The Anchorage Assembly approved the mandate for the use of masks on Tuesday after two weeks of heated public debate amid the Covid outbreak that forced doctors to restrict vital services in Alaska’s largest city.
The vote was 9: 1, culminating in a tense, often chaotic debate in which doctors were attacked by the public, an armed man was arrested, and outrageous protesters attending rallies in the Stars of David – an attempt to compare the requirement for masks with the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.
“It’s time to act,” Assembly member Mag Zaletel said Tuesday night, pushing for a vote. One person in the crowd shouted objections, forcing the security personnel to intervene.
The ordinance requires everyone to wear a mask or face mask in public enclosed areas, with some exceptions for young children, and for religious or medical reasons.
Alaska has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases per person in the United States in recent weeks. While the number of new infections has dropped from a peak in late September, the surge has swept across hospitals, especially in Anchorage, where many of the state’s patients travel with critical needs.
Heart surgeries were canceled to save space in hospitals. One institution rationed oxygen. And doctors were forced to implement “crisis treatment standards,” giving priority to some critically ill patients over others due to lack of resources.
One patient who required emergency surgery was not treated; the second was excluded from dialysis because the other needed it. In both cases, patients who received poor quality care died.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy opposed the statewide introduction of masks, but members of the Anchorage congregation, home to about 40 percent of the state’s population, moved forward. In recent weeks, doctors have come to meetings to detail the crisis they are facing, but they have faced backlash from community members. One man had been following doctors from the meeting, calling them liars.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, who opposed the mask demand, has pledged to veto the mandate, although the congregation appears to have votes to overturn it.
According to the New York Times database, about 51 percent of Alaska’s population is fully vaccinated, down from the national rate of 57 percent.