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We’re 160 Alaska health care professionals asking Gov. Dunleavy for a mask mandate

  • Author: Dr. Sarah Murphy
    | Opinion
    , and 160 Alaska heath care workers
    | Opinion
  • Updated: June 9
  • Published June 9

We’d like to thank Gov. Mike Dunleavy for taking precautionary measures regarding COVID-19. The Alaska physicians and health care workers who sign this letter encourage the governor to mandate the use of masks by customers and employees in businesses open to the public where 6-foot distancing is unrealistic. Recent medical studies and real-world evidence support the use of masks to prevent the spread of the virus.

We are concerned about the recent and rapid increase in COVID-19 case counts in Alaska. We want a healthy and robust economy in Alaska, and a healthy economy needs healthy consumers and workers. More consumers will feel safe patronizing businesses when they know the risk of infection is reduced. In the absence of mandated masking, many Alaskans will continue to shelter in place rather than risk infection. We also want to avoid another lockdown, which would further harm the economy.

There is now robust scientific evidence that masks play an important role in preventing the spread of the virus. A systematic review published June 1 in the Lancet looked at 172 studies and found the most effective ways to decrease transmission of the coronavirus include social distancing and universal mask wearing. This is a very inclusive study with the highest quality methodology and was published in one of the most respected medical journals. We can be confident in the results.

We also have real-time examples of countries that adopted mask wearing and, as a result, decreased viral infections. In the Czech Republic, masks were mandated in early March for anyone outside their homes. Within two weeks, they had an 80% decrease in transmission of the virus. Austria had a similar phenomenon, with a 90% decrease in infections two weeks after adopting mask mandates.

Widespread mask use is so effective because viral transmission often occurs through respiratory droplets (coughs, sneezes, exhales). If people infected with the virus wear masks, then these respiratory droplets are trapped in the mask material. This is especially important in the case of asymptomatic carriers. In fact, up to half of the people who spread the virus are infected but don’t know it yet.

The takeaway is this: A sick person wearing a mask will spread fewer viral particles. A healthy person wearing a mask will have some protection from sick people around them. The combination of both people wearing masks provides the greatest amount of protection.

Masks are a very low-risk intervention. Masks are safe for the vast majority of people. They are not recommended for certain groups, such as children under 2 years old, or some people with serious underlying lung conditions under the advice of their clinician. There is no solid evidence for carbon dioxide build-up or mental status changes from long-term cloth mask use in the general public. Many people, like health care workers, use masks on a daily basis for years.

Moreover, masks are available. Initially the public was told to not wear masks in order to conserve them for medical use due to shortages. Now there are non-medical grade masks available for the public. The use of masks is recommended by the CDC, the World Health Organization, and by our own state. Unfortunately, this recommendation appears insufficient to effect the behavioral change needed to protect Alaskans, limit viral spread and successfully launch our economy. In the United States, as of June 5, the majority of states and the District of Columbia have face mask requirements.

As we’ve seen, if universal masking in businesses is not mandated, it becomes difficult for individual businesses to ask customers to wear them. This is especially concerning in light of the recent rise in case counts this past week. At the beginning of the pandemic in March, cases were clustered in just a few communities. Now we are seeing cases widespread throughout Alaska. Without a mandate for mask wearing, this trend may accelerate.

In addition to supporting our economy, we need to do everything we can to continue to reduce viral transmission so we don’t overwhelm Alaska medical systems, which is still a possibility. We thank you for the early lockdown order for Alaska. Because of this, we flattened the curve. We now need to take the next steps to bridge our communities to a vaccine or better treatment options. This requires a new way of living, and we recognize masks are part of this new reality. We strongly urge Gov. Dunleavy to enact the appropriate health mandate requiring universal mask wearing in businesses.

