JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska's largest city will begin requiring masks in certain public settings, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said Friday, calling it an act of community responsibility amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The order, set to take effect Monday, will apply to indoor public settings, particularly where maintaining distance can be difficult, such as restaurants, bars, stores and public transit, he said. There will be exceptions, including for young children, people with health issues and people for whom wearing a mask would impair their ability to carry out a duty, Berkowitz said.
Further details were expected to be released later Friday.
“I'm hoping that we will continue to do the right thing, because it is the right thing," Berkowitz said. The requirements will be difficult to enforce, he said. “But that's true of pretty much all the rules that a society has. ... And we count on one another to make sure that we uphold these community standards.”
He said there has been a lot of talk of the rights that people have when it comes to wearing masks. "I'm just astounded by the number of constitutional scholars and epidemiologists that exist in our community," he said, adding that if people don't want to wear a mask for themselves, they should wear one for others.
He said he considered this an intermediate step as reported case counts rise. He said he does not want to return to a hunker-down phase, noting the economic consequences could be “fairly profound.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended use of cloth face coverings in public settings where maintaining physical distance from others is difficult. The state has encouraged — but not mandated — use of face coverings.
Alaska has reported 836 cases of COVID-19 involving residents and 167 cases involving nonresidents. On Friday, the state reported two deaths, of individuals who had been in long-term care facilities in Washington and New Jersey and who died last month, health department spokesperson Clinton Bennett said. The state has now reported 14 COVID-19-related deaths.
Juneau was listed as the residence for the man and woman whose deaths were newly reported, according to a release from the city of Juneau, which added the two individuals had no connection to each other.
The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.