Local businesses adjust to COVID-19

Cases for COVID-19 in Alaska have risen to 21 as of March 22. Mandates for the state are continually updating as the case count increases. One mandate is the temporary closure of dine-in service at bars, restaurants and the closure of entertainment facilities including movie theatres, bingo halls and gyms issued on March 16 until April 1.

F Street in downtown Anchorage is void of the normal weekend crowd on March 20 as municipal restrictions require foodservice venues to
shut down in-house business and events until April 1 to limit personal contact and the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Christina Swayney.

The city of Anchorage also received a “hunker down” order from Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on March 20 that went into effect on March 22 at 10 p.m. The order extends until March 31. The emergency order tells residents to stay in their homes as much as possible, and to only go out for necessary trips, like getting groceries or going to jobs that are considered essential, like healthcare workers, mail carriers or grocery store employees. A full list of essential workers can be found on page two of the emergency order on the Municipality of Anchorage website, muni.org.

Workers employed by these industries have already been affected. Layoffs have occurred and the businesses and their workers are faced with the stress of a pandemic. Depending on the business or company, paid time off or benefits may or may not be available.

Alaska legislation aims to aid Alaskans who face financial hardship at this time with House Bill 308 introduced on March 18, which awaits approval by the Senate. The bill will “allow Alaskans who are unable to work or who are underemployed due to public health measures to become eligible for unemployment benefits to help prevent the spread of the disease, waive the one-week waiting period to start getting unemployment insurance and increase the weekly per-dependent benefit from $25 to $75 to offer help to parents who have lost both childcare and income.”

Maria Arroyo works as a front desk agent at the Westmark Hotel in downtown Anchorage. The hotel maintains a steady stream of guests in winter and is especially busy during summers due to cruise guests, Arroyo said. She believes that focusing on what can be done to keep people safe rather than letting stress consume workers is the key to adapting to the circumstances.

“I try to stay positive during this time. There is not much we can do but wash our hands to keep everyone safe,” Arroyo said.

The Westmark continues to stay in operation as of March 20, among other hotels in Anchorage, including The Hotel Captain Cook. Other hotels such as the Sheraton, however, have laid off 85 workers due to foodservice closures, according to an update from KTUU on March 18.

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Tariq Winiavski is a front desk agent at the Sheraton and sees how the virus has changed his workplace.

“It is literally like a ghost town in here,” Winiavski said.

He says that he is a little stressed about COVID-19, but is not ready to panic.

“I’m mostly stressed, just a little because some of my hours got cut. I am not going to overly worry about it, though,” Winiavski said.

Anchorage restaurants are finding other ways to keep their businesses open during this time. The Lucky Wishbone near downtown Anchorage has always offered take out service, but is now including curbside pickup. Bread and Brew on Tudor Road provides delivery, take-out and a special take-home item called a “quarantine box,” which contains ingredients for the restaurant’s signature meals and sandwiches and instructions on how to assemble them. Kriner’s Diner on C Street is taking a more novel approach and providing a roll of toilet paper with every order.

Other businesses that rely on patrons coming in person for services have found other ways to cope. Studio One Pilates in Anchorage has a “Flatten the Curve, Flatten Your Abs” special. It is a virtual membership that is free for 14 days and $10 after.

Since social distancing is required during this time, some retailers are providing alternative methods so shoppers do not have to enter their stores. Walmart, Target, Fred Meyer and Carrs all offer store pick up and will bring store items to the customers in their cars. Orders are placed online.

There is also an Anchorage Facebook group that was created on March 16 called Anchorage to Go. It is a public group open that promotes local businesses in Anchorage that provide carryout and delivery services for restaurants. Group members provide information such as which restaurants are open and when.

Workers laid off due to COVID-19 can apply for state unemployment to make ends meet. The cap for receiving unemployment benefits is $1,500 a month and is based on the worker’s monthly income. Applicants can apply at the State of Alaska website at my.alaska.gov.