In hopes of keeping businesses open and operating even as the state’s COVID-19 cases hit new highs, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced masks will be required in public indoor spaces starting Monday.
The new public health order will require businesses to enforce the mandate for employees and customers, though Berkowitz acknowledged he doesn’t expect compliance to be universal. People who have health issues that would make wearing a mask difficult are exempt from the rule.
“If we approach this particular pandemic in an aggressive way, we can get through it more rapidly than had we ignored the problem and just hoped it would go away,” he said. “I’ve seen that tactic deployed in other places, it’s a significant and massive failure.”
Berkowitz announced earlier this week that he had prepared such an order and would plan on implementing it unless cases significant dropped. Alaska hit its highest single-day count of new cases on Thursday with 44 new resident and non-resident cases reported. He said his main goal is to avoid the need to reclose businesses if cases get out of control.
The surge in cases, which followed the state’s reopening ahead of Memorial Day weekend, has caused public health workers, some legislators and even economists to call for a statewide mandate for masks in places where social distancing isn’t feasible. Economists argue that masks would help shore up public confidence and help avoid a disastrous reclosing of the economy.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has shied away from any additional statewide mandates like limitations to travel or masks, which face political opposition from the far-right. At a legislative hearing this week, legislators asked several times what it would take for the state to implement a mask mandate and never got a straight answer despite acknowledging that masks would be an effective tool to combat the spread of the virus.
Berkowitz said during a video stream today that the municipality has stockpiled tens of thousands of masks and will be looking at a method for distributing them to the public
Anchorage has led the way on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and was the first to shut down businesses and restaurants–and has seen the brunt of right-wing pushback to the orders. A similar statewide order closing businesses and restaurants to dine-in services was issued by Dunleavy’s administration soon afterward. When Dunleavy pushed to reopen businesses to full capacity, Anchorage typically waited a few additional days before following suit.