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'We were completely blindsided': bars and restaurants express frustration with city

(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 8:17 PM AKDT
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It was a long holiday weekend for a number of businesses on a

put out by the Municipality of Anchorage on July 3, placing over a dozen establishments in the spotlight as locations where COVID-positive people visited. Now, many of those businesses are not happy at all with the municipality or Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Channel 2 reporters reached out to all of the businesses on the list by phone. All who answered expressed that they were upset over its release for a number of reasons. The main problem they all had with the exposure list is that bars and restaurants were the only types of businesses listed.

Employees from F Street Station and Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse spoke on camera about how they felt about the exposure list. Both businesses said little to no notice was given about it.

"We had customers call and ask if we were among the restaurants and bars where it was dangerous or was known to have been and we got no notification," Stephan Jones, a lead chef at F Street, said. "We were completely blindsided. So there was a lot of just kind of surprise when there was this sort of list of businesses and it only includes bars and restaurants. I think a lot of people felt targeted."

Jon Kastar, a manager at Humpy's had similar feelings.

"If you want to keep the public safe, let them know about all these other businesses as well," he said, "Whether it's you know, churches, any other social gathering, yoga studios, coffee shops."

The municipality sent out a release around 10:30 p.m. Monday evening explaining the decision. Berkowitz stood by the announcement in the name of public health.

"Bars and restaurants are different than other locations," Berkowitz said, "Yes, people who have infections go to other places. But they aren't there for extended periods of time, in close proximity, having face to face conversations."

Another big aspect of the disappointment for the establishments on the list was the timing. Some attribute very poor sales, in part, to the release of the document the day before one of the busiest weekends of the year.

Berkowitz said the timing was a result of numerous warnings by public health officials of bars and clubs being hot-spots for viral transmission.

"It came out before the 4th of July because there was a confluence of concern," Berkowitz said. "We weren't able to do all the tracing that was required; we were headed into a holiday weekend we thought it was important for people to have as much information as possible so they could make informed decisions about their own behavior and their own conduct moving ahead; and it came because we saw an escalating number of cases and knew if we didn't start to get more of a grip on what was going on we would fall even further behind."

Now Humpy's has made some changes according to Kastar. In the aftermath of the release, he said they went back to collecting contact info at the door for possible tracing, made sure that the tables were six feet apart and increased cleaning protocols.

Kastar said Humpy's doesn't feel resentment for the release because he said people need to know information about the coronavirus to stay safe. They do, however, feel like they were caught off guard and want to be more in the loop.

"We want to work with the mayor and work with the city so that we can stay open," he said, "We don't want to be surprised by you know, this list, or all of a sudden, 'hey coming up Friday, you guys are going to be shut down.' You know we want to work with the city to find the right way to do things, to find the solution so that we can stay in business."

F Street, on the other hand, said they haven't changed anything since the release, and are following the current mandates.

"We really haven't changed anything after the list other than just trying to make sure that we're following the mandates to the letter," Jones said, "making sure that they have a mask when they walk in the door even though five minutes later when they have a drink in front of them they don't necessarily have to have a mask."

The information on positive cases didn't seem to bother the many patrons that were at the restaurant around noon on Tuesday when Channel 2 reporters stopped by to talk.

There were no empty seats at the bar, and many of the tables were full. Six feet of space was hard to come by at the time.

When asked why so many people were seated together, Jones said they have to take people's word on if they live together or not, and many don't want to give their contact information if they don't have to.

"They were already hesitant to do it during phase 1 and during phase 2 it was pretty much just a non-starter. You'd ask people for their names and phone numbers and they would automatically, 'well I don't have to give that to you, you don't have to keep track of it.'"

Both Humpy's and F Street said they are following current cleaning protocol, but after the list came out, neither of them has shut down business to do a deep cleaning according to Kastar and Jones.

Upon seeing a video of the bar, Berkowitz stood even more firm in putting the information out there.

"I think that people are taking risks and endangering other people and they're putting economic of the municipality in jeopardy," he said. "I think it's pretty selfish behavior."

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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