COVID-19 restrictions are loosening just a bit Friday in Anchorage.
The city’s acting mayor announced this week a target vaccination rate for when residents can expect the remaining restrictions to become advisories rather than mandates, on things like the size of indoor gatherings.
That will happen when 70% of eligible Anchorage residents are fully vaccinated. The city is currently more than halfway there, with about 40% of eligible residents vaccinated.
Acting Anchorage Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson is asking Anchorage residents to “Do it for summer,” in the hopes that more people getting vaccinated will mean a more normal summer to come. Quinn-Davidson talked about that effort, and what it’s like to be mayor during this unique time, with Alaska News Nightly host Casey Grove.
Read a full transcript of the interview with minor edits for clarity.
Austin Quinn-Davidson: You know, it’s been such a tough year. I don’t need to tell people that, but we’ve been through a lot. And I think that the focus here is there is a really bright light at the end of the tunnel. We’re all heading through it together and we’re gonna get there.
As of Friday, we’re loosening restrictions on outdoor gatherings, as long as folks are masked and distanced, they can be outside and go do the things they love and be at events. And we’re here because of everyone’s hard work that got us here and it’s just getting better and better.
The numbers are just climbing for vaccination rates and for us, that gives us hope. Everyone loves in Alaska summer, we look forward to it, we sort of trudge through some of the winter, knowing that that magical time is coming. And I think we’re getting there sort of in two respects, both from a COVID perspective, and just all of us ready for summer in general.
Casey Grove: I guess at the same time, why do you think more people aren’t getting vaccinated already?
AQD: I think people are busy living their lives. I mean, we have a lot of folks who work multiple jobs or who might be traveling or who aren’t online all the time. I think it’s easy for those of us who work from a desk to think about, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you have signed up online? Like, it’s so easy.’ Some people aren’t working jobs where it’s as accessible and so it’s really on as a municipality and in partnership with the state and others to get that word out and to show up where people are. And our understanding is that it’s not just a hesitancy thing.
I think a lot of people think, ‘Well, if folks haven’t gotten a vaccine yet, they don’t want to.’ That’s not what our survey data shows. I mean, we really believe that we can get to the 70%. And that 70% of Anchorage residents want to get vaccinated. It just takes people a little longer sometimes.
CG: I wanted to just back up a little bit. You became acting mayor in October. So I wondered, what’s something or a couple of things even that you’ve learned about COVID, or how people have reacted to it, or even the response to the virus since becoming acting mayor?
AQD: I think what we’ve seen is people showing up for each other. I like to think back to when this all started: you had folks who had masks, medical-grade masks, who were willing to give them up to public health workers to make sure they were safe. And I think we’ve seen that sort of continuing theme of community and care. Every time I had go out, and I wear my mask, it’s for other people and I think that we see that theme sort of running through our community. But we also see people being scared or people being worn down. I mean, we’re all human, right? I’m human, too. It’s hard to keep this up. It’s hard not just to go back to our regular lives.
CG: It really strikes me as very unique time and place that you find yourself as the mayor of the biggest city in the state. And I just wondered, what are your thoughts on that just about being in this position in this very unique circumstance?
AQD: I like to joke with my staff that normally the mayor is not someone who sits in a guest room for 12 to 14 hours a day and doesn’t talk to humans in real life. There’s actually a phenomenon going across the country that folks who were mayors during this period have decided not to run because they’re just drained. I think that it’s a challenging job. It’s different: the mayor typically is going to events, going to openings, getting to meet people and get this fuel and energy off of the community and interpersonal interactions and getting excited about what’s next. And we’re excited about what’s next, because we see we see out of this tunnel, and we see our vaccination goal being met and we see economic recovery that’s totally related to that. But it’s hard for everyone to see that. And so the job is a lot different than the normal role of Mayor.