Alaska Diner Risked Causing 'Irreparable Harm' By Operating During Pandemic

A city in Alaska has requested a contempt of court hearing after a restaurant allegedly flouted an emergency order banning indoor gatherings of more than 15 people to prevent the coronavirus spreading. A judge in Anchorage had previously said businesses that flout the rule could do "irreparable harm" amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Municipality of Anchorage took action after Kriner's Diner continued serving customers after mayor Ethan Berkowitz signed an emergency order in late July mandating a "four-week reset" after the city experienced its worst week of the pandemic in terms of new cases, active cases, and cases per day. It banned gatherings indoors of more than 15 people, outdoor meetings involving food and drink of more than 25, and any outdoor meeting of over 50.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Eric A. Aarseth ordered Kriner's Diner in Anchorage to comply with Emergency Order 15, Anchorage Daily News reported, and prohibited the restaurant from "providing, allowing or facilitating, directly or indirectly indoor dining." He stated the city of Anchorage had proven the public "will suffer irreparable harm by allowing businesses such as Kriner's Diner to violate Emergency Order-15." Indoor dining exacerbates the risk of the spread of the coronavirus, he said, and those who catch the virus "face a significant risk of serious harm to their health to include death."

Over half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, more people have died in the U.S. than any other country, at over 162,000 of the global total of over 727,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

On Saturday, the city of Anchorage requested a contempt of court hearing after Kriner's Diner was found to be open despite the court order, ADN reported. Customers were lined up outside the establishment on Saturday, the outlet said, following a busy week.

According to Saturday's contempt motion obtained by the ADN, lawyers representing the city said they wanted the restaurant to stop its indoor dining services to protect the health and safety of residents. They do not want the owners to go to jail. The restaurant has been fined $600 every day it has stayed open against the emergency order. The city wants the punishment to be upped to $5,000 a day, in addition to Kriner's Diner's existing fines. It is also seeking $1,430 for attorney fees.

Carolyn Hall, a spokeswoman for the city, told the ADN in a written statement said: "We're incredibly disappointed they continue to choose to flout the law when they already have the attention of the superior court and can have their day in court to make their case that the emergency order is not valid."

Hall said: "The notion that Kriner's should be immune from emergency orders issued to protect health and safety in our community ignores the reality that most people in Anchorage are enduring." She pointed to warnings from experts that ICU beds could run out by next month, as well as school closures, and older people being stuck indoors as the virus spreads.

Attorney Blake Quackenbush who is representing the diner told the court on Friday that the emergency order robs the Kriners of their right to work as enshrined by the state's constitution.

The municipality's attorney Ruth Botstein told the hearing on Friday according to Alaska Public Media that Kriner's hadn't tried takeout or outdoor options. She said the harm done by potentially spreading the coronavirus "can't be put back in the bottle."

Aarseth said in his order on Friday the restaurant and others could protect its interests by serving food outdoors, at the curbside, or with takeaways for delivery.

In its motion on Saturday, the city claimed Quackenbush was encouraging the diner's violation after he posted a video on Facebook on Saturday showing customers in the diner alongside the caption: "Americans peacefully protesting in a historic 'sit-in'! Breakfast is served."

Co-owner Andy Kriner told NBC news affiliate KTUU on Saturday the day had gone smoothly, and he was thinking of closing the restaurant on Sunday so his workers could have a break before they re-opened on Monday.

Kriner told the ADN on Saturday before the contempt of court request was filed that his restaurant would lose half its revenue if it only did take-out orders, and would suffer a "slow, quiet death."

Last week, he Kriner told the ADN: "If I thought I was endangering anybody I wouldn't open. I just don't believe I am."

Mayor Berkowitz said at briefing on Friday, the ADN reported: "I think the importance of being able to protect public health through these public health orders is so important that the law has to apply to everybody. And if we want it to be as effective as possible, everyone needs to comply with it."

Newsweek has contacted Kriner's Diner, Blake Fulton Quackenbush and the Municipality of Anchorage for comment.