Anchorage Assembly ends mask mandate early

Anchorage ends mask mandate early
Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 6:50 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2021 at 9:17 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously to end the city’s requirement for people to wear masks in public indoor spaces.

At Tuesday night’s regular assembly meeting, the body voted 11-0 to approve a resolution that ends the city’s mask mandate effective Wednesday. The emergency ordinance requiring masks to be worn in the municipality in indoor public spaces was first approved on Oct. 12, and the assembly overrode Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of the ordinance on Oct. 14.

It was set to naturally expire 60 days after the assembly overrode the mayoral veto, and would have fallen out of effect next week. Last week, the assembly announced it would consider ending the mandate slightly early because transmission rates of COVID-19 have fallen and local hospitals are no longer under extreme stress.

Attendees of the Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 Anchorage Assembly meeting sit in the audience wearing...
Attendees of the Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021 Anchorage Assembly meeting sit in the audience wearing white masks over their faces. The assembly voted unanimously to end the city's mask mandate early at their regular meeting in the Loussac Library in Anchorage, Alaska.(Jeremy Kashatok/Alaska's News Source)

“Tonight myself and assembly member (Pete) Petersen are bringing the mask mandate to an early close through this resolution,” assembly member Meg Zaletel, the other sponsor of the emergency ordinance, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “For now I think the mandate has done what was intended and set our city back on a better path in regards to physical health of our residents and economic health of our city.”

One of the provisions of the ordinance is that it would no longer be in effect if two of Anchorage’s three major hospitals was no longer using crisis standards of care for 14 consecutive days. Neither Alaska Regional Hospital nor Providence Alaska Medical Center are using those crisis care standards.

Zaletel said Tuesday that when the emergency ordinance was crafted, local hospitals were under “immense pressure” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alaska was dealing with the height of a COVID-19 case surge in September and October, driven partly by the highly contagious delta variant.

“That pressure seems to have eased, and that they have not invoked directly within patient care those crisis standards of care for the last 14 consecutive days,” Zaletel said of the hospitals.

Assembly member Jamie Allard moved to amend the resolution so that the mask requirement would end immediately, during the meeting, rather than at midnight.

“Today we’re looking at moving forward and I think the public is ready to go ahead and take their mask off, or leave them on,” Allard said.

Zaletel and assembly member Forrest Dunbar said it would be more fair to businesses to stick to the originally publicized expiration of the emergency ordinance, starting Wednesday. Allard’s amendment was voted down 7-4, with Allard, Crystal Kennedy, John Weddleton and Christopher Constant voting in favor of ending the mandate effective immediately.

Starting Wednesday, masks or face coverings within the municipality will be optional in public indoor spaces. The resolution ending the requirement early did note that, while local hospitals may no longer be employing crisis standards of care directly, statewide guidelines for crisis care standards enacted by the state in September are still available.

The leadup to the assembly’s emergency ordinance requiring masks was marked by a series of tense, volatile meetings stretching over two weeks. The meetings were public hearings held while the assembly was considering an earlier version of the ordinance which was eventually replaced with the emergency version, which included several changes.

Bronson was openly opposed to the mask requirement and the assembly clashed several times with members of his administration throughout the public hearings. Several members of the public showed up to meetings wearing yellow Stars of David, a symbol of the Holocaust. Testifiers used the symbol to compare the COVID-19 mitigation measure of mask wearing to the actions taken by Nazis during the systematic killing of millions of Jewish and other people.

Other meetings were marked by disruptive outbursts and a handful of arrests.

The resolution passed Tuesday ending the mask requirement does still encourage businesses to use and enforce their own mask policies.

“We know they prevent the spread of COVID to some extent,” assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said in regard to masks. “... Many other cities across this country have a mask mandates, and they have lower numbers of COVID rates. So I just want to remind everyone that this is expiring because of the way it was constructed, not because it’s not smart to wear a mask at this stage.”

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

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