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Possible citywide mask mandate set for next Anchorage Assembly meeting

Anchorage Assembly meeting Sept. 20, 2021
During a Monday, Sept. 20, 2021 meeting, the Anchorage Assembly introduced an ordinance that would require people to wear masks indoors in public and in crowded outdoor public spaces.(Robert McNeily/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 9:54 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - An ordinance that would institute a citywide mask mandate has been introduced for discussion at the next Anchorage Assembly meeting.

Proposed by assembly members Meg Zaletel and Pete Petersen, the ordinance was introduced during a special assembly meeting on Monday, and would affect public entities and private businesses if approved.

As written, the ordinance would require people to wear masks while indoors in public settings and while outdoors if they are in crowded public spaces. It also states that business owners “shall deny admittance to any individual who fails to comply” with the ordinance. The ordinance includes a number of exceptions, such as for children under 2 and for those who cannot wear masks due to a physical or mental disability.

The ordinance would expire on Dec. 31, but it would no longer be in effect if the municipality’s risk level fell below “substantial or high alert” for COVID-19 transmission.

At Monday’s special meeting, 11 residents testified in opposition to the ordinance, voicing their concern.

“I’m looking back at the public here who has three rows of seven seats that are jammed literally shoulder-to-shoulder... you have forced the public to not social distance,” said Scott Anderson, speaking to the size of the conference room. “You are not good stewards of your own words... We are very disappointed in your actions. We hope you will do better. Honestly, I don’t really expect it.”

Of those who testified during the audience participation portion of the meeting, some cited constitutional rights, loss of business and employment opportunity in Anchorage as reasons for opposing the measure. One person cited a study from a doctor in Texas that suggests people should not wear masks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Alaska’s own state health department have said studies show that mask wearing greatly reduces the spread of the virus.

“Follow the medical advice on how to curve the mitigation numbers according to medical proof,” said Zaletel, sharing her thoughts on the ordinance on Tuesday.

Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance and Vice Chair Christopher Constant said Monday they were undecided regarding where they stand on the ordinance, pending any amendments made during the Sept. 28 meeting.

“At this point, I haven’t read it yet. The version that was introduced came out today and with any piece of legislation, what gets passed can differ depending on amendments (and) on revised versions,” LaFrance said. “Until we get on the floor and have the debate, we won’t know exactly what that looks like. My understanding is that it’s a muni-wide mask mandate.”

Constant later shared some emails detailing support for a mask mandate from other residents who were not present at the meeting. He said he received six emails in favor and one not in favor of the proposed mandate after 3:53 p.m. Monday.

“I would like to express my full support for a mask mandate in public places throughout the municipality,” Resident Megan Richotte wrote in one of the emails to Constant. “This is long overdue. Alaska’s case counts for Covid19 are the highest in the nation, Anchorage’s case counts are dangerous, schools are and need to remain in session with lots of unvaccinated children congregating in buildings. Thank goodness for the leadership at the Anchorage School District requiring masks. It’s long overdue for the city to do the same. We know they work. Our hospitals are overrun.”

“We’ll know in the next 60 days, if it passes, whether it’s effective or not,” Constant said. “Because we’ll see the (COVID-19) numbers go down or not.”

Assembly member Jaime Allard, via text message on Monday, questioned why elected officials would “inject” themselves into the relationships between residents and doctors.

“It isn’t my place, nor should it be,” Allard said. “The Constitution establishes the rights of residents to make their own decisions regarding their health. I absolutely believe the Assembly is exceeding their authority.”

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration has consistently opposed any form of mask mandate in the municipality.

“My administration has been clear since the beginning that we will not mandate masks or vaccines,” Bronson said in a Sept. 14 press release. “If someone wants to wear a mask or get a vaccination that’s their personal choice. But we will not violate the privacy and independent healthcare decisions of our citizens in the process.”

If the assembly were to pass the ordinance, Bronson would have the mayoral power to veto it. In that case, the assembly would need a supermajority of eight votes to override that veto. Even then, it is up to the mayor’s office to enforce ordinances.

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