ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Health mandates issued in Anchorage helped reduce the spread of the coronavirus last year, a new Alaska Division of Public Health report said.
The report released this week said a June mask mandate was responsible for reducing case counts in Alaska's largest city by almost 20%.
The study found there was a 60% decline in coronavirus transmission in the month after the mask mandate went into effect.
Additional transmission drops happened after two emergency orders by former Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz were implemented in July and August. They limited capacity in bars, restaurants, gyms and indoor public venues.
The business capacity restrictions and month-long shutdown dropped transmissions more than 30%, the report said.
The report evaluated a wide range of data gathered before, after and during Anchorage’s early “hunker down” emergency orders to track their effectiveness.
Through August “exponential growth not only slowed, but was reversed,” the report said.
“They definitely were followed by sharp reduction in the spread of COVID-19, which was the goal. And they proved to be effective in reducing transmission in the city,” said Dr. Thomas Hennessy, a University of Alaska infectious disease epidemiologist and one of the report's authors.
The daily case count decline throughout the August shutdown suggested bars and restaurants were a major factor in coronavirus transmission, the report said.
The closures were aimed at preventing people from spending prolonged periods of time together and limiting the risk of transmission, Hennessy said.
“That’s what these emergency orders really addressed. By reducing capacity in those restaurants and then closing them, it prevented people from going into those locations and mixing,” Hennessy said.
The theory that bars and restaurants played a significant role in virus transmission during the early summer was criticized by many in the hospitality industry who have faced severe economic hardship.
The orders fueled continuing protests from residents who argue the city unfairly and unnecessarily targeted some businesses.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.