After capitalizing on anti-mask animosity to win his election, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson said in a head-turning interview on Tuesday that he will not issue public health mandates no matter how strained Alaska’s hospitals become, claiming without proof that masks and social distancing don’t work.
The claims come as the state’s continues to smash records for covid-19 hospitalizations as the highly contagious Delta variant caught fire throughout the state. Hospitals are reporting being overwhelmed with more patients who are severely ill than at any time else in the pandemic, creating calls for the state and local governments to take a more active role in limiting the spread of the virus.
“The sooner we hit the peak, the better. If that means we’re going to end up decelerating and seeing our cases go down, then we have a standing chance to make it through this,” Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association President/CEO Jared Kosin told legislators on Wednesday. “The less covid, the better for us because that means the less hospitalizations come in from this outside source.”
Hospitals and other health experts have pled for indoor masking mandates in the Anchorage area, arguing that last year’s mandates helped prevent the pandemic from spiraling out of control last fall. In a ranging interview with Alaska Public Media where he also seemed intent on airing his grievances with “the Left,” Bronson was asked if he’s consider such measures after railing against them on the campaign trail.
“No,” he said.
Asked if he would consider mask mandates or limitations on businesses in the event that there’s lines around the hospitals for emergency treatment, Bronson stood firm in his opposition, questioning the efficacy of masking and health mandates.
“I would look at the cause of the people standing outside. We simply need to quite frankly follow the science on this,” he said, praising Florida’s prioritization of the economy over limiting spread of the virus. “Florida’s economy is booming people are still trying to move in. … I keep coming back to the science of this. I’m a data-driven guy, always been that way. … There’s no study that says masking really works.”
When pressed on where he was coming up with such information that contradicts a multitude of studies, including ones done in Alaska, Bronson couldn’t actually name any specific study or meta analysis that supported his claims, but instead retreated to a comparing Florida and California. He claimed the more-restrictive approach of California didn’t produce different outcomes than Florida, “which didn’t destroy its economy.”
The hypothetical situation of lines around hospital emergency rooms isn’t that far off from reality. In testimony to a House panel last week, Providence CEO Preston Simmons said the emergency room has seen days where it’s so crowded that people had to wait outside in their cars while waiting for care.
But that testimony seems to carry little weight with Bronson and other far-right Republicans. In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, Bronson went on to blame hospitals’ vaccine and testing requirements for the ongoing shortage of health care workers, another claim that hospitals and hospital groups say has no merits.
“What more can we do,” Bronson asked before turning his blame on overworked hospitals. “I’m telling you my email box is blowing up with people who are health care professionals and who refused to take the vaccine, and to the point where they’ll walk away from their job. … So, we have to understand that mandating vaccines amongst many of these health care professionals is not going to make things better, it’s simply going to make things worse.”
(Bronson’s email is [email protected])
That rhetoric mirrored comments made from other far-right legislators. In the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee’s hearing on legislation that would make it somewhat easier for hospitals to hire up new staff, committee chair Sen. Mia Costello asked about the impact, noting “I know of individuals who’ve had covid and have felt that those antibodies they have now are more sufficient than the actual vaccine itself. There’s just a lot of questions and concerns.”
Kosin said he’s not heard any such claims from hospitals, noting that vaccine requirements for the nursing homes were effectively mandated by the federal government.
“The federal government is requiring that health care workers in nusing homes have to be vaccinated and that’s in the process of being implemented,” he said. “There’s also steps being taken by some facilities to change their vaccine protocols to really align themselves with the flu vaccine. I know it’s being labeled as ‘mandatory vaccination,’ I know it’s a tense issue and there’s obviously a divide out there of individuals wondering whether they should be vaccinated. A lot of facilities are starting to move in that direction,” he said. “I have not heard of concerns from any of my members to date—other than when the nursing home piece went into effect—I have not heard complaints from our memebrs that they’re concerned about seeing an exodus of staff over objection to being vaccinated.”
Shirley Young, spokeswoman for Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which operates the Alaska Native Medical Center, told the Anchorage Daily News that the staffing shortages aren’t due to the organization’s vaccine plans, which go into effect in mid-October. She added that the vaccination requirement is actually helping with hiring some employees.
“Some of our newly hired staff have expressed their appreciation to join an organization that places such a high priority on the health and safety of our patients and staff,” Young said in an emailed statement. “ANTHC has seen little to no impact at this time as our deadline for compliance is October 15th. Rather, despite our best efforts to keep each other safe, our communities continue to be plagued by disinformation that is encouraging Alaskans to go unvaccinated. The resulting sharp increases of COVID-19 and the increasing workload for our hospital staff are the primary issues we are responding to at this time.”