State eases restrictions on religious and social gatherings

Two more cases reported Friday for state total of 339

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration continued its slow reopening of Alaska society and the economy on Friday night with the announcement of guidelines for social, religious and other kinds of gatherings, which will now be able to take place.

Gatherings of any kind had been suspended under the state’s social distancing mandate as the threat of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, grew. Now that Alaska has increased testing and hospital capacity, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, the state has started dialing back some restrictions on businesses and social activities.

A health mandate aimed at reopening Alaska’s economy, issued earlier this week, allowed many businesses to reopen starting Friday at 25% capacity and with many health and safety protocols. An attachment to that mandate announced during Friday’s evening press conference by Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum spells out guidelines for the restarting of social and religious gatherings.

Attachment N” and other new social distancing guidelines specify that people are no longer required to remain home, as previously required by the state’s social distancing mandate. Indoor gatherings can now take place but will be limited to 20 people, or 25% capacity of the building they are in, whichever is smaller. There must be at least 6 feet of separation maintained between people from different households, Crum said.

“This applies to different types of gatherings of individuals and social organizations, including funerals and weddings, but not otherwise referred to in any other attachments,” Crum said. “ So really, what this puts together is, it actually takes some of our social distancing guidance that was in mandate No. 11 and it talks about that we’re increasing the group size to 20.”

Universal mask wearing by any gathering of people is “strongly encouraged,” according to the guidelines.

“Moving toward these opportunities of reopening businesses and groups getting together is something that is good for our state,” Crum said. “And we look forward to it, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation.”

In addition to indoor gatherings, outdoor gatherings will also have a maximum cap of 20 people, whether social, religious or otherwise, Crum said.

“In all gatherings that include multiple households, cloth face coverings should be worn by all participants,” the guidelines for gatherings state.

If gatherings are being held in a building that is open to the public, as opposed to inside someone’s personal home, the organizer or facility “must provide handwashing capability or sanitizer at (the) entrance and in communal spaces,” according to the mandate guidance.

Venues cannot provide food or drink. If a venue allows food or drink, it must be brought by individuals.

For outdoor gatherings, the protocols state that if people are singing or projecting their voices, the 6 feet of social distance must be increased to 10 feet.

Venues holding religious indoor services are also required to establish a COVID-19 mitigation plan, according to the mandate guidance, that addresses practices and protocols to protect staff and the public. Signs must be posted at religious gathering places “stating clearly that any person with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 may not enter the premises,” the guidance states.

As the state moves to reopen sectors of the economy, it has expanded the guidance under mandate 16 to include specific documents for different kinds of businesses. They include separate guidelines for childcare and day camps, gyms, remote lodges and camping, restaurants, retail businesses, personal care services, non-public facing businesses, public-facing businesses, and fishing charters. There are also separate guidance documents for intrastate travel and activities, graduation ceremonies and social and religious gatherings.

To read the full guidelines for each of these categories, visit

COVID-19 by the numbers

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced two more cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 339.

Of those two cases, one is female and one is male. One is aged 10-19 and the other is aged 20-29. The cases are in Anchorage and Chugiak. These two new cases reflect the cases reported to the state between midnight and 11:59 p.m. on April 23.

There have been no new deaths and no new hospitalizations of people with confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, the state reports there are 36 people currently being hospitalized for either confirmed cases or suspected cases. That number of 36 includes people the state calls “persons under investigation,” who have symptoms of the illness but have not yet tested positive for it.

DHSS reported Thursday that 209 people had recovered from the disease, but revised that number on Friday to 208, saying in a press release that a “person who tested positive for COVID-19 but did not have any symptoms on the day of the test” had been inadvertently included in the number of recovered people. A person is not considered to have recovered from COVID-19 until the person meets Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria to be released and are no longer infectious.

On the Kenai Peninsula, 19 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the following communities: Anchor Point (one), Homer (two), Kenai (four), Seward (three), Soldotna (six) and Sterling (three). This includes an Anchor Point resident who died while out of state and a Homer resident who was tested and treated in Anchorage.

The Anchorage municipality has 166 residents who have confirmed positive for COVID-19, which includes four Chugiak residents, eight Eagle River residents and three Girdwood residents. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough, 63 Fairbanks residents have tested positive, as well as 15 North Pole residents and one additional resident of an unspecified community within the borough. In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Wasilla has 11 cases and Palmer has nine. In the Southeast, Juneau has 27 cases, Ketchikan has 16, Petersburg has three and Craig has two. Delta Junction, Nome, Bethel, Kodiak and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area each have one case. Communities with fewer than 1,000 residents are included in the total for their borough or census area but not individually reported.

Locally, South Peninsula Hospital has collected 216 total samples and sent them off for testing, as of Friday morning. Of those, 197 tests have come back negative, 18 are pending and one tested positive.

Reach Megan Pacer at