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Governor’s community outreach director faces backlash for urging people to ‘party like it’s New Year’s Eve’

David Stieren is facing criticism over posts to his private Facebook account that urged people...
David Stieren is facing criticism over posts to his private Facebook account that urged people to visit their local bars before the Municipality of Anchorage implemented further COVID-19 restrictions.(KTUU)
Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 4:27 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - David Stieren, who leads communications and community outreach for the governor’s office, is facing criticism over posts to his private Facebook account that urged people to visit their local bars before the Municipality of Anchorage implemented further COVID-19 restrictions.

His social media posts reflect similar statements he made publicly on the same day last week on KINY radio’s Wednesday Wake-up Call with Dave Stieren, where he frequently answers questions about what is happening in the Dunleavy administration.

On Nov. 25, for about 12 minutes, the host asked Stieren about COVID-19 cases in Alaska, the governor’s budget and plans for brining a turkey before Thanksgiving. Then Stieren was asked if the governor still stood by what he said in his SMS emergency message to Alaskans earlier that month.

“I think what is happening, and pretty consistent, is not that people are flooding bars or flooding restaurants, any restaurant or bar owner will tell you that. It’s people are still getting together and doing things outside of the public purview that you could call at-risk behavior,” Stieren said on the show. “So, the governor feels pretty strongly that government telling you to do something that you’re going to blow off anyway isn’t going to make a dent in the numbers.”

Stieren, who said he recently came back from a trip to Hawaii, continued on to say, “This governor has said look, ‘You guys do what you need to do to make your local communities safe.’ And depending on the results, depending on your philosophical point of view, you either find those measures appropriate or you don’t, and you tell the whole world about it on social media.”

A few hours after the show ended, Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced the municipality would enter a modified hunker down phase in December that would close all bars, restaurants and entertainment facilities to in-person service.

Stieren took to his personal Facebook page saying, “Monday night, go to your favorite bar and party like it’s New Years Eve. Dress up. Uber. Whatever. Do it.”

A screenshot of the post was widely shared on social media, with many noting Stieren’s stance differs from the public stance of the governor’s office and the advice given by health care officials with the Department of Health and Social Services.

Stieren appeared to later edit his post to include, “Or pay a tab that you’d have IF you would go out. Dress up. Uber. Pay and stay home.”

Another screenshot captures Stieren posting to Hideaway Club commenting, “Since the Mayor is killing us, New Year’s Eve Party Monday the 30th at the Hideaway?”

There is nothing in the State of Alaska social media policy that prevents “employees from using their personal social media accounts to communicate an opinion on a matter of public concern.” The policy does say employees should consider using disclaimers that clarify that statements don’t represent the state’s positions.

Stieren has not responded to requests for comment as of publication time, but the governor’s office has said, “Dave Stieren’s comments were made on his personal social media accounts and are his own personal opinions. Those comments do not reflect the policies of the Dunleavy administration regarding COVID-19.”

Stieren’s Twitter account is still active, but it appears his Facebook page has been taken down.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and top health care officials in the state have advised Alaskans to wear masks, stay home when possible, practice social distancing and good hand hygiene but have not mandated those behaviors.

“I’m going to ask Alaskans to sacrifice a little more by changing their daily routines,” Dunleavy said in a YouTube video that was linked to an emergency SMS alert sent to most Alaskans on Nov. 12. “If you own a business that can operate remotely, send your employees home. I’m urging municipalities to take similar action and protect your workforce and communities.”

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink has become one of the most recognizable faces of COVID-19 information in the state and has shared messages about COVID-19 that vastly diverge from Stieren’s latest posts.

“When you choose to stay home, rearrange your business, your life, and your family as best as you can, you are choosing to protect your community, your family and each other, and you are changing these narratives,” Zink said in a recent post to her public Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Stieren also questioned the effectiveness of local mask mandates in his KINY radio appearance and said the Dunleavy administration was having a philosophical debate about the government’s role in telling people to do things like hand washing because, “if you tell me to do the obvious, I’m more inclined to not, out of principle, to ignore what you’re telling me.”

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