Spurs was included on a list of bars and restaurants released by the Municipality of Anchorage regarding COVID-19 contact tracing. 

PALMER — A local business owner and senator are calling into question the legality of the list of businesses included in COVID-19 contact tracing published by the Anchorage Department of Health on July 3.

John Denny has owned Spurs, formerly known as Four Corners, since 2015 and called into question Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’ motives for releasing the list that included businesses outside of the Municipality of Anchorage.

“For them to try and publicly shame a very specific industry is completely unethical and unconstitutional,” said Denny. “What the Mayor has done in Anchorage has not been fair and impartial, it’s been very pointed and very specific to a certain industry and we’re in the Valley. It just happens that we pull more Anchorage customers to the Valley than any other bar.”

Spurs was one of the 19 businesses, mostly bars and restaurants, named by the AHD on July 3. That same day, Sen. Shelley Hughes wrote a response on Facebook that was commented on and shared hundreds of times.

“The Mayor of Anchorage crossed the line with his press release today. It is not within his power to point out private businesses that have had a private citizen visit their establishment and then have a positive case of COVID-19. To take it a step further, that Mayor had the audacity to name a business outside of his jurisdiction,” wrote Hughes. “I encourage those private establishments and Boroughs named, to take whatever legal recourse necessary to put this Mayor in his place and let him know that he is beyond what the law allows with this press release.”

Denny said that Spurs was never contacted by any Anchorage Department of Health or Alaska Department of Health and Social Services representative to disclose that people who had tested positive for COVID-19 visited that establishment. According to Carolyn Hall, Berkowitz's communications director, Spurs was contacted by Anchorage Health Department staff on July 3, before the list was made public.

Denny said that a list is maintained of those who visit the bar, but signing the list is voluntary.

“We have hand sanitizer, we have the list that comes in we promote social distancing if you’re not part of the family if you’re not part of the place, at the same time we are a bar that has a band and people are going to dance if they want to dance,” said Denny.

Hughes said that she is first and foremost concerned about public health but does not judge anyone who may or may not wear a mask in public. Hughes questions the jurisdiction of who would be able to disclose the names of businesses.

“I do feel like the mayor overstepped his bounds and I am concerned about businesses that are already struggling,” said Hughes. “I’m looking at the law. I’m looking at the jurisdiction. I’m looking at where the municipality is located versus the Mat-Su Borough and whose responsibility it is and anything out here in the Borough because we don’t have health powers would fall under the state of Alaska.”

Hughes said that businesses or business types should not be branded and that Alaskans should follow messaging released by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. Hughes also noted a study from Dittman Research published on June 11 that asked businesses if the coronavirus and economic shutdown has affected the long term viability of their businesses. According to Hughes, two percent had already closed and 22 percent were likely to close.

“If a business owner were being irresponsible and it was very blatant things going on, that’d be one thing but in this case this business owner was very much on top of it and I was surprised when I saw the Mayor’s press release,” said Hughes.

You have to be very cautious if it rose to the level where under the declaration of disaster statutes that a specific spot needed to be identified. To me it would fall first to the business owner.”

Denny says that after receiving calls from the three patrons who had tested positive for COVID-19, Denny and his staff called customers and people who had been inside the bar, not the Anchorage Health Department.

“They said that they threatened and sent letters out to people before they shamed them on the internet and at no point ever did we get anything from Health and Social Services or the Berkowitz administration,” said Denny.

Denny believes that Berkowitz has attempted to cover up for his action in subsequent press conferences. Denny said that if bars and restaurants had to remain closed under previous health mandates, Spurs would have had to shut down. Denny said that his entire staff has been tested and none returned positive.

“The customers have came back in droves. We’ve had the best few months ever since we’ve owned this bar in 2015. Our daily and weekly averages have been above and beyond what it was prior to this covid situation when they shut everybody down. They’ve came back either supporting us or just needing to get out of the house and getting out somewhere,” said Denny.

**Editor's note: Updated to include the Spurs was contacted by Anchorage Health Department staff prior to the release of the list. 

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