Anchorage Assembly extends COVID emergency declaration by closest vote yet

Seats in front of a dais
The Anchorage Assembly Chambers in the Loussac Library on Jan. 26, 2021. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday approved an eighth extension of the city’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The measure passed six to four, the slimmest margin an extension has seen since the COVID emergency began. Assembly members John Weddleton, Suzanne LaFrance, Crystal Kennedy and Jamie Allard voted no. 

The emergency declaration will now sunset on June 11, unless the Assembly votes to extend it again. 

Assembly members disagree about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in Anchorage, and whether it constitutes an emergency. As pandemic restrictions have eased in the last few months, the state’s case counts have risen faster than vaccination rates, according to health officials.

A handful of in-person and call-in testifiers spoke in support of the extension, arguing emergency orders like the mask mandate have helped lower the COVID-19 death rate in Anchorage. 

But the majority of testimony was against the emergency declaration extension. Many argued the orders are government overreach, a criticism familiar from previous extensions.

Some residents also denounced a new emergency order Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced Monday, which will further reduce some restrictions and set a vaccination goal of 70% of eligible residents. Once the city reaches the goal, the emergency order becomes merely “advisory” instead of law. 

Residents opposed to the vaccination goal called it “coercion” and said it would cause division in the community. At the beginning of the meeting, Quinn-Davidson clarified reaching the vaccine goal is just one benchmark for lifting emergency orders. They could also be lifted if the city’s infection rate sufficiently declines.