Ten Alaska physicians asked Gov. Mike Dunleavy to order a statewide mask mandate to help stem surging COVID 19 infections. Their Oct. 30 letter was copied to state legislators.
Two conservative Republican lawmakers promptly wrote back, saying they knew better than the doctors.
Here’s what the physicians said: “Alaska’s leaders need to change their approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. With a solid and growing body of science demonstrating that universal mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand washing starves the COVID-19 virus of opportunities to spread and saves lives, (we) call on Governor Dunleavy, Commissioner (Adam) Crum, and Dr. Anne Zink to work together to change their approach as Alaska now enters territory reminiscent of the 1918 Spanish Flu devastation,” the letter said.
“Mandating masks statewide (rather than continuing appeals for ‘personal responsibility,’ which is not working), with enforcement penalties as necessary, is a tool available only to you. The undersigned urge you … to take this bold step to lead our state, rather than simply continue with what are clearly ineffective appeals. To balk now is to be complicit in unnecessary deaths, disability, and prolonged economic pain,” the physicians wrote.
The letter was signed by Tina Tomsen, MD; Stephen Tower, MD; Janice Tower and Ken Zafren, MD and emergency physician, ANMC; Laura Jones, MD; Stephanie Chen, MD; Laura Jones, MD; LaTouche Pediatrica; Laurie Montano, MD; Pete Mjos, MD, and John Christopherson, MD.
Back came the replies:
“I am strongly opposed to any and all mask mandates, many believe they violate civil rights and are not substantiated. There were no peer reviewed, broad based research policy papers, that I am aware of, before March 2020 saying healthy people should wear masks all day,” said Sen. Lara Reinbold, R-Eagle River. “We do know masks are causing increases asthma, face lesions, styes, anxiety, stress, divineness, pleurisy, let alone endless stress in the workplace amongst numerous other issues. The political response to Covid19 has caused far more damaging effects, than actually getting Covid 19, for tens of thousands of Alaskans,” Reinbold wrote.
She cited negative impacts of the disaster declaration and the Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s mandates on workplace and travel restrictions; elderly being in isolation; people not being able to visit family and friends in hospitals; chaos in the education system and immense stress on parents to work and educate their children.
Reinbold added her concern on, “tremendous violations to Constitutional rights including but not limited to freedom of religion, among endless other negative impacts.”
State Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole, took a similar stance: “While I appreciate the (physicians’) concern, the only articles I am aware of that argue for mandatory face coverings are based on studies conducted in controlled environments and do not adequately consider that improper use reduces their effectiveness considerably,” Prax wrote in his letter. “This is not to say face coverings have no value. Our mothers taught us to cover our mouths when we sneeze, so this must have some value. It is to say their practical value has not been conclusively established, so ‘mandating masks statewide’ let alone ‘enforcing penalties as necessary’ is not warranted.”
“In fact, the feedback I have been receiving leads me to believe ‘mandating’ certain actions to contain the coronavirus has already caused economic and psychological (effects) that could have been avoided by simply ‘recommending’ certain actions to achieve the same goal,” he said.
Prax encouraged Dunleavy to continue recommending wearing face coverings when physical distancing is impractical, and to “resist the unfounded demands of fear-driven autocrats to ‘mandate’ these same activities.”