Anchorage implementing order to wear masks starting Monday

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - People within the municipality must wear a mask indoors starting 8 a.m. Monday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced Friday.

Emergency Order 13 states people must wear a mask that covers both their nose and mouth anytime they are indoors outside a home.

The mask requirement applies to settings like businesses, restaurants, offices, public transportation and other communal spaces. The order says that employers are responsible for making sure employees have masks in the workplace, though they are not responsible for patrons as long as signage noting the requirement to wear a mask is posted.

"Masks are not required when the only direct contact is between members of the same household or when employees are not near others (within six feet)," the order states.

The mayor said there will be significant exceptions to who needs to wear a mask, saying people with adverse health responses to the masks, young children and people whose job performance would be impaired are not required to wear a mask. Deaf people, who rely on facial movements as part of communication, are exempt from the requirement. People who would have difficulty breathing while exercising because of a mask are also exempt from the requirement.

Berkowitz said people are encouraged to wear masks in all settings where physical distancing is difficult, but that no requirement to wear a mask outdoors is being considered at this time.

The mask order is going into effect after Berkowitz said he had received many calls from local businesses saying they were having trouble enforcing business requirements for customers to wear masks.

"If we can say we have an added level of safety, the expectation is that it will increase the expectation of safety from consumers, which will encourage them to engage in more economic activity," Berkowitz said.

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The emergency order will be in place until July 31 unless extended by the Anchorage Assembly, the mayor said.

Health care professions say wearing a face covering is an effective way to reduce COVID-19 infection.

"It's clear that any type of physical barrier reduces how well those droplets can pass from one person to another," Dr. Bruce Chandler, medical officer with the Anchorage Health Department, said.

Chandler added that most people will not have any issues wearing a mask and that it is unlikely that most of the population will be deprived of oxygen by wearing a face covering.

[RELATED: Anchorage mayor may soon implement requirement to wear masks]

Berkowitz said enforcement will rely primarily on the pressure of community norms but that code enforcement officers may visit sites that have been reported for failing to comply with the order. The order states that the municipality "reserves the right to use all available enforcement options to assure compliance." However, people who decline to wear a mask because of a medical condition are not expected to demonstrate documentation proving their condition.

More information about the mask mandate can be found on the municipal website here.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.
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