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Report from Trump administration advises Alaska to mandate masks be worn indoors

This file image shows the White House in Washington, D.C.
This file image shows the White House in Washington, D.C.(Source: Gray News)
Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 6:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A report on U.S. coronavirus response distributed by the Trump administration to states includes recommendations for Alaska to require 6 feet of distance and mandate masks in areas with high rates of COVID-19.

The New York Times published the report on Tuesday.

The report characterizes Alaska as in the “yellow zone” for cases but in the “green zone” for having a test positivity rate below 5%.

The summary on Alaska notes that cases have been increasing in the Municipality of Anchorage, Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The report gives recommendations for these problems, specifically encouraging 6 feet of social distance and for people to wear a cloth face covering indoors.

Places with the highest increasing cases of the virus like Anchorage, Fairbanks North Star Borough, Kenai Peninsula, Matanuska-Susitna, Valdez-Cordova and Yukon-Koyukuk are advised to “mandate wearing of face masks” indoors.

The recommendation states seafood processing centers should have a mask mandate as well, and Alaska Health Mandate 10 has requirements that seafood processing workers wear a clear face shield “in lieu of a cloth face covering.”

Outside of wearing masks and emphasizing the need for social distance, the report recommends the state quickly investigate outbreaks in areas that have rising cases.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has previously spoken about a statewide mask mandate but said that order would only come if cases touched most parts of the state.

“When we would see such spread throughout a large number of our communities that might have us rethink a universal, statewide mask mandate,” Dunleavy said at a press conference last week. “But that hasn’t happened.”

Some of the cities listed by the report already have mask mandates. Anchorage currently has an order to wear masks indoors and mayors in the Fairbanks North Star Borough have issued a proclamation encouraging the use of face coverings. Dunleavy sent out a memorandum requiring people in state facilities and buildings to wear masks.

The Department of Health and Social Services says from July 19-25 Alaska saw the “worst week of the pandemic” with total cases in Alaska residents rising 34%.

“With current rates of physical distancing, face covering use and other measures to prevent transmission, cases are expected to continue to rise rapidly,” DHSS said in a weekly case update.

The state has recorded several COVID-19 outbreaks and many have occurred in the seafood industry. While there have been 645 nonresident cases reported in Alaska, DHSS said nonresidents are not the primary transmitter of the virus as it is spreading through communities from Alaskan to Alaskan.

In Anchorage, the surge of cases could impact hospital capacity. While DHSS currently says Alaska’s hospitals remain below capacity, researchers at the University of Alaska Anchorage estimate the hospital capacity in Anchorage will be overwhelmed in eight weeks.

The report, dated July 26, lists policy recommendations for areas that are considered to be red zones or yellow zones. The Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area was the only borough designated with higher risk in the “yellow zone.”

The policy recommendations are lists of messages and actions public officials should take to “preempt exponential community spread.” These items include limiting the occupancy of gyms to 25% and closing bars completely until COVID-19 positive rates fall below 3%.

The report advises the state to hire more contact tracers and change the way testing is conducted to screen entire households in a single test or use polling samples as a way to reduce testing wait times.

Channel 2 reached out to the governor’s office but a spokesperson said they would not be able to respond by the time of publishing.

Editor’s note: Information about the state’s requirement for seafood workers through Health Mandate 10 has been added to this story.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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