As new cases of COVID-19 rise in Anchorage and statewide, the city has decided to require the wearing of face coverings in most indoor public settings. The emergency order, announced Friday by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz at a community briefing, goes into effect at 8 a.m. Monday.
The Anchorage Health Department issued a warning this week that COVID-19 numbers are surging in the municipality, hitting an “all-time high” with 152 active cases by Wednesday. Health officials have repeatedly emphasized that wearing face coverings in places where physical distancing can’t be maintained is one way to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Here’s a guide to Anchorage’s emergency order.
Where are masks required?
In Anchorage, masks are required inside public places such as restaurants, grocery stores, bars and breweries, retail stores and public transportation. They’re also required in spaces shared by people who don’t live together, such as elevators and office common areas.
Employees and customers at personal care businesses — for example, hair salons or tattoo parlors — and staff at child care facilities should also continue wearing masks, which was required under the city’s reopening requirements.
How does a mask at restaurants and bars work?
Masks are required for establishments like restaurants, bars and cafes during delivery, carry-out and food preparation, according to the order. But, if you’re eating or drinking inside, there is a “limited exception,” the order states.
Does the mask need to cover my nose as well as my mouth?
Yes, the order specifies that the mask needs to cover both your mouth and nose.
Are businesses supposed to provide masks to employees?
According to the emergency order, businesses should make sure their employees have access to masks and wear them when they’re interacting directly with the public. Masks should also be worn when employees are closer than 6 feet from one another.
What type of mask am I supposed to wear?
The order stipulates that people should wear a mask or cloth face covering. The World Health Organization recommends using a cloth mask with three layers.
How do I wear a mask?
Before you put on the mask, you should wash your hands. As you put it on, pull it over both your nose and mouth and make sure that it’s snug on the sides of your face, according to guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While you’re out, you should keep the mask on the whole time — don’t pull it up or down. If you touch the face covering, make sure you wash your hands.
As you take off the mask, make sure you’re only touching the loops or ties behind the ears, then fold it from the outside before putting it in the wash. CDC guidelines note that you should wash your masks after each use, either in the washing machine or by hand.
Don’t touch your eyes, mouth or nose between taking the mask off and washing your hands.
Why do masks work?
For several months, public health officials have recommended wearing a mask or fabric face covering as a way to keep from spreading the illness.
Since people can be infected with the virus without showing symptoms, it’s not always easy to tell who might be contagious. For that reason, a mask can be helpful since it blocks respiratory droplets, which carry the virus and are emitted from people while they talk, cough or sneeze.
Health officials note that heightened hygiene efforts and increased physical distance between people are also still critical to keep from spreading the illness.
Who is exempt from the mask order?
Some people aren’t required to wear masks under the order, like children under the age of 2 and any unsupervised child under 12 years old. Children at day care or day camps are also exempt from the mask requirement, but those establishments may have their own rules.
Someone can be exempt from the requirement if wearing a mask “would be contrary to his or her health or safety because of a medical condition or mental health condition,” according to the order.
Additionally, if someone isn’t able to tolerate a mask because of a physical or mental disability, they are exempt as well. Someone who can’t take off their face covering without assistance, “has trouble breathing or is unconscious,” is also exempt from the requirement, the requirement states.
There’s an exemption for people who need facial or mouth movements during communication, including people who have speech impairments or are deaf. Ministers, musicians and presenters aren’t required to wear masks during presentations if it interferes with their presentation, but they should still keep a safe physical distance — at least 6 feet — from others.
If wearing a mask interferes with breathing during exercise, it isn’t required. There are also exemptions for situations when a mask might be dangerous during a certain task, like glasses fogging up while driving or operating some equipment.
The order doesn’t require someone to prove, in the form of a medical document, that they cannot wear a mask.
I own a business. Am I responsible for my customers wearing masks?
If you have clear signage that customers need to wear face coverings, then you will not be subject to fines if customers aren’t complying, according to the order.
It wasn’t immediately clear Saturday what fines were associated with the mandate.
What if I just really need to itch my nose?
If you need to “eat, drink or scratch an itch,” according to the order, briefly removing the mask is allowed under the order, but you’re encouraged to wash your hands afterward.
How long does the order last?
The order is in effect until July 31, but it could be extended or revoked sooner. At a briefing Friday, Mayor Berkowitz said there wasn’t a specific metric he would use to rescind the mask order. Instead, the decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions would rely on a number of factors, including the city’s overall health metrics, the emergence of more information on mask usage and advice from health officials, he said.
“So is there a quick metric that we’re going to use to unmask? No,” Berkowitz said. “But I remain hopeful that if we do the right thing for a long enough period of time, we can relax some of the restrictions that are in place.”
How is this order being enforced?
The order states that the city has “the right to use all available enforcement options to assure compliance.”
But Berkowitz said Friday that “the level of enforcement is going to be largely dependent on the community doing the right thing.”
In general, Berkowitz said, if the city hears about someone not complying with a code, they’ll send out a code enforcement officer, but they rarely move into the next stage of enforcement.
The order also specifies that a violation of the mask-wearing requirement “does not create grounds for residents to harass individuals who do not comply with it.”
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