The long awaited COVID vaccine may have arrived in Alaska, but state and local officials are saying that everyone should continue masking their face indefinitely.
The Juneau Assembly has extended its mask mandate until June 2021.
“While the COVID-19 vaccine is currently being rolled out in Juneau, masking is till essential,” a Dec. 18 statement from the Juneau Borough said. “It will still be some months until the vaccine is widely available to the general population. In addition, information is limited on how effective the vaccine is at reducing transmission of SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and how long protection lasts. Given this, vaccinated individuals should continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves and others, including masking.”
The Juneau mandate, which would have expired on Dec. 20, requires residents to mask up when they are indoors in public settings or communal spaces outside the home and when they are outdoors and unable to maintain a six-foot distance from non-household members. There are a few exceptions for those with disabilities and children under five years.
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The extension of Juneau’s mask mandate falls in line with a Dec. 16 statement by State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin who said vaccinated Alaskans should not think they can stop social distancing, mask wearing or hand washing because the vaccine does not guarantee that they are 100% free of the virus, and they “might still be able to spread it.”
“The answer is we don’t know yet,” he said of the possibility that vaccinated people might be able to spread the virus. “So, we are going to continue to follow the science in the weeks and months ahead.”
In terms of how long the vaccine will be effective, that too is unknown.
“We’ll just have to follow the science on this, and I don’t think we’ll know the answer to that question for many months,” McLaughlin said.
The massive roll out of vaccines comes at a time when daily COVID case counts are already beginning to decline in Alaska, despite the fact that vaccines were not available.