Anchorage Assembly approves emergency mask mandate

Anchorage Assembly members Chris Constant (left) and Meg Zaletel moments before the introduction of an emergency order that included a mask mandate on Oct. 12, 2021. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday passed an emergency order that includes a mask mandate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the order, businesses must deny entry to people who aren’t wearing masks. Businesses must also ensure that employees have access to masks when required.

The order was introduced by Assembly members Meg Zaletel and Pete Petersen late Tuesday night, during a more quiet meeting. It follows days of chaotic and combative public testimony over required masking as Alaska continues to rank as the state with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the nation.

Soon after the Assembly voted 9-1 to pass the emergency order, Mayor Dave Bronson posted on Facebook that he plans to veto it. The Assembly can override a veto with eight votes.

Just Assembly member Crystal Kennedy voted against the order Tuesday night. Member Jamie Allard initially also voted against the order, but it turned out the vote didn’t take place in the right order. When the Assembly did an official vote, Allard was not on the phone anymore.

The order approved by the Assembly takes effect immediately. It mandates that people wear masks in indoor public places and in communal spaces. Those exempted from the masking rules include children under age 5, people in police custody, people participating in sports, people at church and Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration.

The emergency order came as the Assembly was about to enter its second week of public testimony on a proposed mask ordinance. The emergency order works differently than an ordinance. The Assembly was able to introduce and pass the order without public testimony as long as nine of the 11 members voted in favor of it.

The emergency order notes that the city’s three main hospitals — Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Regional Hospital and the Alaska Native Medical Center — have insufficient capacity to respond to current COVID-19 rates in the city.

The emergency order could last as long as 60 days or until two of the three hospitals are not operating at crisis levels or Anchorage doesn’t have a high rate of COVID-19 spread.

The order on Tuesday was brought forward during a sparsely attended Assembly meeting.

Bronson and most of his administration’s senior staff, including Municipal Manager Amy Demboski, did not attend the meeting. Demboski and Municipal Attorney Patrick Bergt recently tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, most members of the Assembly participated over the phone. Members Zaletel, Chris Constant and John Weddleton were the only Assembly members at the meeting in person.

In his Facebook post, Bronson — who has strongly opposed COVID-19 restrictions — criticized Assembly members for approving the emergency order “under the cloak of darkness” and without public testimony, accusing them of breaking the public trust.

Alaska Public Media

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