UPDATE: The Anchorage Assembly on Friday afternoon voted to remove the citywide mask order, effective immediately. Read our most up-to-date coverage here.
Anchorage’s citywide mask mandate will end May 21 and instead become advisory, according to Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s office.
The change follows the release of updated guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control Prevention that say fully vaccinated Americans can safely stop wearing face coverings in most settings both indoors and out, as well as increasing vaccinations among residents and decreasing infection counts, officials said Friday in prepared statement.
City officials said having the change take effect on Friday, May 21, is meant to protect the school district’s largely unvaccinated student population through the end of the academic year.
“Our decisions about Emergency Orders have always taken into account national guidance as well as local metrics, especially vaccination rates and case counts,” Quinn-Davidson said in the statement. “The end of the mask mandate reflects the progress we’ve made and the strong position we’re in today.”
Masks will not be required in indoor or outdoor spaces in Anchorage. Unvaccinated individuals will still be “strongly encouraged” to continue masking, but they won’t be required to as “a mask mandate applying only to unvaccinated individuals would have presented enforcement challenges and increased the burden on businesses,” according to city officials.
However, businesses may continue to require masks. Additionally, a federal mask mandate that applies to public transportation is still in effect and the CDC still advises that people wear masks while in health care and congregate settings.
The Anchorage Assembly already voted to transition most of the city’s other pandemic restrictions into advisories, including physical distancing guidelines at businesses and limits on gathering sizes. That took effect earlier this month.
The city has been in a high alert status since nearly a year ago — meaning it was recording more than 10 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people on average over a two-week period — but recently decreased to an intermediate alert, officials wrote.
In Anchorage, 137,278 people — roughly 60% of residents age 16 and older — have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while about 53% of those 16 and older were considered fully vaccinated by Thursday.
“We’re seeing vaccination rates go up and case counts come down as a result,” Dr. Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist with the Anchorage Health Department, said in the statement. “Getting vaccinated remains the most important thing we can do to beat this pandemic, and being fully vaccinated is what makes it so you do not need to wear a mask. I strongly urge residents to continue to get vaccinated and follow CDC guidance to protect our progress into summer.”