Anchorage mayor may soon implement requirement to wear masks

N95 masks (Source: MGN)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said he is prepared to implement an emergency order that would require people in the municipality to wear a mask, the mayor said at an assembly meeting Tuesday.

Berkowitz said both the state and the municipality are seeing a second wave of coronavirus cases which is compromising the municipality's ability to trace all COVID-19 cases in the area and putting a strain on health care capacity.

“If the number of cases and the type of cases we see continue over the next three days we are going to implement that order,” Berkowitz said. “It’s also important that we give a few days for the order to be implemented so that people can acquire masks.”

Currently, there is no state mandate for citizens to wear masks, and Berkowitz said business owners are having trouble prompting customers to wear masks in their establishments due to the lack of government enforcement.

“I’ve heard repeatedly from businesses that oftentimes frontline staff are being asked to enforce business requirements and that frequently the pushback on those frontline workers is that it is not a requirement of the city of the state and consequently people are violating those local business requirements,” Berkowitz said.

While the order has not been released yet, Berkowitz said that it would not require mask use outdoors but that it is intended to increase mask wearing indoors. The mayor has not released details of a plan to distribute masks but he said there will be time between the order announcement and implementation for people to acquire masks. The municipality also has a stock of masks — most were previously marked for health care professionals — that could be distributed to the public.

In previous press conferences, Berkowitz has said his last resort would be going into another hunker down order. Instead, he encourages people to be socially distant and to wear face coverings.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has stated that he would not require a statewide mask requirement after over 200 health care professionals signed a letter to the governor asking him to make a mask-wearing mandate.

[RELATED: Doctors worry that Alaska is getting complacent with masks]

Over the last month, the state has seen its biggest spike in COVID-19 cases since the virus was first reported in Alaska with 264 active cases reported by the Department of Health and Social Services Tuesday. The Municipality of Anchorage has seen the largest number of cases with 141 active cases reported Tuesday out of 365 cumulative cases.

The state has reopened Alaska through the allowance of larger group gatherings with the exception of huge events like concerts, but Berkowitz said now people are disregarding the health precautions that helped keep Alaska’s case numbers low.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink has also urged people to take precautions and remember that open does not mean over.

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