Virtually every public facility in town is closed due to coronavirus concerns

Saturday, March 14, 2020 - 12:49

Mass closures hit Alaska Friday as swirling fears over the new coronavirus erupted into a hurricane of concern as Alaska saw its first case of COVID-19.

Chugiak-Eagle River was not immune from the closures. Virutally all public facilities in the area are now temporarily closed to the public, including the Eagle River Town Center and the McDonald Center, two of the Chugiak-Eagle River area’s most visible public facilities.

“It is with heavy spirits that we must inform our customers that the MAC has been officially closed (under direction of the Municipality of Anchorage) until March 31st,” the McDonald Center wrote on its Facebook page Friday afternoon.

The indoor ice rink and turf facility is a hub of recreation life in Chugiak-Eagle River, a hockey hotbed where NHL players Brian Swanson and Scott Parker honed their games.

“Unfortunately this wasn’t in our hands but we are hopeful that this closure will be effective in regards to stopping any spread of potential corona virus,” the center wrote. “If possible, we will extend our skating season to try and accommodate our current skating and soccer sessions. PLEASE STAY TUNED. We appreciate you all so much!”

The municipal-owned facilities were part of a mass closure ordered by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, one day after the mayor declared a state of emergency over the virus.

“Anchorage has great facilities where we gather with neighbors, friends, and visitors to enjoy culture, entertainment, and recreation,” Berkowitz said in a statement. “Unfortunately, now our top priority is to flatten the curve — to slow the spread of COVID-19 — so that our healthcare facilities will be able to treat every patient. It is a small sacrifice to close these libraries and civic, cultural, and recreational facilities. But when all of us act together, each of us can make Anchorage as safe as possible.”

The Town Center closure impacts both the Chugiak-Eagle River Library, the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce and the local Parks and Rec department offices.

Also closed in Anchorage are the Anchorage Museum, the Egan and Dena’ina Convention Centers, Sullivan Arena, municipal recreation centers (Mountain View, Fairview, Spenard), the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Centennial Campground, the Kincaid Outdoor Center, the Lidia Selkregg Chalet, the Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouse, all municipal pools and all municipal ice rinks through at least March 31.

Late Friday Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has ordered all schools closed through March 30, extending closures announced the previous day by the Anchorage School District.

On Saturday, the Anchorage Fire Department said it’s closing its stations to the public, including visits by family members and former employees. Only essential personnel will be allowed at the stations in order to curb the spread of the disease. On Friday, the department announced three of its employees were being self-quarantined after coming into contact with the state’s first patient, a cargo pilot who landed in Anchorage earlier in the week.

Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department Chief Tim Benningfield said Saturday his department is also taking similar steps to AFD, including a reduction in training, barring visitors, canceling non-response activities, daily deep-cleaning of crew quarters, through disinfection of ambulances after each patient tranposrt, social distancing and having paid staff work from home.

Both AFD and the CFVRD are advising people who believe they have sympoms of the new disease — which include coughing, fever and shortness of breath — to call 211 or their health care provider rather than arriving at the departments unannounced. Walk-up patients with immediate needs are asked to remain in their vehicle and call 911 so they can be assessed.

The Anchorage School District will begin feeding students through a temporary meal plan starting Monday. The district will offer free food to any child age 18 or under between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at 18 district schools, including Fire Lake Elementary in Eagle River.

Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop said at a Thursday press conference the district plans to begin implementing distance learning and will spend next week training teachers and contacting families for how to deal with the crisis as it unfolds. On Saturday, a district spokeswoman said that plan remains in place.

“We’ve asked staff to prepare for remote access and test their ability to work from home by ensuring they have a two-factor authentication setup to access ASD’s network,” spokeswoman Lisa Miller wrote in an email. “The District’s primary tool for video and teleconferencing, Zoom, should be downloaded on staff devices.”

On Thursday, the Anchorage Assembly voted to extend the emergency declared by Berkowitz through April 14.

The measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the disease, which so far has sickened tens of thousands of people globally. Health care professionals have said they hope to encourage “social distancing” by keeping people from gathering in large groups. They also recommend people wash their hands frequently, refrain from hugging or shaking hands, avoid touching their face.

Not everyone agrees with the drastic steps. Eagle River assemblyman Fred Dyson said on Saturday he believes the mass closures “seem excessive.”

“It would seem to me a lot of leadership is just worried about being criticized for not doing enough,” Dyson said.

Some recreational facilites remained open as of Saturday, including the Eagle River Nature Center in Eagle River, where staff said public programs will continue but could be cancelled if the situation changes.

Anyone who thinks they are sick is advised to stay home and call either 211 or their primary care provider.

For a list of other resources visit the Centers for Disease Control website at

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