City considers options as businesses decide whether to reopen

The Franklin Street Barbers was open for business in downtown Juneau on Friday; its one of several types of businesses the state says can be open now. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Starting Friday, the state says some businesses that have been shuttered for a month can reopen.

But the City and Borough of Juneau is asking business owners to wait a little longer for local leaders to discuss the pros and cons.

The new state health mandate lists several types of non-essential businesses that can now choose to reopen as long as they follow rules meant to keep people safe.

But Juneau is asking local business owners to hold off. Mayor Beth Weldon says the city Assembly will discuss the state’s guidelines Monday.

“We are going to look at the mandates a little bit more in detail and see if indeed we are comfortable with all of them,” Weldon said on Friday. “For the businesses trying to reopen, they seem to have pretty strict regulations in place. So that’s comforting.”

The city won’t prevent anyone from opening up in the meantime. But Weldon said they would like to hear from the community before the Assembly decides whether to set some rules of its own.

For some business owners, there was confusion about how to safely open.

The state’s board of barbers and hairdressers met remotely for several hours Friday morning, answering dozens of questions about everything from where customers should wait to how to properly sanitize a space. Some owners questioned if they could be sued if someone caught COVID-19 in their shops.

Calls to Juneau area barber shops and hair salons revealed several were open and accepting customers one at a time. But, some remained closed.

Jo Betts owns Little Mermaid Beauty Salon in Douglas. On Friday, she was in her shop cleaning and getting ready to reopen, but not just yet.

She said she felt it was too soon.

Juneau has had 27 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far. Eighteen have recovered. The hospital has been able to relax testing criteria and can now test up to 40 people a day.

After doing her own research and seeing what national authorities are saying, Betts decided to wait until May 1 to reopen.

“Everyone I have made the appointment with has said “absolutely, I agree,” … and they’ve also been very good about saying they were very proud of me for waiting to open until I felt comfortable to open,” Betts said.

She actually closed her salon a week before the health mandate closing personal care services was issued in March. She also had multiple people ask her to make house calls, but she told them no.

When she does reopen, she’s asking customers to wait in their cars until she comes to get them. She will sanitize between each appointment and wear a mask.

She’s already fully booked a week out from May 1, and that’s just her regulars.

“My hair color people are my first priority because they are the most desperate, but (I’m) trying to get my own local clientele in first before I start taking people that I don’t know,” she said.

Assembly member Rob Edwardson said he still has reservations about the state’s ability to assess the risk that reopening businesses and relaxing restrictions could mean for public health.

On Monday when the Juneau Assembly meets again, it could decide to reintroduce some of the local restrictions from the city’s hunker down order.

“I definitely think that it’s a possibility to go back to that, I don’t know how much support there is on the Assembly,” Edwardson said. “I definitely think that it’s a possibility that the Assembly would go with the governor’s list with no modifications, but I kind of feel like what we’re going to end up with will be some place in between.”

Either way, Edwardson said he hopes Juneau residents will continue doing what they’ve been doing — washing their hands frequently, social distancing and wearing a mask when appropriate.

The Assembly will discuss the mandate during Monday’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. Before that, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink will answer questions from the Assembly starting at 6 p.m.

Both meetings will be aired on Facebook Live and on Zoom.

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