Anchorage Assembly approves emergency order implementing a mask mandate

This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML.

With an administration sidelined by several covid-19 infections and the anti-mask mob scared off by a small, peaceful group of pro-mask demonstrators, the Anchorage Assembly approved an emergency order to implement a mask mandate in the city of Anchorage.

On a 9-1 vote, the Anchorage Assembly approved the measure that would require masking in most public indoor gatherings—with exemptions for children under 5, religious gatherings and Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s executive team among others—for the next 60 days or until the city’s hospital capacity improves and at least two of the three hospitals are no longer under health care rationing protocols.

Eagle River Assemblymember Crystal Kennedy was the lone no vote after Assemblymember Jamie Allard, who had been participating remotely, apparently hung up following a misfire on the initial vote.

The emergency ordinance is a maneuver around what has essentially been an attempt at a filibuster by extreme-right Mayor Bronson and his allies, who’ve drummed up several days of disruptive and hate-filled testimony against the ordinance and extended it with maneuvering and questions that allowed testifiers far more than their allotted three minutes. The emergency ordinance can be passed without public testimony but required a nine-vote supermajority.

The Anchorage Assembly reached those nine votes over the weekend when Assemblymember Kameron Perez-Verdia announced that he would support both the underlying ordinance and the emergency one in part because of the unprecedented attempts to subvert the process.

“There is a line between passionate testimony on an important issue and abuse of the process to delay consideration of the proposed solution. This week, we crossed that line. Thankfully, thousands of Anchorage community members have stepped up to offer their genuine perspectives on the proposed mandate – both in person and through email – and after reviewing their statements I am very much decided on this issue,” he said on Facebook. “Regrettably, members of our community have abused the public process in an attempt to prevent myself and the rest of the Assembly from translating those perspectives into much needed action. Shamefully, while opponents to the ordinance bring weapons to public meetings and harass members of the press, the mayor and his administration have further corrupted the process by removing security from the Assembly chambers in an effort to intimidate its members. That is why I am also in favor of an emergency order that would effectively end this mockery of due process and allow us to move forward with the critical business of making hard and important decisions for our city.”

While the in-person testimony has been overwhelmingly against the measure, written testimony has been overwhelmingly in support of the measure. One pro-mask testifier told the assembly last week that it should be expected because they knew better than to attend a “plagued arena of science-denying bullies.” Several case of covid-19, including among the Bronson administration, have popped up in unmasked attendees of the hearings though it’s not entirely clear whether they contracted the virus at the hearings.

The chambers were markedly empty on Tuesday night compared to the last two weeks. Conservative organizers, including extreme-right Anchorage Assemblymember Jamie Allard, urged opponents to stay home rather than “engage with the violence coming from the left.” What she was referring to a peaceful demonstration of several dozen prrotestors who gathered in support of the mask mandate and to protest the hate and vitriol that has been drummed up by Allard, Bronson and their allies.

Allard, Bronson and his administration were not in person during the hearing. It’s unclear whether Bronson even participated via phone.

See also: Assembly member Jamie Allard threatens Providence for refusing to treat COVID-19 patient with Ivermectin

Mayor Bronson has already pledged a veto of the measure, but given that the bar for overriding a veto is eight votes and this measure passed with nine it’s unlikely to stick.

The duty for enforcement falls upon businesses, employers and building owners. It’s unclear what the penalties for refusing to enforce the ordinance but the measure specifically says “violation of this ordinance does not create grounds for residents to harass individuals who do not comply with it.”

It’s coming from inside the room!

The Assembly had been set to hear testimony on Friday but that was canceled just before the meeting when the Bronson administration announced that two members of its executive team—municipal manager Amy Demboski and municipal attorney Patrick Bergt—had tested positive after attending the meetings in person. Demboski went without a mask throughout the hearings and was seen interacting closely with the administration and assembly (most of whom were masked and vaccinated).

Several other covid-19 cases have cropped up among other attendees of the hearings, including Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold. Reinbold, who has focused much of her political career on disputing the public health response to covid, tested positive today along with two other Republican senators (who were not at the meeting) after posting on Facebook about homeopathic treatments for covid that included the advice to buy a vibrator to help with congestion.

Exemptions

Per the ordinance, here’s the specific exemptions from the mask mandate:

  • Any child under the age of 5 years but face coverings are recommended for children over 2 years of age.
  • Individuals who are incarcerated, in police custody, or inside a courtroom; these individuals should follow guidance particular to their location or institution.
  • Presenters, musicians, others communicating to an audience or being recorded, if they are 10 feet from the audience and all members of the audience are wearing face coverings.
  • Individuals removing their face coverings to eat, drink, or briefly scratch an itch.
  • Employees within their own fully enclosed office or workspace or within an unenclosed workspace if they are totally alone.
  • Fully vaccinated employees working in a separate room from the public and unvaccinated coworkers. Employees wishing to utilize this exception must be able to show evidence to their employer that all employees in the separate room are vaccinated in a manner consistent with workplace anti-discrimination laws.
  • Individuals performing an activity that cannot be conducted or safely conducted while wearing a face covering.
  • Individuals who cannot tolerate a face covering due to physical or mental disability. The individual’s or a guardian’s statement that they are exempted is sufficient evidence.
  • All athletic activities when a person is actively engaged in that activity.
  • Indoor gyms, fitness centers, boutique fitness clubs, and other businesses or entities, including the school district, may require face coverings regardless of this exemption. This exemption does not apply to spectators not engaged in athletic activity.
  • Religious Assemblies.
  • The Mayor and his executive team

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