Kodiak doctors express wariness around restaurants and other businesses reopening

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that restaurants and certain businesses can begin to reopen on Friday, provided they follow certain guidelines. All businesses that reopen will have to stay below 25 percent of their operating capacity.

Restaurants will have to use a reservation system to accommodated dine-in customers. Retail stores reopening must provide hand sanitizer at the entrance. And barbershops, tattoo parlors and nail salons can open, allowing only one customer at a time.

While this may be welcome news for business owners, Kodiak’s medical community is feeling more wary about the prospect of inviting more opportunities for community spread of COVID-19.

“I think we’re the people whose glass is always half empty,” said Dr. Steve Smith, chief of staff at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center. “We’ve done pretty good. It’s been slow. We’ve had one case, the whole community is kind of prepared. And if we all of a sudden increase our potential for socialization and community spread, then we could get this second wave. So we’re anxious about that.”

Dr. Curtis Mortenson at Kodiak Community Health Center says as things open back up again, the public is going to have to get used to adapting quickly to the circumstances.

“We’re going to be in this dance of trying to like open things up and kind of seeing how it goes and then pulling back if we see that it’s not going well,” Mortenson said. “It’s frustrating, because we really wish you could just go back to normal and I think there’s a big desire for everybody to go back to normal. But I think that as we open things up, it’s just going to require us to be really flexible and and agile with how we move.”

Kodiak’s doctors agree that increased testing capability is a big help in being able to track how the pandemic evolves as restrictions loosen up. But, even with more tests, having more interaction between members of the community makes it harder to track who a potential positive case came in contact with, and who may need to quarantine or get tested.

Dr. Evan Jones at Kodiak Area Native Association, says that one of the benefits of having everyone hunkered down is that it protects people who are immunocompromised, who may have a much higher risk of getting COVID-19 than most people. As things start to open up, he says, it’ll be on those at-risk people to protect themselves.

“It does mean you’re going to have to watch out for yourself. Because other people aren’t going to be doing as much to watch out for you,” Jones said. “People are going to stop wearing their masks as much, people who might have a cold might be going out not realizing that they actually have COVID-19. And so you are going to have to be your own biggest advocate.”

Jones says his advice for high-risk individuals would be to remain hunkered down until a coronavirus vaccine is developed, or until the general population has established what’s called “herd immunity,” in which enough healthy people are coronavirus-free to protect more vulnerable individuals.

While some businesses are poised to reopen in a limited capacity, other mandates have been extended. The out-of-state and international travel restrictions have been extended to May 19 and social distancing mandates are in place until further notice.

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