Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday announced that by the end of this week another round of businesses—including bars, swimming pools and gyms—will be able to open and already-open businesses like restaurants will be able to expand their dine-in capacity from 25% to 50%.
The governor acknowledged the likelihood that additional people will get sick because of the increased contact but said that it’s ultimately on individuals to limit the spread of the virus.
“As we go through his process of opening up more and more and more, it’s really going to fall on individuals to make sure we don’t cause a spike in the number of cases,” the governor said, according to the Anchorage Daily News’ account of his Wednesday news briefing, later adding, “We expect more cases as there’s more mixing.”
Many Alaska salons and restaurants took advantage of the first phase of reopening two weeks ago, but as most people would tell you there’s a pretty big gulf between hope and reality when it comes to the use of face masks or social distancing at stores.
“I’ve observed that mask compliance is uneven and, in some cases, extremely low,” Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, told The Midnight Sun, adding that recent trips to big-box hardware stores have been particularly concerning. “Compare that to Costco, where the company has mandated mask usage, which is intelligent. If your goal is to minimize the economic devastation and also minimize COVID transmission, then we should mandate mask usage in public places because we know the aerosolized breath particles are the primary way the disease is transmitted and masks reduce the extent to which infected people, who may not know they’re infected, are transmitting it to others.”
Fields was joined by Reps. Tiffany Zulkosky, Harriet Drummond, Matt Claman, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Geran Tarr and Andi Story in penning a letter to Dunleavy last week asking that he institute a health mandate requiring masks be worn.
“There is a growing body of evidence indicating the use of simple cloth face coverings can reduce transmission of COVID-19 when infected persons may be experiencing asymptomatic shedding of the virus,” the group wrote. “As your administration lays out plans to reopen Alaska, we urge you to issue an additional COVID-19 Health Mandate requiring Alaskans to wear face coverings in public, including both essential and non-essential businesses. We share the hope that our economy will be limitedly impacted by the necessary protective measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect the lives of Alaskans, but we must proceed with great caution to reduce the danger of a significant second wave of infections as we attempt to return to a new normal.”
Fields noted that the current mandates from the state have created an uneven and confusion situation where masks are required at some business but not others. He acknowledged that enforcement of such a mandate would be difficult but said it shouldn’t raise the same legal issues that mandates that restrict movement have.
He said, ultimately, it’s about sending a clear and firm message to Alaskans to protect public health and bolster public confidence as people return to shopping and work.
“It’s important in an economic sense to protect the health of the people who are working in these businesses who’re really on the frontlines of the virus and in a lot cases may not have a practical alternative to working,” he said. “They may have to work to support themselves and we don’t want them to be facing an unnecessary degree of risk simple standards like requiring mask usage can reduce the risk.”