Mixed feelings in Anchorage as the city again prepares for a mask mandate

Anchorage businesses and residents on Wednesday expressed mixed reactions, and some confusion, as the city’s new emergency mask ordinance was briefly in effect until Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson vetoed it on Wednesday afternoon.

Many businesses hadn’t yet posted signs highlighting the new requirement but said they expect to do so soon.

The Anchorage Assembly appears to have the votes to restore the mask requirement at a meeting planned for Thursday.

Bruce Burnett, co-owner of the Bear Paw Bar and Grill, said he’s OK with the mask mandate and hopes it helps reduce the high numbers of COVID-19 cases in the city.

Reached early Wednesday before the veto, he said the Midtown Anchorage restaurant had posted a sign letting people know about the requirement. It has also ordered face masks to provide at the restaurant, he said.

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Burnett said the mandate could slightly hurt sales. Some anti-mask customers won’t show up while the mandate is in place, he said. Before, it was optional at the restaurant, but most customers voluntarily wore masks, he said.

“It’s just a shame that everyone who could get vaccinated hasn’t gotten vaccinated,” he said.

Many other Anchorage businesses said they’re tracking news alerts of the mandate passed late Tuesday night. They said they’ll follow it, but some expressed skepticism.

Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse and Flattop Pizza and Pool, adjacent restaurants in downtown Anchorage, had already hung up signs calling attention to the mandate, said manager Mike Middleton, reached before the mayor’s veto.

The Assembly has a responsibility to protect public safety, he said. But he said the mandate’s impact will be muted, in part because COVID-19 cases were beginning to trend downward.

“I personally don’t think it will have much of an intended effect, but it is what it is,” he said.

Businesses will have to spend more to implement the mandate, he said. He might have to post security staff at the doors to prevent staff from being confronted by customers who oppose it.

“We are the ones who are now the police of COVID once again,” Middleton said.

COVID-19 cases rose in Alaska starting in late summer, pushing virus hospitalizations to record numbers and prompting 20 health care facilities around the state to activate crisis standards of care, though not all are operating under crisis mode, and any decisions to prioritize treatment are fluid and made on a daily basis.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals, including those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high.

Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., said the board hasn’t take a position on the new emergency ordinance.

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But it has advocated mask wearing as part of the Conquer Covid Coalition, a group of Alaska businesses and organizations trying to fight the pandemic.

Wearing masks is scientifically proven to combat the spread of the disease and can help get the economy back on track, he said.

“More people wearing masks improves the odds that we get this behind us sooner,” Popp said.

Darlene Jenkins, owner of the Northern Lights Barber Shop, said she’s not happy with the mask requirement, but she’ll comply with it.

The masks can be uncomfortable for her barbers, fogging up glasses and making some feel claustrophobic, she said.

The shop has taken measures to fight COVID-19, such as repeatedly disinfecting door handles, light switches and other areas where germs can spread, she said.

“We are upset about the mask mandate because we are over with it,” she said. “But we have no choice. We have to do what we have to do, but we are not happy about it.”

Customers leaving the Carrs Safeway grocery store in the Midtown Mall on Wednesday also took a variety of positions on the mandate. Some shoppers said they’d start wearing a mask once the mandate was in place.

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Roger Ballard, wearing a duckbill mask, said he personally has no problem wearing face masks.

But he doesn’t like the fact that it’s going to be a mandate.

“It’s a good thing for a lot of people, but they should have a choice,” he said.

Nyoka Coates, a nurse in Anchorage, said mask wearing has reduced the number of cases elsewhere.

“I think it’s a good thing,” she said of the emergency ordinance.

Her friend Ciara Franklin, also a nurse, said the mask requirement could be one last step in stopping COVID-19.

“We been dealing with this for what, two years now?” she said.

Inside the mall, Joanne Coppola at the Creative Chaos gift shop rolled her eyes and said she’s against it.

But she’ll follow it, she said.

“It should be up to the people and not up to the government,” she said.

Ronda Sneddon, manager at Stallone’s Menswear in the mall, said the back-and-forth over the ordinance had contributed to uncertainty about what would happen.

“It’s a little bit confusing,” she said. “We’ll follow any mandate and when it goes back to no masking, we’ll go back to no masking.”

Hopefully that’s soon, Sneddon said.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or