Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz will require most people to wear face masks in public, indoor spaces starting Monday. That includes restaurants, stores and public transit.
Berkowitz announced the order at a news conference Friday. It goes into effect at 8 a.m. Monday.
“Masking up is really an act of community responsibility,” Berkowitz said. “I encourage people to follow this requirement, because we are facing serious consequences — the health consequences, the economic consequences — of allowing this to grow in our midst. And that, to me, poses an unacceptable risk.”
The order comes as the number of COVID-19 infections in Alaska and nationwide continues to climb, and as people clash over wearing masks. Some businesses are currently requiring face coverings, but others are not.
Berkowitz said a city-wide policy will take pressure off of individual business owners.
He said businesses won’t be responsible for enforcing the order, but city code enforcement officers will respond to egregious violations.
“Code enforcement officers will go out to that site, advise the business of what the correct procedure is, and at that point usually there’s compliance. It’s very rare that we have to proceed to the next legal step,” Berkowitz said. “My real hope with this that people will, for the most part, comply.”
Berkowitz said there will be “significant exceptions” to his masking requirement, including for people who have breathing problems like asthma, people exercising, children under the age of 2 and others. Also, he said, there are exceptions for certain situations where it doesn’t make sense to have a mask on, like while at the dentist or eating in a restaurant.
Berkowitz had cautioned on Tuesday that he would implement a mask order if COVID-19 cases continued to increase.
The emergency order issued Friday will remain in effect until July 31, unless revoked sooner or extended.
“I remain hopeful that if we do the right thing for a long enough period of time we can relax some of the restrictions that are in place,” Berkowitz said.
Some Anchorage residents have expressed opposition to a mask mandate, calling it government overreach. An online fundraiser to produce videos and buy advertising opposing the order recently raised more than $3,500 in one day.
Earlier this week, the governor of Washington announced a statewide mandate requiring facial coverings in any indoor public space, as well as any outdoor public area if social distancing isn’t possible. Several other states are also requiring face coverings.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores.