Assembly passes resolution asking mayor to encourage masking and other mitigation measures

The Anchorage Assembly meets Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska.
The Anchorage Assembly meets Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska.(Jeremy Kashatok/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 10:05 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain high in Alaska’s largest city, the Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution on Tuesday that asks the mayor to strongly encourage the wearing of masks while indoors in city-owned buildings and a number of other mitigation measures.

The resolution was brought forward by assembly member Meg Zaletel, and initially sought to ask Mayor Dave Bronson to “direct that masks or face coverings are required in public indoor areas of municipal buildings and promoting mitigation measures when the Municipality of Anchorage is in a substantial risk or high alert level for community transmission of COVID-19.”

The resolution was amended, however, to request that Bronson “strongly encourage” these measures instead. Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia, who made the amendment, said he agreed with Zaletel but felt the measure had a better chance of being implemented by Bronson if the language was changed to “strongly encourage.”

“And I do believe that that is in line with the mayor’s past narrative,” Perez-Verdia said during the Tuesday night meeting. “That he is reluctant to require, but he is willing to strongly encourage the use of masks.”

Zaletel pushed back, saying the resolution is about more than masks — it also requests that the mayor institute things like supporting telework and allowing city employees time to get tested or vaccinated when the city is experiencing high COVID-19 transmission.

“This is an opportunity for the municipality to set the example and lead.” Zaletel said. “Leadership is not always doing the popular thing.”

She said that the last time the city’s count of COVID-19 cases was this high, mitigation measures were in place and were discussed regularly by the assembly.

Perez-Verdia’s amendment eventually passed in a 7-4 vote.

After another amendment was made to the resolution including more information about the number of staffed ICU beds in Anchorage, and how many of them are occupied by COVID-19 patients, the main resolution also passed with a 10-1 vote. The sole “no” vote was from assembly member Jamie Allard.

“It is not the duty of the government to dictate to its citizens what works best for them,” Allard said earlier in the meeting. “I believe that it is important that citizens are able to decide by themselves with their medical provider what works best for them and that is the role we need to take on as government.”

Assembly member John Weddleton asked Dr. Michael Savitt, the city’s chief medical officer, if the recommendations in the resolution were in line with those coming from the Anchorage Health Department.

“These are the recommendations that came to the assembly at the last two meetings,” Savitt said. “These are virtually the same recommendations that the health department has presented to the mayor and his team. These are the recommendations that are absolutely in line with the CDC, (National Institutes of Health), World Health Organization, and all the other letter combinations out there.”

Savitt emphasized that the recommendations in the resolution, such as wearing masks indoors, working from home when possible, avoiding crowds and physically distancing, are just recommendations and that the city health department is not in a place where it would recommend mandates for those mitigation measures.

“We’re not prepared to go beyond that at this point in time,” Savitt said. “ ... I personally think that mandates cut both ways. They can force people under observation to do what you want … but in private the behavior doesn’t change.”

Earlier in the day Tuesday, Bronson posted to his official mayoral Facebook page reiterating his view of COVID-19 mitigation measures, stating that he will not support mandates.

“My view and position on COVID-19 mandates are very clear, we have no intention on placing mandates on our businesses, mandates masking our residents, or mandates that require COVID-19 vaccinations,” Bronson wrote. “I believe this is the wrong approach, and believe these decisions are best left to be made outside of government.”

Bronson wrote that staff at the Anchorage Health Department would continue to provide services such as access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, “and will continue to give Anchorage as much information possible to make the best decision for themselves and their families.”

Bronson reiterated that vaccines should be a personal choice.

“If you are vaccinated or have natural immunity, you are far less likely to suffer serious illness, hospitalization, or death in comparison to those without,” he wrote.

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