The front doors of the Alaska State Capitol was missing the sign notifying visitors of the building’s masking requirement on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, after an early morning by lawmakers changed the rule. Masking rules have been in place since October 2020, much to the consternation of some lawmakers. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

The front doors of the Alaska State Capitol was missing the sign notifying visitors of the building’s masking requirement on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, after an early morning by lawmakers changed the rule. Masking rules have been in place since October 2020, much to the consternation of some lawmakers. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Masks now optional in state Capitol

Masking rules were divisive for lawmakers

Masking rules at the Alaska State Capitol were lifted Wednesday morning after a vote by the bicameral Legislative Council that oversees rules for the building.

In an early morning meeting, the council voted unanimously to change the Capitol’s COVID-19 mitigation policy to make masks in the building optional. Committee chairs still have the ability to require masks in their meetings under the new rules.

Masking rules have been in place at the Capitol since October 2020 and during much of last year’s session the building was closed to the public.

[Murkowski: Good things can come together with bipartisanship]

The decision comes as the number of COVID-19 cases is declining across the state and country. According to data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, 252 new cases were reported Tuesday, down from case numbers in the thousands just weeks earlier. Data show the state recorded more than 17,000 new cases in between Jan. 19-25, and 2,874 between Feb. 16-22.

The City and Borough of Juneau recently made masking for fully vaccinated people “highly recommended” in indoor settings but otherwise optional. The city lowered its community risk to “Level 2 — Moderate, on Feb. 9,” which still requires unvaccinated people to mask in public settings.

Masking has been a contentious issue at the Capitol, with many Republican lawmakers balking at the rules. Enforcement of masking rules at the Capitol has been lax during the recent session, as several lawmakers haven’t been wearing masks or have worn them without fully covering the face.

Even with masks optional, several lawmakers and their staff were still wearing masks Wednesday morning.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Feb. 5

Chunks of ice break off the Perito Moreno Glacier, in Lake Argentina, at Los Glaciares National Park, near El Calafate, in Argentina's Patagonia region, March 10, 2016. As glaciers melt and pour massive amounts of water into nearby lakes, 15 million people across the globe live under the threat of a sudden and deadly outburst flood, a new study finds. (AP Photo / Francisco Munoz)
Study: 15 million people live under threat of glacial floods

More than half of those are in just four countries: India, Pakistan, Peru and China.

Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File 
A porcupine dines in mid-August near the Mendnehall Glacier.
On the Trails: Putting a finer point on porcupines

Plants such as roses and devil’s club aren’t the only prickly ones…

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature in the House chambers on Tuesday. The Republican senator, appearing on the same day as Democratic President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech (and thus absent from it), criticized the administration on issues ranging from drugs to opposing resource development in Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sullivan applauds, denounces feds in speech to Legislature

Senator praises ferry funds and monitoring of China’s balloon, fears Biden limiting oil project.

Members of the Juneau Police Department pose for a group photo during the annual JPD awards ceremony on Monday. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
JPD honors officers in annual award ceremony

The late Chief Pat Wellington presented with legislative memoriam.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Edward Richards, left, a high school student in the Sitka School District, talks about the lack of mental health services in Alaska’s public schools as part of the testimony also offered by district Superintendent Frank Hauser, center, and student Felix Myers during a Senate Education Meeting on Monday at the Alaska State Capitol. The committee is proposing a 17% increase in the state’s school funding formula, which was remained essentially flat since 2017.
School’s in at the Capitol

Students and education leaders from around state make case for more classroom cash.

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

Most Read