By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – As COVID-19 cases spike and hospital bed space dwindles in Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage officials on Friday won a key ruling in favor of a ban on indoor restaurant dining after a standoff over the issue moved to court.
Anchorage city officials this week sued to halt indoor dining service at one eatery, Kriner’s Diner, that defied an emergency order issued on July 31 prohibiting the practice after coronavirus infections jumped sharply.
On Friday, following two days of court hearings, state Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth sided with city officials and issued a temporary restraining order against the restaurant.
“The restrictions on indoor restaurant dining are undeniably difficult for affected businesses, but they are medically necessary for the health of our entire community,” the municipality had said in its motion.
The diner’s defiance won them hundreds of supporters. Customers packed the restaurant for days, rallied outside the eatery and distributed “We Support Kriner’s Diner” bumper stickers.
“We have so much support we are absolutely blown away and we feel your love!” the diner said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
A handful of other restaurants followed Kriner’s example, and the city has sued a second diner.
The spread of COVID-19 in Alaska, which seemed to be in check, surged in midsummer. Anchorage, home to about 40 percent of Alaskans, now accounts for more than half of the state’s 4,200-plus confirmed cases.
Nearly 86% of Anchorage’s hospital beds were occupied as of Friday, state data showed, and city officials say medical services are on the brink of being overwhelmed. Anchorage hospitals serve patients from across the state.
Tourism to Alaska remains hard hit. The first and only Alaska cruise ship of the season was forced to return to its port in Juneau, the state capital, earlier this week because a passenger came down with COVID-19.
(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Alaska; Editing by Steve Gorman and Sonya Hepinstall)