Who needs to wear a mask in Anchorage and where? Here’s a breakdown of the new ordinance.

A sign outside of Title Wave Books on Aug. 30, 2021, in Anchorage encourages customers to wear face masks. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Assembly on Thursday overturned Mayor Dave Bronson’s veto of an emergency mask ordinance. 

That means the masking rules for the city are back in place.

Here’s a breakdown of who needs to wear a mask now and where. 

Who does the mandate impact?

Most people.

The ordinance says: “All individuals must wear masks or face coverings over their noses and mouths when they are indoors in areas which are open to the public or which are communal spaces shared with other individuals not from one’s household.” 

People can wear a face shield instead of a mask if they can’t tolerate a mask due to a mental or physical disability, if they’re communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing or if they are doing an activity that can’t be done safely with a mask on, like a driver experiencing foggy glasses or a dental patient receiving care, says the ordinance.

Are there any exemptions to the mandate?

There are several. And they include: 

• Children under the age of 5 don’t need to wear a mask in public places, though face coverings are recommended for kids over the age of 2. 

• Anyone who’s incarcerated, in police custody or in a courtroom is exempt from the masking requirements. 

• If you are presenting, performing, or communicating to an audience, you don’t need to wear a mask as long as you’re 10 feet away from the audience, and the audience is fully masked. 

• If you’re doing an activity that can’t be conducted safely with a mask on, you’re also exempt. 

• The mayor’s team is exempt.

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What about at work?

You don’t need to wear a mask if you’re in an enclosed workspace or you are working alone in an unenclosed space. 

You also don’t have to wear a mask if you’re in an enclosed workspace with multiple individuals who are all vaccinated. The space must be separate from the public and other unvaccinated employees. 

What if someone is disabled? 

If you aren’t able to tolerate a mask due to a physical or mental disability, you’re exempt from the mask ordinance. “The individual’s or a guardian’s statement that they are exempted is sufficient evidence,” the ordinance says. 

What about while I’m at the gym or playing sports? 

You don’t need to wear a mask. But gyms or school district buildings may have their own individual mask rules. The Anchorage School District, for instance, requires masking in all of its buildings.

Also, if you’re a spectator at a sporting event, you must wear a mask under the ordinance. 

How about church? 

If you’re at church or some other kind of religious assembly, you are exempt from the mandate. 

Read the full emergency ordinance here.

As a business owner, how does the mandate affect me?

Businesses must deny entry to anyone not in compliance with the mask mandate, according to the ordinance. Employers are also required to make sure that their employees are masked when required, under the ordinance, and that they have access to masks. 

How long does the masking ordinance last?

The mandate will last no more than 60 days, unless extended by a vote of the Assembly. 

But there are two ways the masking rules could end sooner:

•  The rate of COVID-19 transmission in Anchorage drops below a high rate — as defined by the Centers for Disease Control — for 14 consecutive days.

• Two of the three hospitals in the city are not operating at a crisis standard of care for 14 consecutive days. Those hospitals: Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Regional Hospital and the Alaska Native Medical Center.

How is the mask mandate enforced?

That is a little less clear. 

While a previous Assembly proposal, AO 2021-91, laid out a series of fines for violations of the mandate, the emergency ordinance approved by the Assembly does not have any language related to fines. The only thing it says about enforcement is, “the Municipality reserves the right to use all available enforcement options to assure compliance with this Emergency Ordinance.” 

Another change in the new ordinance: There’s no language about citizen enforcement of the mandate. In an amendment to the previous proposal, AO 2021-91, there would’ve been a pathway for citizens to report people or businesses that weren’t complying with the mask rules. It received a lot of criticism, with opponents stating that it would encourage animosity between neighbors.

The emergency ordinance has no such citizen enforcement language.

Wesley Early covers Anchorage life and city politics for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org and follow him on X at @wesley_early. Read more about Wesley here.

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