Alaska health workers seek mask rule for crowded businesses

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 5:53 PM AKDT
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More than 200 Alaska physicians and health care workers concerned about the coronavirus have asked the governor to mandate the use of masks in businesses where social distancing is difficult.

Their letter to Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy published Tuesday stipulates that mask wearing should be required in businesses open to the public “where 6-foot distancing is unrealistic,” The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

“We are concerned about the recent and rapid increase in COVID-19 case counts in Alaska,” wrote Anchorage doctors Megan Ritter and Sarah Murphy.

Recent medical studies and real-world evidence support the use of masks to prevent the spread of the virus, the letter said.

“A sick person wearing a mask will spread fewer viral particles. A healthy person wearing a mask will have some protection from sick people around them. The combination of both people wearing masks provides the greatest amount of protection,” the letter said.

Ritter and Murphy sent the letter to doctors and nurses statewide who might be interested and garnered the large number of signatures.

“I anticipate more,” Murphy said.

Alaska has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases weeks after restrictions on businesses were lifted in response to low case counts.

The state reported 20 new cases statewide Wednesday and confirmed the 11th death associated with the virus Tuesday.

Ritter, a pathologist and medical director at the Blood Bank of Alaska, wrote the letter last week with Murphy, a family medicine physician at Vera Whole Health.

“We did this phenomenal job of keeping the transmission of the virus down in Alaska during the lockdown,” Ritter said, praising swift action by the governor and Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer.

Ritter added: “But it turns out that in the absence of a requirement, recommendations are not being followed.”

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 vast majority of people recover.