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Anchorage

Anchorage’s acting mayor asks to extend city’s emergency status, citing rising COVID-19 cases and need to vaccinate more residents

Kyle Wolner, 20, sits in the monitoring area after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage on March 10, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson is asking the Assembly to extend the city’s emergency proclamation for the eighth time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, this time through July 16.

Without an extension, all the city’s current emergency orders would fall out of effect after April 16.

Those emergency orders include Emergency Order 19, which imposes gathering size restrictions, physical distancing requirements in restaurants, bars, entertainment businesses and others, and some health restrictions for sports teams, among other precautions. The city also has a mask mandate in effect, which was recently relaxed for fully vaccinated people in work settings.

The Assembly is scheduled to take up the mayor’s resolution for the extension at its upcoming meeting Tuesday.

The Assembly can either pass it as-is, make amendments to it, or reject it entirely.

In a memorandum submitted along with the resolution, the acting mayor’s administration listed several reasons for requesting the extension, including that a large part of the population, children under 16, are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

The emergency powers also help in the distribution of vaccines, the memorandum said. About a quarter of the city’s residents are fully vaccinated.

“Being able to vaccinate Anchorage’s residents as quickly and efficiently as possible is vital to saving lives, containing the virus and slowing further spread,” the memorandum said.

Quinn-Davidson’s proposal has already drawn opposition from at least one Assembly member.

In a memo submitted to the Assembly for the April 13 meeting, member Jamie Allard, who represents Eagle River and Chugiak, is asking the Assembly to terminate all of the city’s emergency orders and its emergency proclamation, and to reject the mayor’s request.

“This overbearing government control over individuals and businesses is a slippery slope and a danger to our freedom,” Allard wrote. “We do not know if or when COVID-19 will no longer be a threat, but it is a greatly diminished threat to our health today.”

Allard has staunchly opposed previous extensions of the emergency proclamation.

She has support from a group of residents who have been frustrated with the city’s COVID-19 response, especially its temporary shutdowns of indoor dining and capacity restrictions on businesses. Many have shown up to previous Assembly meetings and protested outside its chambers, calling for the termination of the mayor’s special powers.

The Assembly has rejected Allard’s previous attempts to overturn the city’s emergency status.

Still, some other members over the last year have signaled a desire to move away from the state of emergency. But the Assembly in February ultimately rejected an attempt to turn some emergency orders, including the mask mandate, into city code to reduce the city’s reliance on its emergency status.

Though case counts in Anchorage are currently below levels reached during a peak in November and December, COVID-19 cases in Anchorage and Alaska are increasing.

The surge late last year “came perilously close to overwhelming its hospital system,” the acting mayor’s memorandum said.

“While Anchorage has not reached that same peak in cases, the number of COVID-19 cases has increased in recent weeks and the potential for an increasing surge in cases and subsequent spike in hospitalizations is very real,” the memo said.

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