Anchorage mayor says he may issue mask mandate soon if increase in COVID-19 cases continues

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz in March 2020. (Photo by Alaska Public Media)

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says he may require masks in indoor, public areas in Anchorage soon if the increase in COVID-19 cases continues.

“That order is ready and could be implemented at any time,” Berkowitz said at Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly meeting.

“If the number of cases and the type of cases that we see continue over the next two or three days we’re going to implement that order.”

The announcement comes as the number of COVID-19 infections in Alaska continues to climb, and as people clash over wearing masks. Some businesses are requiring face coverings, but there’s currently no city-wide or statewide mandate.

About two dozen people protested outside of Assembly chambers Tuesday, opposing a mask mandate. Meanwhile, more than 200 Alaska health care workers have called on the governor to implement one for the entire state.

Berkowitz did not provide specifics about what exactly his drafted emergency order says or how it would be enforced. He said it would require the wearing of masks “under certain circumstances,” and would not apply to the outdoors.

Berkowitz said there is increased community spread of COVID-19, a strain on the ability to track people who come in contact with the virus and a “disregard of some of the public health precautions that have kept us safe up to this point.”

Business owners who are requiring masks have reported that they’re struggling to enforce their rules, and getting pushback that there’s no city-wide order, Berkowitz said.

“That puts frontline workers in an untenable position of having to be law enforcement,” he said. “I think the presence of an order is an indicator of what social norms are and should be and consequently I’m prepared to implement that order within the next few days.”

On Tuesday, the governor of Washington announced a statewide mandate requiring facial coverings in any indoor public space, as well as any outdoor public area if social distancing isn’t possible. Several other states are also requiring face coverings.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain such as grocery stores. It says the use of masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and may help keep those who have the virus but aren’t showing symptoms from transmitting it to others.

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