‘We’ll just have to see’: Health care leader weighs in on Anchorage mask ordinance

Anchorage once again has a mask requirement, which is set to expire in no more than 60 days.
Anchorage once again has a mask requirement, which is set to expire in no more than 60 days.(ktuu)
Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 6:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It took a while, and a lot of public testimony, but Alaska’s largest city is under a masking requirement once again. To the thousands of health care workers spending day after day taking care of people sick with COVID-19 and other ailments, the news comes as a welcome change.

But how much will it help? Jeannie Monk, senior vice president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, said only as much as people follow it. She thinks it’s a bit soon to tell.

“I think we’ll just have to see,” Monk said. “I think it just depends on whether people choose to follow it and how they respond. And I just don’t know. I mean I think people are pretty dug into their views and I think there will be a large percentage of the population that will wear masks, but there will be people who won’t.”

Throughout the pandemic, Alaska’s communities have taken their own approaches to mitigation techniques, especially after Gov. Mike Dunleavy ended the state’s emergency declaration. Dunleavy’s administration ordered restrictions on travel and business capacity in the early portion of the pandemic, but he has consistently said additional public health mitigation measures should be up to local communities.

Some places, especially in rural Alaska, completely shut out the outside world at times. While in some other communities, it would have been hard to tell that there was a pandemic at all.

The hospital and nursing home association has offices in Juneau and Anchorage. Monk lives in the state’s capital, where the level of mitigation techniques is dictated by case counts and other data, she said.

“That’s worked really well, because it’s eliminated the debates all the time,” she said. “Because it’s automatic. ‘Oh, case rates are up? Now we have to wear masks again.’”

In fact, as of Monday, Juneau had a slew of other mitigation techniques in affect. Those include masking requirements, social distancing, capacity limits, and services like haircuts are by appointment only right now.

Monk didn’t declined to comment on how some people in Anchorage have been reacting to the mask ordinance. Instead, she reminded that thousands of people working in hospitals don’t have the option to take them off while they take care of people sick with COVID-19 and everything else.

“All health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes wear masks at work, all day, every day, (for) 12-hour shifts. All the time,” Monk said. “So when we hear people saying that they can’t put on a mask to go into a public place for 15 minutes — it’s just disheartening.”

She hopes the 60-day mask ordinance helps. While it settles in, Anchorage Assembly member Felix Rivera, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said the point of the measure wasn’t as much to enforce it, as it was to get more people to mask up.

The ordinance could also fall out of effect sooner than in 60 days, if two of Anchorage’s three hospitals stop operating under crisis care standards for 14 consecutive days, or if Anchorage’s community COVID-19 transmission falls back below high or substantial.

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