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.

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