Update: Sources confirm that the two officials who tested positive for covid-19 are municipal manager Amy Demboski and municipal attorney Patrick Bergt. Demboski wasn’t wearing a mask at recent hearings and was photographed in close contact with several assembly members.
Original story: What was expected to be the seventh day of a deeply contentious hearings over the Anchorage Assembly’s proposed mask mandate—the group’s last-ditch effort to enact any meaningful measures to combat the unchecked spread of covid-19—has been canceled after at least two members of the Bronson administration that have been attending the assembly’s meetings have contracted covid-19.
After informing the assembly that every assembly member who was present at Thursday night’s meeting were in “really close contact” with the members of the administration, the Assembly announced that it was canceling its hearing that had been scheduled for today and would be reworking its upcoming schedule.
“Even though most Assembly members were wearing masks and are vaccinated, and thus are more protected from contracting COVID-19, Assembly leadership feels it is in the best interest in the safety of the public, staff, administration, and Assembly members to cancel tonight’s continued meeting,” said a statement from the assembly.
Several assemblymembers have been participating via phone due to concerns about their personal safety.
The Bronson administration and its allies have been using the hearings to rile up anti-mask and anti-science testimony over the course of the last two weeks. Bronson has been staunchly against any measures to limit the spread of covid-19, has endorsed the use of ivermectin to treat covid and has blamed hospitals for being strained by the Alaska’s worst-in-the-nation surge.
Bronson and most of his officials were not wearing masks during the hearings. The Bronson administration has also resorted to petty tactics aimed at further boosting the anti-masking audience with an official removing the plexiglass screens that had separated the officials from the audience.
On Thursday, the administration even announced it was cutting back testing and encouraging people to not get tested. Following that announcement, testimony that Bronson gave to the Assembly last year urging them not to expand testing because it would drive up case rates resurfaced.
“I know how to end this epidemic or this pandemic, stop testing, we won’t have anymore cases,” he said, adding that he wasn’t really advocating the end of testing, but “The more you test, the more cases you get.”
The administration claims that the cut backs are more a result of a shortfall in funding than an effort to suppress covid numbers in service of undercutting the need for mitigation efforts.
It’s currently unclear what the path forward for the Anchorage Assembly is at this point. The assembly’s statement says leadership is currently considering postponing next week’s meeting in order to give everyone adequate time to go through testing and potential quarantines. They said an decision would be “announced shortly.”
In the meantime, Assemblymember Forest Dunbar’s advice following social media postings about people coming down with covid from last week’s hearings appears to be even more relevant.
“I know many people are already doing so, but I’d definitely recommend if you were in the crowd at the Assembly Meeting this past week that you get tested for COVID-19,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Given the high level of community transmission, and the packed nature of that room, it is highly likely that there will be cases coming out of this past week.”