Citing easing strain on the city’s health care system, the Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously on Tuesday night to end its hard-fought masking mandate three weeks early.
The masking mandate was passed in early October as the city’s hospitals became overwhelmed by the delta variant-driven surge in the covid-19 pandemic. It drew several days of tense public hearings as anti-maskers and allies of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson inundated the assembly with a wave of angry and vitriolic testimony.
On Tuesday night, the measures backer Assemblymember Meg Zalatel—who faced an unrelated recall shortly after the passage of the masking mandate and defeated it soundly—said the masking mandate worked. And while the omicron variant looms on the horizon, the measure was about preserving health care capacity and she said that goal was met.
“I think the mandate has done what was intended and set our city back on a better path in regards to physical health of our residents and economic health of our city,” she said. “We can lift the mandate early. … While it may seem counterintuitive with the new variant on the horizon to be asking to end the mask mandate early, when we set rules, we should follow those rules. Here, this rule is that if the crisis standards of care were not being actively used … that the mask mandate should end.”
The resolution effectively lifts the mask mandate on Wednesday.
The Anchorage Assembly had considered an amendment that would have immediately ended the masking mandate upon passage, but a majority opposed the change and argued that businesses should have the evening to be notified of the change and prepare.
Assemblymembers noted that businesses can still require masks for entry, noting that future action may be warranted if the area’s hospitals are once again overrun by covid-19 cases.