Anchorage mayor doubles down on opposition to public health measures, prepares for ‘more combative’ Assembly

a person behind a podium at a press conference
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson announces four directives for city operations on July 1, 2021, his first day in office. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Two months into his first term as Anchorage mayor, Dave Bronson doubled down on his commitment to oppose COVID-19 public health measures and took a confrontational tone about his relationship with the Assembly. 

In a phone interview with Alaska Public Media on Tuesday, Bronson bucked well-accepted science, saying he doesn’t think mask mandates or business closures prevent coronavirus infections. He said he won’t impose any mandates or restrictions — even if there are lines outside Anchorage’s hospital emergency rooms. 

“I’m talking to doctors all the time, some of them who are afraid to come out and speak against the public — maybe political issue or perspective — on masks,” Bronson said. 

On Tuesday, Alaska reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with one in five hospital beds now filled with patients fighting the coronavirus. A total of 437 Alaskans have died from the disease since the pandemic began.

Listen to the full interview with Mayor Bronson here:

(Read the full transcript of this interview.)

Numerous studies, including in Alaska, have shown that mask mandates, gathering size limitations and business restrictions help slow the spread of COVID-19, easing the pressure on hospitals and preventing deaths. But, business restrictions come with economic costs. Scientists are also still puzzling out why some countries are hit harder by the virus, despite restrictions. 

Bronson compared Florida’s hands-off COVID response favorably to California’s, despite Florida’s higher case and death rates during the delta variant surge.

“Florida’s economy is booming, people are still trying to move in,” he said.

RELATED: COVID hospitalizations in Alaska are at an all-time high

Ahead of the most recent surge in cases, there were some indicators that Florida’s economy was recovering quickly, but it is now in the in the grip of the deadliest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic yet.

Bronson also said he won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite recommendations from health officials, including his chief medical officer. Bronson said he’s relying on natural immunity from a previous infection. 

There’s conflicting evidence about the relative effectiveness of vaccines versus natural immunity, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone eligible get vaccinated. 

Bronson also said he’s ready for “more combative rules” after the Assembly voted against his pick for library director, Sami Graham, two weeks ago. Many Assembly members questioned the former school principal’s qualifications to head the library system with a budget of over $9 million. Immediately after the vote, Bronson appointed Graham to be his chief of staff. 

Bronson said the Assembly’s vote was a defining moment in his relationship with the body. 

“Now we know where the lines are drawn. And that’s fine. I can operate under those more combative rules, I will. But you don’t get to attack my people and not — let’s just call it what it is — pay a price,” he said.  

RELATED: New studies find evidence of ‘superhuman’ immunity to COVID-19 in some individuals

A few days after the Assembly voted down Bronson’s appointment, the mayor appointed Judy Eledge, a former educator and conservative activist who has a history of controversial social media posts, to be the top librarian. That prompted immediate rebukes from some Assembly members who said she isn’t qualified. 

The Bronson administration is also currently in delicate negotiations with several Assembly members about finding a shelter site for unhoused residents. And, it’s preparing a budget proposal to be introduced next month that aims to cut the city’s spending by 5%. 

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