Anchorage’s emergency mask ordinance requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces is expiring early.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the ordinance would expire at midnight.
“I think the mandate has done what was intended and set our city back on a better path in regards to the physical health of our residents and economic health of our city,” said Assembly member Meg Zaletel, who introduced the resolution ending the mask requirement. Zaletel was also a sponsor of the emergency mask ordinance.
In October, the Assembly passed the mask requirement as an emergency ordinance, which automatically expires after 60 days, according to city law. That would have been Dec. 14, according to Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance.
On Tuesday, the Assembly took action to end the mask ordinance before that, citing falling COVID-19 case rates and improved capacity for care at local hospitals.
The Anchorage School District’s mask requirement is separate from the city’s and remains in effect.
When passing the ordinance in October, Assembly members had also included two other routes for it to fall out of effect: if two of Anchorage’s three hospitals end crisis standards of care for 14 consecutive days, or when the city no longer experiences high or substantial community transmission rates for 14 consecutive days.
While the city’s case rates are still high, two of Anchorage’s hospitals have not used crisis standards for patient care in over 14 days, the resolution says.
Zaletel said that while it may seem counterintuitive to end the mask mandate with the omicron coronavirus variant on the horizon, the ordinance should expire according to its stipulations.
“When we set rules, we should follow those rules,” she said.
A push by Assembly member Jamie Allard to end the mask mandate immediately after it passed was voted down by members. Some Assembly members who opposed ending it immediately argued it is necessary to give businesses a little bit of time to adjust to the change.
The resolution says that businesses and other building operators can continue to require masks and that they are “encouraged to adopt and enforce their own policies for masking requirements and health precautions.”
Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said that other cities with lower COVID-19 numbers still have mask mandates in place.
“I just want to remind everyone that this is expiring because of the way it was constructed, not because it’s not smart to wear a mask at this stage,” she said.
The Assembly passed the emergency mask ordinance in October after a battle with Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration over a different but similar proposed mask ordinance, and after a series of meetings stretching over two weeks that saw angry public testimony, arrests, frequent disruptions and the widely condemned use of yellow Stars of David by mask opponents, which the mayor defended and later apologized for.
At the time, Alaska was experiencing its highest case rates in the course of the pandemic, and hospitals were overwhelmed, faced with staffing shortages and record numbers of COVID-19 patients. In early October, 20 hospitals statewide had activated crisis standards of care, including Anchorage’s three major hospitals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people, including those who are vaccinated, mask up in places with high transmission rates like Anchorage. The Assembly’s resolution also strongly encourages the use of masks in indoor public spaces.