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Despite new CDC guidance, Anchorage mask mandate remains unchanged for now

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 3:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In Anchorage, a mask mandate remains in effect despite new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday that significantly eases mask requirements for fully vaccinated people.

The CDC now says fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors, with the exception of crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters. However, the new guidance does not negate state and local restrictions.

The latest version of Anchorage’s mask mandate, which went into effect on May 3, requires all individuals to wear masks or face coverings over their noses and mouths when they are indoors in public settings, in communal spaces outside the home and outdoors at large crowded public events. The order does not differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, but does encourage unvaccinated people to wear masks at all outdoor public gatherings, regardless of size.

Anchorage Health Department Epidemiologist Dr. Janet Johnston said the new CDC guidance caught local officials off guard.

“I think it’s a reasonable guideline for the CDC to change but it was a big surprise when it came out this morning,” she said.

Johnston said there have been several conversations about how to respond to the new guidance, but the mayor’s office did not announce or release any changes to Anchorage’s emergency orders Thursday.

“I have to believe that changes will be coming relatively quickly,” Johnston said.

She said while the CDC guidance will be, for many, added incentive to get vaccinated, she believes it also increases the urgency for those who are not yet vaccinated to get inoculated in order to protect themselves.

“People are going to be in situations with less masking, based on this announcement,” Johnston said. “And so if you’re not vaccinated, I would say remove yourself from the unvaccinated group to the vaccinated group because then you don’t really have to do the guesswork of, ‘who else am I around?’”

Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said during a media briefing Thursday that the state is not advising cities on whether to adjust emergency orders or restrictions.

“We provide information and resources to make the best decisions, just like with businesses and other entities,” Zink said.

During the briefing, facilitated over Zoom, Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin continued to wear his mask, as he was in a public setting in Anchorage.

“We have to keep in mind that the CDC was very clear about this, that we should still wear well-fitted masks when required by federal, state, local, tribal and territorial laws, rules and regulations within local ordinances,” McLaughlin said.

Zink said because her daughter has had one dose of the vaccine but is not yet fully vaccinated, she will continue to wear a mask.

“Once my entire household is vaccinated, that will change my risk tolerance,” she said.

Public health officials said Alaskans in communities with low vaccination rates and high case rates might want to consider continuing to mask for protection.

The Anchorage School District is aware of the new CDC guidance, but has not yet announced any changes to its own rules.

“The District is aware of the new guidance from the CDC allowing fully vaccinated individuals to no longer wear masks indoors in many circumstances,” wrote district Communications Specialist Lisa Miller. “The guidance will be reviewed and ASD will evaluate how it may impact ASD mitigation measures. The safety of students and staff will remain a District priority. Once we’ve determined the best path forward, principals will reach out to families.”

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