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Study details declines in COVID-19 transmission in Anchorage, after masking orders were put into place

As of Jan. 15, Anchorage remains under an emergency order requiring masks at all indoor public...
As of Jan. 15, Anchorage remains under an emergency order requiring masks at all indoor public settings.(Rachel McPherron // Alaska's News Source)
Published: Jan. 15, 2021 at 7:40 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In June, then-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued a mandatory mask order for the Municipality of Anchorage. Months later, a report from the Division of Public Health says that making residents mask up resulted in a significant decline in COVID-19 transmission in Alaska’s largest city.

According to Dr. Tom Hennessy, a co-author of the study and an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Alaska, this order gave researchers an opportunity that they did not have earlier in the year — when multiple state and local restrictions were first put into place.

“There were no other orders put into place at the time, and that was different from what happened in March and April, around the country,” he said. “When all of those things were done at once, that made it difficult to know which of those measures made the big difference.”

The difference, at least according to the study, was a month-long drop in COVID-19 transmission rates — by nearly 20%. The results, published this week, came out as members of the Anchorage Assembly were preparing to vote on another extension of its municipal emergency declaration. The vote passed by a margin of 8 to 2, Tuesday evening.

“Our commitment is and will continue to be to the science,” Assemblyman Christopher Constant told Alaska’s News Source. “It certainly was edifying to have our efforts be validated and verified, scientifically.”

When asked about their stance on masks, some Alaskans say they feel better knowing they have taken every precaution. Larry Adam is one of those who support masks as a tool to slow the spread of COVID-19 but also understands the pain that the emergency orders have caused.

“Well, if I was a restaurant owner, I would be on their side, cause I believe that they are being hurt financially,” he said. “I’m 60 years old. I’ve got to take every precaution that I can, as they suggest.”

The study also reports several improvements following those orders, in July and August.

Following a much tighter lockdown in December, businesses such as bars, theaters and restaurants have been allowed to reopen for the second time; however, the capacity limitations mandated by the municipality are still a topic of discontent among city leaders and business owners.

With more vaccines going out each day, Anchorage resident Jerry Laktonen hopes that more people will be confident about going out and supporting businesses.

“Well actually, I’m probably going to have breakfast somewhere because I am feeling a little freer,” he said on Friday. “It’s been over a week now, since my first shot.”

Hennessy says the progress Alaska has made with vaccinations is promising, but he warns that COVID-19 troubles in Anchorage are still far from over.

“We’ve reached a place where rates are lower but we are still sort-of in a dangerous spot,” he said. “The rate right now [about 39 per 100,000] that’s about where we were at Halloween. We’ve gone through a big spike that’s come back down, but we still have more people infected in Anchorage than we did at any point last summer.”

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