For the past two weeks, the Anchorage Assembly has heard testimony on the proposed mask ordinance. I have not attended these meetings, not because I do not feel strongly on the issue, but because I have unvaccinated children and the room has been full of unmasked, likely unvaccinated people. This includes Mayor Dave Bronson, who on Thursday asked the Assembly chair to clarify the difference between “norms” and “rules.”
I understand the mayor’s and Assembly member Jamie Allard’s commitment to personal choice regarding the pandemic, vaccines and masking. I understand they ran for office on that platform. I respect people with principles. There is a point, however, and we all are at risk of going there, where principles turn into stubbornness.
There is also a point where “toughness” turns into cruelty. The hospital staff of Providence, the largest hospital in the state, is having to triage care for not just Anchorage residents, but the entire state. They are pleading with city leadership to take the simple step of requiring masks in certain settings to ease the rush on the hospitals.
Our young daughter received chemotherapy at Providence two years ago, and I thank God it was a few years ago and not now; we were frequent patients at the emergency room at Providence when her immune system had been destroyed from cancer treatment. Now, still too young to be vaccinated, she would not receive the immediate care she needed and she would very possibly be dead, either from the lack of medical care that would otherwise be available or the case of COVID-19 she likely would have caught in the current setting.
I am curious why the life of a child is worth less to the mayor and Ms. Allard than their commitment to some malleable, abstract principle of “freedom.” Typically, the government steps in when people are making public health choices that can kill or hurt others, from making drunk driving illegal, to not allowing restaurants to store their side of beef in a toilet.
I am curious also what they see their roles as public officials to be. It seems to me, at its core, that officials’ role is to serve the public. They seem to view that “service” as protecting people from the government itself. The problem, of course, is that they currently are the government. Who is left, then, to protect people like our daughter from their stubbornness and callousness?
We are experiencing a public health emergency. Mayor Bronson and Ms. Allard might be willing to die for their principles. But nothing – nothing – gives them the right to enlist a sick child who doesn’t feel the same way. I urge them again to listen to the experts, even if those experts don’t say what they want to hear. The mayor asked on Thursday for a list of “norms” from the Assembly chair. It is a norm that people will try to protect their neighbors and children from dying. People are not following that norm, so the Assembly has no choice but to resort to rules.
Kara Sorbel lives and works in Anchorage with her family.
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