Some state lawmakers urge state to require face masks

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - State lawmakers are examining the status of the pandemic and the public health challenges created by the disease.

The House Health and Social Services Committee held a hearing Wednesday to get an update on the pandemic from public health experts.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state’s epidemiologist said 135 vaccine candidates are in various stages of development in the research process and could move on to clinical trials in July.

There was also discussion about achieving herd immunity, which happens when a significant number of a population is immune to an infectious disease. McLaughlin says the percentage of positive tests is about 1% and is nowhere near herd immunity.

“At this point, Alaska has a long way to go to reach herd immunity. We've had 778 reported cases to date, and even if this is a tenfold estimate of the true burden of COVID- 19 in Alaska, that still put us at about 1% of our population, so we certainly have a long way to go,” McLaughlin said.

He said in order to reach that point, Alaska would need to have between 60-70% of its population infected with COVID-19.

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel), asked state health officials if it plans to issue new restrictions to address the increase in cases of the disease in Alaska. She is asking the state to immediately issue a temporary mandate that face masks are worn in public places where it’s difficult to maintain physical distance.

“I’m grateful for the Department’s update on the public health emergency before us and that Dr. Anne Zink continues to express clear direction that simple measures like wearing face masks and physical distancing will make us less likely to get ourselves, our families, and our loved ones sick with COVID-19,” Zulkosky said.

Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Zink acknowledged the health benefits of wearing a mask but said the state is using very strategic and geographically responsible approach to keep Alaskans safe.

“You really get the biggest bang for your buck on the first time, it becomes harder to do later into an epidemic or pandemic, and so you really have to find new and different ways to be able to mitigate the disease,” Dr. Zink said.

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