ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The largest city in Alaska has mandated residents wear masks in public to limit the spread of COVID-19, but several other cities and boroughs declined to follow suit, arguing the mandates weren’t needed, would be difficult to enforce or were illegal.
Anchorage, Cordova, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Seward, Unalaska and Valdez were the only large cities to require masks in all public indoor spaces, including stores and restaurants, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The Northwest Arctic Borough was the only borough to do so.
Some smaller communities, such as Gustavus in southeast Alaska, have also issued mask requirements, but they are outnumbered.
Dozens of lodges and hotels in the Lake and Peninsula boroughs require masks, but neither government has issued a general order.
Borough and city officials have said they are following the lead of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who opposes a statewide mandate.
“I certainly don’t want to infringe upon the rights of folks,” Dunleavy previously said in a video briefing.
Instead, the Dunleavy administration has allowed local governments to create their own health mandates, governor’s spokesman Jeff Turner said.
“While the governor does not plan to issue a statewide mask mandate, he strongly encourages the use of masks in combination with social distancing, frequent hand washing and other precautionary measures known to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Turner said.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Some local officials in rural Alaska have said case counts do not warrant a mandatory mask requirement and have opted for travel restrictions instead, while others have had challenges with legal authority and how to enforce such a regulation.
The state’s constitution permits several types of local governments, and Fairbanks is what’s known as a “home-rule” city, meaning it has lesser powers and would be unable to mandate a mask-wearing policy.
By definition, home-rule jurisdictions have all governmental powers not explicitly reserved by the state Legislature.
The City and Borough of Juneau will consider a mask mandate next week, likely joining the list of those requiring facial coverings.
City assemblywoman and proposal sponsor Michelle Hale said the public is about 75% in favor, and other assembly members agree.
Similar mandates failed in Sitka and Ketchikan.