On Friday, May 22, the state is lifting many of the coronavirus-related restrictions that have kept businesses and organizations closed; Bethel is following suit. The city is opening its facilities to the public on May 26, planning to resume bus services, and returning cab rules to a pre-COVID-19 state.
The City of Bethel will be reopening at the pace that Gov. Mike Dunleavy sets, because City Manager Vincenzo “Vinny” Corazza says that Bethel doesn’t have the authority to set its own reopening guidelines.
“We really don't have individual powers as a second class city. It's very limited,” Corazza said. “Anchorage is a home rule city, so they can make their own. They can have their own pace, so usually, generally, second class cities kind of follow what the state does.”
On May 26, city facilities like the police department, fire department, city hall, and the public works building will reopen to the public with some limits. The buildings will only be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., face masks will be required for both city employees and anyone coming into the buildings, and occupancies will be limited, which means some people may be asked to wait outside.
The city’s public transit system will also be back in service once vehicles are reconfigured. Plexiglass walls are being constructed next to the bus driver’s seat to protect both the driver and the passengers. Everyone inside the bus will be required to wear a mask, but Corazza says that social distancing won’t be enforced.
“It's a very small bus. I think if you had a 6-foot thing, a 6-foot rule, you may get one or two passengers and that’s it,” Corazza said.
The city is down to one bus driver, and if that employee determines conditions aren’t safe enough to drive, then Corazza said that the bus service won’t run.
Bethel’s other transportation services, taxis, will be returning to a rideshare system. On May 24, the city’s COVID-19 emergency declaration expires, along with the city manager’s authority to dictate cab rules, which is when cab riders can expect flat rate fares to return. Corazza said that cabs could voluntarily limit the number of passengers they pick up, but they will not be required to.
Two days after the city’s first COVID-19 emergency declaration expires, Bethel City Council will consider reinstating it for another 60 days. If that happens, Corazza will once again have the authority to dictate cab rules. He said that he would leave the flat-rate rideshare system in place unless the situation in Bethel changes.
“If there's a third case, if there's a case in Bethel that would warrant social distancing, stricter measures, then it’ll be like, ‘Hey taxi company. We're going to go back to social distancing.’ Or, you know, ‘What are your suggestions?’” Corazza said.
The city has also been discussing what kind of Fourth of July celebration it can have this year. Corazza said that a parade will almost definitely happen, and depending on how the next month plays out, he said that a socially-distanced fair may be an option as well.