COVID-Stricken Anchorage Wins Court Ruling in Diner Dispute

By Yereth Rosen

August 11, 2020

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 at Kriner's Diner, a popular eatery that defied an emergency ordinance issued on July 31 restricting restaurants to outdoor service and take-out due to a surge in coronavirus infections.

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 city demonstrated the risks of indoor dining and showed that "the potential harm to the Anchorage public is of such significant importance that the closure of a business would be warranted," Aarseth said in his order. "A property interest cannot outweigh a person's interest in life."

The diner, however, remained open on Friday afternoon, its tables packed with customers two hours after the judge issued his order. Owner Andy Kriner and at least one server were seen working without masks or gloves.

The diner's earlier defiance of the city's directive had won them hundreds of supporters. Customers filled 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, climbed in midsummer. Anchorage, home to about 40% 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.