JUNEAU — A panel of state lawmakers has lifted a mask mandate at the Alaska State Capitol but has not yet reopened the building to the general public.
The House-Senate Legislative Council, which controls the Alaska Legislature’s operations, voted unanimously on Friday to lift the mandate one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people vaccinated against COVID-19 can stop wearing masks indoors under most circumstances.
“This has been a great success. We have protected this building,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak. Stevens chaired the council when it enacted the mandate last year.
The regular legislative session ends May 19, but lawmakers will begin a special session the next day.
The new rules now in place at the state Capitol require people entering the Capitol to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who shows symptoms must submit to a COVID-19 test.
Asked why the Capitol remains closed to the public, Legislative Council chairwoman Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said that matter was not discussed by a subcommittee in charge of recommending changes to the Capitol’s COVID-19 policy.
Florida’s state Capitol reopened earlier this month, and the capitol buildings in Wisconsin, New Mexico, North Carolina and several other states have also recently reopened.
“I think it’s very important that Alaskans be able to return to their own Capitol building,” said Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla.
More than 80% of the legislators and staff who work within the Capitol complex in Juneau are vaccinated against COVID-19. Many received their shots during a spring drive made possible by a tribal health consortium. A small outbreak earlier this year briefly disrupted work in the Capitol but did not stop it entirely.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, offered a note of caution before the final vote that lifted the mandate.
“This should not represent a victory lap because we’re not through the pandemic yet,” he said.
With about 20% of the Capitol’s workers unvaccinated, including some people who cannot be vaccinated because of health conditions, “We still have a ways to go. With the variants out there … we may be right back here with this discussion before we know it,” Edgmon said.