Sincerely,

Aaron Kusano, M.D., SM; Alexander von Hafften, M.D.; Alexandria Gallagher; Alison Sarasin, RN; Allison Gibbs, M.D.; Allison Kelliher, M.D. ;Ann Ehret, DO; Anne Hanley, DO; Amber Stubbs, DPT; Ashley Lundgren Strum, M.D.; Ashley Widmer, MS1; Barbara Norton, CNM, APRN; Bartholomew Grabman, MS2; Becky Taylor, DO; Bradley K. Cruz, M.D.; Bethanee Gibson,NCMA; Brian J McMahon M.D.; Brigette L. Hofmann; Brooke Dudley, DPT; Bruce Chandler, M.D.; Carol Paredes, M.D.; Cathy Wick, Pharm.D.; Charles M Herndon, M.D.; Chris Kottra, M.D.; Christina Darby, M.D.; Christy Tuomi, DO; Cindy Knall, Ph.D.; Claire Stoltz, M.D.; Colleen Curley, CRNA; Corrine Leistikow, M.D.; Courtney Stroh, MS1; Cynthia Mildbrand, M.D.; Daron Dykema, M.D.; David Williams, M.D.; Dax Cvancara, MS1; E Peek Ehlinger, M.D.; Elizabeth Pietralczyk, M.D.; Erin Royal, M.D.; Evan Gross, MS1; Eve Wiggins, MS2; Ferritha Leoncio, M.D.; Frances Wilson, M.D.; Gail B Kottra, RT; Gina Wilson-Ramirez, M.D., MPH; Grayson T Westfall, M.D.; Haley Yerxa, CNM; Heather Alvarado, MS, PA ASCP; Heather Merkouris, MS; Holly Fisk, ANP; Holly Martinson, Ph.D.; Hope Spargo, MS1; I. de Anzola; Ian van Tets, Ph.D.; Jacqueline Hoffman, MLS; Jaime Butler, M.D.; Jane A. Heisel, M.D.; Janice Koval, M.D.; Janine D. Miller, M.D.; Jean Snyder, M.D.; Jean Tsigonis, M.D., MPH; Jennifer Sheasley, MS1; Jenny Lessner, M.D.; Jess Sotelo, M.D.; Jessica Panko, M.D.; Jill Klein, M.S.; John Bramante, M.D., FACP; John J Kottra, M.D.; John Naylor, M.D.; Johnna Kohl, M.D.; Joshua Hejl Joy Warth, LPN; Juiana Shields, M.D.; Julia Franklin, M.D.; Julie Sicilia, M.D.; Kahnaz Khari, M.D.; Karen McLane, FNP; Karin Harp, M.D.; Kate Lukshin, MS1; Kathy McCue, M.D.; Katie Naylor, M.D.; Keira Stroh, CNA; Keira Stroh, CNA; Kelly Murphy, RN, MSN; Kendrick D. Blais, DO; Kimberly Houghton, M.D.; Kirsten Reinbold, M.D.; Kristen Burdette; Kristen Wood, LAc; Kristin M Mitchell, M.D., FACP; Kristina James, M.D.; Laura Levoy, M.D.; Laura Schroder, Ph.D.; Laura Schulz, M.D.; Laurie Montano, M.D.; LaVerne Saccheus, RN; Leif Lunøe, M.D.; Leiza O. Johnson, RN; Leslie Cayco-Travis, DO; Lily Lou, M.D.; Lisa Alexia, PA-C; Lisa Rabinowitz, M.D.; Lisa Wolff, M.D.; Lorraine Kottra, M.D.; Mackenzie French, MS2; Maggie Hejl, LMT; Maren Gaul, DO; Maria E. Mandich, M.D.; Marie E McQueen, RN, ARNP; Marin Granholm, M.D.; Mary Ann Foland, M.D.; Mary Geist, MS1; Max Kullberg, Ph.D.; Max Rabinowitz, M.D.; Megan Engler, PA-C; Megan Ritter, M.D.; Melinda M. Rathkopf, M.D.; Melissa Bruesch, RN; Melissa Hardesty, M.D., MPH; Melissa Sundberg, DPT; Merijeanne Moore, DO; Michael Mraz, M.D.; Michelle Hensel, M.D.; Michael Swenson, M.D.; Mikhail Barson, RN; Monica Gaupp, M.D.; Natalie Velasquez, M.D.; Neil Murphy, M.D.; Owen Hanley DO, MPH; Peter Hulman, M.D.; Peter Schaab, M.D.; Priscilla Natcher, MS1; Rachel Samuelson, M.D.; Rande Lucas, LAc; Rhonda M. Johnson, Dr.PH; Robert Bundtzen, M.D.; Robin Holmes, M.D.; Roderic Smith, M.D., Ph.D.; Ronald Kim, M.D.; Ronald D. Poole, M.D., MPH; Roxanne Chan, RN, LAc; Sara Kozup-Evon, ANP; Sara Rutz, MS1; Sarah McCutcheon, M.D.; Sarah Murphy, M.D.; Sargam Kapoor, M.D.; Sean Cardinal, M.D.; Shannon Green, OT; Shannon Uffenbeck, Ph.D.; Sharon Hulman, RN, MPH; Stephanie Eklund, M.D., FACOG; Stephanie Wilson, LMT; Steven Compton, M.D.; Summer Engler, M.D.; Susannah Ølnes, M.D.; Tamara Dietrich; Tanya Leinicke, M.D.; Therese Tomasoski, M.D.; Thomas C. Wood, M.D.; Thomas Quimby, M.D.; Tiffany Peterson, M.D.; Tim Hinterberger, Ph.D.; Tina Tomsen, M.D., FACOG; Toby Currin, DO; Toni Biskup, M.D., MPH, FACP, FAAP; Tonya L Caylor, M.D., FAAFP; Tracy Slager, DO; Victoria Murdock, M.D.

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