Anchorage Assembly extends COVID-19 emergency declaration

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Anchorage Assembly has agreed to extend the municipality's COVID-19 emergency declaration, giving the mayor additional power to implement regulations aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

The Assembly voted 7-3 on Monday to extend the declaration to Jan. 15, The Anchorage Daily News reported. The extension is the sixth emergency period approved by the Assembly since the pandemic began in March.

The declaration gives the mayor power to take actions such as shutting down businesses or mandating masks. It also allows city officials to move money around to more nimbly tackle issues related to the virus.

Members Jamie Allard, Crystal Kennedy and John Weddleton voted against the extension. Weddleton clarified that he supported the extension, but wanted to postpone the vote so some amendments could be introduced by Kennedy.

Before the Assembly voted, about two dozen people testified mostly against the extension, arguing city officials were overhyping the pandemic. At least two people were removed for refusing to wear masks.

Assembly Acting Chair Felix Rivera said the opposition did not reflect the calls, emails and texts he has received from people supporting the extension.

Anchorage Assembly watchdog and Mat-Su resident Eugene Haberman criticized Assembly members regarding the process and chastised residents for not wearing masks.

“They’re confusing freedom with responsibility,” Haberman said, adding that he believes it is everyone's responsibility to wear masks to deal with the pandemic, rather than protest the mandate.

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar said the coronavirus’ surge in Anchorage is exponentially worse since the last extension of the emergency declaration.

“Our decision should be based on the performance with the virus, frankly, rather than some kind of political decision or our own arbitrary timeline,” he said.

Andrea Caballero, an infectious disease doctor who works at Providence and Alaska Regional Hospital, said based on the current trajectory, another extension will be needed because the virus is not expected to be gone by January.

Alaska has reported more than 500 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Monday, health officials said. No deaths were reported.

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 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