Alaska state senator catches heat for anti-mask airline rant

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 7:41 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A social media post about a flight has landed Alaska Sen. Lora Reinbold, a Republican from Eagle River, in the middle of the mask debate. As the senator tells it, her issue with mask mandates of any kind is that they infringe on people’s individual rights to make their own health decisions.

After an incident where she was confronted about her mask use, Reinbold posted a picture of Alaska Airlines flight attendants. In her post, Reinbold wrote, “Mask bullies in full force on Alaskans Airlines- all because a scaredy cat Karen whined loudly and was a Tattle tail when I took my dumb worthless suffocating mask off, a bit longer than she wanted, for my food and drink.”

Alaska Airlines has a mask policy for all passengers. Exceptions are made for eating and drinking, but the expectation is that passengers keep masks on most of the time. People unable or unwilling to wear masks are not allowed to fly.

Alaska Airlines said it was aware of the post. In a statement sent via email, spokesperson Tim Thompson said, “For the safety of all our guests and employees, our policy is that a cloth face mask or covering is required for the duration of the flight. Masks must cover the nose and mouth and should only be removed when briefly eating or drinking. Masks with valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not be allowed. After being reminded onboard, the senator complied with these requirements and completed her journey.”

Reinbold is welcome on future flights.

Reinbold said her frustration over masks stems from her belief that there is not enough thorough evidence in support of the effectiveness of masks for preventing the spread of COVID-19, particularly among healthy people. Reinbold told Alaska’s News Source that mandating “masks for all” is bad policy, and a more targeted approach that concentrates on the most vulnerable individuals would make more sense.

On Nov. 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a scientific brief that concluded, “adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.”

“We all have different ways that we approach incentives and the ways that people do things. Mandates is one way. Encouraging is another way. It is up to local governments on how they want to do that and the state government can as well,” Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during Wednesday’s Zoom call on the science of COVID-19.

“Our recommendation is to wear a mask, keep your groups small and distance, and that is how we slow the spread,” Zink said.

On a Zoom call hosted by UAA’s Center for Human Development Zink said that Alaska has seen a 28% increase in COVID-19 cases over last week, and that Alaska is experiencing an infection rate of 70.1 cases per 100,000 individuals, where the average for the nation is about 30 cases per 100,000 individuals. Additionally, Zink said two out of three Alaskans have underlying conditions that place them at heightened risk for serious illness from COVID-19, should they become infected.

“I don’t believe in big bully government just mandating without the comprehensive, broad-based, holistic research over a period of time of the effects of wearing masks,” Reinbold said Tuesday during a phone call about the flight.

Asked how she’d manage an emerging health crisis with hospital capacity tightening, Reinbold said she’d want an independent audit of hospital bed space to ensure there was no political motive behind the numbers and referenced past pandemics that societies have survived without major mandates.

Reinbold has also criticized the governor, unhappy at what she believes is his overreach of powers, by both enacting and enforcing laws during the national health crisis.

“If somebody is writing the laws and enforcing the laws, there is not a clear balance of power that is guaranteed in our Constitution. So I think people need to understand that the value of the three branches of government. So, yes, I do believe that the governor is overstepping his boundaries,” she said.

Reinbold’s post about masks and airline travel met with mixed reviews. Some commenters said her remarks were flippant and disgraceful, while others expressed support for her skepticism for and dislike of requiring mask use by all individuals.

Critical of corporate mask mandates applied universally, Reinbold said Alaska Airlines should consider offering flights for passengers who wish to wear masks, and separate flights for people who don’t want to wear masks.

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