling four-day average of new cases has declined from 5.3 on April 2 to 2.3 on April 21. In seven of the 12 days from April 9 to April 21, Anchorage reported either 1 or zero new cases.

The number of active cases has increased by an average of less than 1 per day from March 23 to April 20, or from 69 to 92 in 28 days.

Yet despite these miniscule numbers and being situated in the capital of the state’s health care system that had nearly 1,000 available beds as of April 21, the mayor is continuing to keep his boot on the Anchorage economy while giving free rein to the criminal element of the homeless population to take over the streets and green spaces.

Berkowitz announced a plan to re-open Anchorage on April 20 based on conditions of meeting a 14-day decline standard and availability of testing.

Regarding testing, City Manager Bill Falsey said on April 21 that anyone who needs a test in Anchorage can currently get one.

At the same time, he was unable to describe in any detail whatsoever what metric the municipality is using to measure what would constitute a 14-day decline.

More troubling than the inability to articulate a metric to reopening despite the obvious decline in cases for a month and the widespread availability of tests is the mayor’s 28-day timeline between the start of Phase 1 and Phase 2.

April 20 marked five weeks since Berkowitz locked down bars and restaurants and even though new cases in Anchorage were literally zero for four days of the 10 previous days, Falsey could only say it was possible we could enter Phase 1 sometime in May, or potentially seven weeks since the “hunker down” order.

It is unconscionable to continue hammering businesses by requiring another four weeks to continue to measure a “decline” that has already hit zero several times and has likely been negative for at least a few of those days based on the number of recovered cases that now outnumber active cases in the state.

Destroying businesses both through action and inaction is quite a feat, but the mayor is pulling it off by extending closures without evidence to support them and allowing criminals to trespass, damage and defile private property.

Even Phase 1, which anticipates allowing restaurants to open for dine-in service, is unrealistic and unworkable by limiting gatherings to 20 people. No restaurant can open with a 20-person limit that would include the staff.

If a business can meet the social distancing and sanitary guidelines it should be able to open regardless of what kind of business it is.

If we can allow doctors to literally cut people open, we can allow people to cut hair.

The purpose of this lockdown was to slow down the spread and put in place surge capacity for the health care system. Both of those goals have been achieved.

The purpose was never to eradicate new cases. That is impossible, and any attempt to move the goalposts in that direction should be rejected.

The longer we stay isolated, the longer we postpone the inevitable second series of new cases. The difference is we now have the infrastructure in place to handle the second wave as well as a mountain of data that will help protect vulnerable populations and established practices to prevent transmission.

Thousands of people per day are visiting grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations and fast food drive-thrus, yet we have not seen any evidence of wide community spread in Anchorage.

Again, the most cases in a day we had pre-hunker down was 9. The most we’ve had in a day since is 8.

That’s proof we can handle social distancing responsibly.

Anchorage is ready to open, and it is ready to open now.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
04/21/2020 - 4:05pm