JUNEAU, Alaska The Anchorage city attorney said Monday a memo from Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, exempting state buildings from a city mask order meant to guard against the coronavirus, “unnecessarily risks” the health of residents who work for or do business with state agencies.
Clarkson’s memo “sows confusion” and provides “inaccurate legal advice,” Kate Vogel, municipal attorney for Anchorage, said in a statement.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz signed an order Friday requiring face coverings in certain indoor public settings, such as stores, restaurants, public transit and communal office areas where people from multiple households are present. The order took effect Monday and contains numerous exceptions, including for young children and people who cannot tolerate a mask for health reasons.
In a memo to state workers Friday, Clarkson said the mayor’s order does not apply to state buildings and facilities in Anchorage. The memo says Gov. Mike Dunleavy supports state employees who choose to wear face coverings.
Vogel said under state law, a home rule municipality “possesses all legislative authority not withheld by the legislature.” The Alaska Legislature hasn’t restricted Anchorage from issuing mask mandates and hasn’t exempted state buildings “from generally applicable local health and safety rules,” she said.
Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said the Clarkson memo was drafted at Dunleavy’s request. He said Dunleavy “is not opposed to the municipality’s decision on face masks” and the administration “has always allowed local governments, in consultation with the state, the ability to implement health mandates based on the circumstances in a community.”
But in this case, he said Dunleavy decided to preempt the mask mandate for state buildings and facilities in Anchorage. He said Dunleavy believes face masks should be voluntary and encourages their use.
The administration also promotes other measures aimed at slowing or preventing the virus’ spread, such as social distancing, Turner said. State agencies have implemented preventative measures, and many state employees are working from home and will be for the foreseeable future, he said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended use of cloth face coverings in public settings where maintaining distance from others is difficult. The state has encouraged, but not mandated, such use.
Berkowitz said there are people with philosophical objections to wearing masks but he hoped people would largely comply with the order. When code enforcement officers typically respond to complaints, they advise individuals of the proper procedures and that’s usually enough to prompt compliance, he said Friday.