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Anchorage Assembly votes to end mask mandate effective immediately

Undated shot of Anchorage, Alaska.
Undated shot of Anchorage, Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: May. 14, 2021 at 12:51 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 5:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly voted Friday afternoon to end the city’s mask mandate effective immediately.

While Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced earlier in the day that the mandate would be revoked on May 21, the assembly voted 8-1 in a Friday afternoon meeting to revoke the mandate immediately.

The sole “no” vote came from Assembly member Meg Zaletel.

“Providing this time to plan and give people an opportunity to think through what they need to do to keep themselves safe I think is an important step in being responsible as we transition out of this time,” Zaletel said.

Quinn-Davidson had said the time built into her announcement for revoking the mandate was meant to give the Anchorage School District the ability to protect students through the end of the school year. Assembly members in favor of revoking the mandate immediately said during the meeting that the school board has control over its own masking policies.

“The school board are elected officials and I find that they’re truly competent to decide what will work for the school board and the schools in the district and the children,” said Assembly member Jamie Allard.

The city had been under various versions of a mask mandate since June 29, 2020, when the first emergency order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces went into effect.

Quinn-Davidson’s announcement and the assembly action that followed came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance on Thursday that significantly eases mask requirements for people who are fully vaccinated. 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.

On Friday afternoon, Quinn-Davidson indicated she does not plan to veto the assembly’s decision.

“We proposed ending the mask mandate with a week’s notice to protect unvaccinated kids during the last week of school, and to give businesses and organizations time to plan accordingly,” Quinn-Davidson wrote in a statement sent by her office. “While this changes the timeline, at the end of the day we’re working toward the same result: lifting the citywide masking requirement while recommending that people who are not vaccinated keep wearing masks. If going to get a COVID-19 vaccine has been on your to-do list for a while, now is the moment to cross it off.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, Anchorage School District Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop responded to the assembly’s vote as well.

“My leadership team and I will evaluate the Assembly’s decision and determine whether or not practical changes should be implemented this close to end of the school year – with only four days to go,” Bishop wrote in part. “Our focus right now is to celebrate our graduating seniors, and finish the school year strong.”

While the release from the mayor’s office Friday said unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to continue to wear a mask, it notes, “A mask mandate applying only to unvaccinated individuals would have presented enforcement challenges and increased the burden on businesses.”

The revocation of Anchorage’s mask mandate will not prevent individual businesses and organizations from continuing to require masks, and people should be prepared to wear a mask in public when necessary, according to the release.

Anchorage Health Department Epidemiologist Dr. Janet Johnston said on Thursday that the CDC announcement increases the urgency for unvaccinated people to get vaccinated, as the risk of exposure is likely to go up in several public and social settings.

“We have to expect that there are going to be changes and that people are going to change their behavior,” she said. “So, getting, you know, where it might not have felt as urgent to be vaccinated, I think there is, there is more of a benefit, and also more of an urgency because it’s likely that people will be wearing masks less and there’s no way to know who’s vaccinated and who’s not.”

The revocation of the mask mandate comes as the average daily COVID-19 case rate over the last 14 days dropped below 10 per 100,000 in the Municipality of Anchorage on Thursday, meaning the city has moved from high alert status to intermediate alert status for the first time since July 2020, according to state data.

As of Friday, more than 60% of eligible Anchorage residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the mayor’s office.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with new information.

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