JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, plans to boost enforcement of an expanded mask mandate and restrict gathering sizes in a bid to curb coronavirus cases, officials said Friday.
The changes take effect Monday, with masks to be worn, with a few exceptions, in indoor public settings or communal areas and outdoors when distancing from non-household members is not possible.
In some cases, such as for individuals with disabilities who cannot tolerate a mask, face shields will be allowed unless wearing one would be impossible, the order states.
Masks are to be worn by school-age children older than 5, those who exercise or work at gyms, and athletes, players, coaches and officials who participate in organized sports, according to the municipality directives. Athletes must keep a mask on for indoor sports, but one is not required while “exercising vigorously outdoors,” the directives state.
Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson said she aimed, in part, to close loopholes in the mask order that has been in effect. She said she has heard from businesses concerns that if the mandates lack enforcement “people will not take them seriously.”
Many people are taking them seriously, she said.
“But for those who can't, we will be beefing up enforcement. We've posted three positions for code enforcement officers, and we'll be supporting our local businesses and making sure that folks follow the health mandates,” the acting mayor said.
Quinn-Davidson said the city is responding to complaints but wants to do spot checks and help businesses if they need assistance in asking someone to leave.
Robert Brewster, owner of The Alaska Club, a fitness chain, and Chris Anderson, president of The Glacier Brewhouse and ORSO restaurants, participated with Quinn-Davidson and local health officials in a briefing Friday and said they supported the enhanced mask measures.
Quinn-Davidson also is restricting gathering sizes.
Schools will be limited to 50% of their classroom occupancy based on building and fire codes, according to a corrected version of the order. That means if a classroom has a fire-code capacity of 46 people, it cannot have more than 23 people in it, said Carolyn Hall, communications director for the mayor's office. The initial version of the order Friday referred to 50% of building occupancy.
Former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz faced backlash for restrictions on businesses earlier this year that some criticized as overreaching.
The state, since the start of the pandemic, has reported about 17,600 confirmed resident COVID-19 cases, of which about 11,000 are active cases, according to data released Friday. There have been 84 deaths related to COVID-19, the state health department said.
The department has warned of accelerating case counts across Alaska, and it said testing isn't keeping pace with new cases.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.
This story is corrected to show each classroom will have capacity limitations and corrects Hall's title.