Anchorage Assembly will consider ending city mask requirement at Tuesday meeting

Citing reduced strain on local hospitals, Anchorage Assembly leaders say they will consider ending the city’s mask requirement in the coming week.

The emergency ordinance requires people in Anchorage to wear masks or face coverings when they are in indoor public areas or in a communal space with others from outside their household. In mid-October, when passing the ordinance — which was scheduled to remain in effect for 60 days — Assembly members included a stipulation that it would end earlier if two of Anchorage’s three hospitals had stopped operating under crisis standards for 14 consecutive days.

“Hospitals have recovered capacity and case rates have decreased,” the Assembly said in a statement Friday evening. “If this trend continues, the threshold for the emergency ordinance to expire will likely be met by next week.”

Assembly members Meg Zaletel and Pete Petersen, who co-sponsored the emergency ordinance that passed, are preparing to introduce a resolution to end the requirement at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting, the announcement said.

If it passes, the ordinance will end the next day, on Wednesday.

The Assembly passed the emergency mask ordinance after a bitter battle with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration over a different but similar proposed mask ordinance, and after hearing two weeks of often angry and unruly public testimony on the issue. There are many exceptions to the ordinance, and since it has been in effect, compliance has varied.

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At the time the ordinance passed, Alaska was experiencing its highest case rates of the pandemic so far, and hospitals were struggling with staffing shortages and record numbers of COVID-19 patients. In early October, crisis standards of care were activated at 20 hospitals statewide, including Anchorage’s three major hospitals.

COVID-19 hospitalizations and case rates in Alaska have since dropped significantly. This week, some Alaska hospitals, including Providence Alaska Medical Center and Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, confirmed that crisis standards of care were no longer active at their facilities.

“We had alarming rates of transmission, a mask requirement and other health recommendations were put into place, and the rates came down,” Zaletel said in a statement. “Masks are a simple, cheap and highly effective way to combat this virus, so even though they are no longer mandatory, they are still strongly recommended for indoor public areas. With the new omicron variant lurking on the horizon, we still need to exercise caution and good health practices.”

Even before the Assembly’s announcement Friday, the mask ordinance was set to expire in mid-December. Emergency ordinances can only stay in effect for 60 days after they are enacted, according to city charter. That means that for the mask ordinance, it would automatically expire at 11:59 p.m. Dec. 14.

The Assembly said members are monitoring the omicron variant’s impact on the city, and “may enact new COVID mitigations in the future if warranted.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends that people mask up, even if they are vaccinated, in places with high transmission rates, like Anchorage.

Daily News reporter Emily Goodykoontz contributed.