Anchorage

On Anchorage’s new mask ordinance: Who it applies to, how it’s enforced and when a face covering is required

A mask mandate is once again in place in Anchorage after the Assembly’s vote on Thursday to override Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of the emergency ordinance.

There’s been some confusion and a lot of controversy about the mask ordinance as a similar measure was debated over the past few weeks.

Now that it’s in effect, here are some answers to basic questions about Anchorage’s new mask requirement.

Where do people need to wear masks?

According to the emergency ordinance, everyone in Anchorage needs to wear a mask when they’re indoors in places that are open to the public, or in communal areas with people outside their household.

It requires businesses, employers and building owners to deny entrance to anyone who isn’t wearing a mask, within the bounds of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are plenty of exceptions, however — more on that below.

Many institutions and businesses had already been requiring masks in Anchorage before the Assembly’s vote. The Anchorage School District, for example, implemented its own mask requirement before the school year started.

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

Are there exceptions?

Yes.

It doesn’t apply to churches or other religious assemblies.

It doesn’t apply to children under age 5.

People with mental or physical disabilities who have a hard time wearing masks also aren’t required to wear them, and “the individual’s or a guardian’s statement that they are exempted is sufficient evidence,” the ordinance says.

More broadly, it says that people “performing an activity that cannot be conducted or safely conducted while wearing a face covering” don’t have to wear one.

People working in an office alone, or in their own “fully enclosed” workspace (a room with a door that closes, not a cubicle), don’t have to wear a mask. However, employers can allow fully vaccinated employees to work together, if they’re in a separate room from both the public and employees who aren’t vaccinated.

People performing or presenting to an audience, such as musicians, also don’t have to wear masks if they are 10 feet from the audience and everyone in the audience is wearing them.

People who are incarcerated or in police custody don’t have to wear masks under the emergency ordinance, although it notes “these individuals should follow guidance particular to their location or institution.”

People who are working out, playing sports or are otherwise “actively engaged” in an athletic activity don’t have to wear a mask, but the ordinance makes it clear that gyms have the right to impose their own mask requirements.

Finally, the ordinance doesn’t apply to Mayor Dave Bronson or his executive team.

How long will the emergency ordinance on masking be in effect?

It’s in effect for 60 days, although there are two circumstances where the ordinance could end sooner: 1. If two of Anchorage’s three hospitals stop operating under crisis standards of care for 14 consecutive days, or 2. if the city stops seeing high or substantial community transmission for 14 consecutive days.

Are face shields allowed?

Under some circumstances. People can wear face shields if they can’t tolerate a mask due to mental or physical disability, if they’re communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, or if they’re doing something that can’t be done safely wearing a mask.

How will it be enforced?

Unlike earlier mask proposals, the new measure now in effect doesn’t specify how it’ll be enforced. The ordinance simply says: “The Municipality reserves the right to use all available enforcement options to assure compliance with this Emergency Ordinance.”

It also notes that violations do not give grounds for residents to harass others who are not complying with the mask law.

Previous proposed versions of a mask ordinance included fines for violation and a citizen enforcement route in which people could report residents or businesses that weren’t obeying the mask law.

This version doesn’t have any of that.

The ordinance relies on the goodwill of people to follow the law, said Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant.

”People are generally going to comply. That’s how this would work,” he said.

— Elizabeth Harball and Emily Goodykoontz

[Read the full emergency ordinance below.]

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