Alaska to require masks and COVID-19 screens at Capitol

·2 min read

JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Legislative Council approved a measure that requires lawmakers, employees and reporters to be screened for the coronavirus when entering the Capitol and to wear masks or face coverings in the building and other legislative offices.

The council also voted on Thursday to keep the Capitol building closed to the public until at least January, when the next Legislature convenes. Legislative staff and reporters will still be allowed into the building, KTOO Public Media reported.

The council's chair, Sen. Gary Stevens, said that while the Legislature in January could change the policies, he anticipates they will not as long as the pandemic persists.

“I think the goal, of course, is to make sure that all legislators, staff feel safe, they feel that coming into the Capitol is a safe place for them to be,” the Kodiak Republican said in the meeting.

The council voted 9-1 to mandate face coverings and 8-2 to require screenings to enter the Capitol. Republican Rep. DeLena Johnson was the only person on the council to vote against both measures.

Johnson, a Republican from Palmer, said the mask mandate wouldn't be enforceable for legislators.

“There’s nothing to this,” Johnson said. “This is kind of the worst of the worst. It’s a great suggestion, but it’s not particularly meaningful.”

The council decided against voting on a third policy change that would ask legislators to quarantine for 14 days before arriving in Juneau for meetings. The change would also ask legislators to arrive with either a negative test result or to receive a test immediately upon arrival and to isolate while results are pending. The proposal also would have required all legislators and employees to avoid non-essential trips outside of Juneau during the session. The council said it plans on considering this policy change again before January.

The state reported four new deaths and 384 new confirmed cases from the coronavirus on Friday, the state Department of Health and Social Services said. There have been 81 confirmed deaths and over 15,000 confirmed cases in the state since the pandemic began, according to the state Department of Health and Social Services.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The Associated Press