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Some mask requirements return to Alaska

Probably not in Anchorage according to Assembly members
A sign asking patrons to wear a mask hangs on the window of a business.
A sign asking patrons to wear a mask hangs on the window of a business.(WKYT)
Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 10:05 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - With case counts drastically rising in Alaska over the last two weeks, some communities are starting to see masking requirements to some degree. Throughout the state, health leaders like Dr. Anne Zink are warning that most areas are reaching high alert levels once again.

Whether or not individuals are being required to mask depends on where the question is asked. For example, Juneau is requiring them in all borough facilities and encouraging people to wear them inside everywhere else. In Sitka, people are strongly encouraged to wear them at indoor and outdoor public gatherings and inside city buildings. Cordova requires them for all individuals in public buildings as well.

In Anchorage, Alaska State Department of Health and Social Services data shows that there have been more than a thousand cases reported in the last two weeks, also putting the municipality at a high alert level.

People who are age 12 and up are responsible for most of the new cases in the state, according to recent reports, and account for only 54% of Anchorage’s fully vaccinated population.

Some Anchorage Assembly members don’t see any changes in the near future though.

“As far as what we’re doing right now, I don’t think things should change in the very near future,” said Assembly member Crystal Kennedy.

Right now, hospitals are reporting that most people who are being hospitalized with COVID-19 are those who are not vaccinated. In another tweet from Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer said 96% of the hospitalizations and 98% of the recent deaths are people who haven’t gotten the shot.

The vaccine is not a 100% guarantee, said DHSS State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin in an interview with Alaska’s News Source last week.

He still strongly advises everyone to get vaccinated, and for those who aren’t to wear masks.

“They’re not perfect,” Dr. McLaughlin said about vaccines. “We are seeing what we call ‘breakthrough infections.’ On average, you can expect if you had 100 people who were fully vaccinated and you exposed every single one of those people to the Sars-CoV2 virus — depending on the strain and the vaccine that they got — you would expect anywhere between five to maybe 33 of those people to get infected.”

When it comes to the now dominant delta variant, McLaughlin said if the same experiment happened with 100 people who weren’t vaccinated, virtually all of those people would become infected.

The recent rise in case numbers and filling of hospital beds in Anchorage is cause for Assembly members like Vice Chair Chris Constant to call on people to get the vaccine. Or as he called it, “the magic bullet.”

“It’s so sad that the people who are getting sick, the people who are being hospitalized, the people who are dying, generally speaking, are people who chose to be there. Which is awful,” Constant said. “That’s not to say we don’t have children and some people who are vulnerable and can’t be vaccinated, which certainly argues for a continued public health response.”

However, when it comes to whether or not Alaska’s largest city will be required to mask up again isn’t the assembly’s decision, Constant said. It all comes down to what Mayor Dave Bronson’s office decides.

Alaska’s News Source made attempts to get a comment from Bronson at city hall in person on Monday, as well as reach out to his office for comment on what may come next for masks. This story will be updated with a response if it becomes available.

However, on his first day in office, Bronson made his position on the municipalities involvement in residents wearing masks very clear multiple times while he was sworn in.

“I’m trying to be as clear as I can. We are not going to mandate masks. We are not going to mandate vaccines,” Bronson said during his first press conference as mayor on July 1st. “And people get to make their own choice on what to do with those two items.”

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