KENAI, Alaska (AP) – Some Alaska County attorneys have disproved a claim by the state’s chief attorney that counties may issue mask mandates in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Attorneys representing second class counties in the state sent a letter to acting Attorney General of Alaska Ed Sniffen, The Peninsula Clarion reported on Sunday.
Sniffen said last month that municipalities, including the state’s second-rate counties, can use face masks with their disaster relief efforts.
Alaska has 18 organized counties and one unorganized county that covers more than half of the state, according to the Alaska Municipal League website. Second class counties must obtain voter approval to exercise many powers, while first class counties can exercise any powers that are not prohibited by law by issuing ordinances.
The attorneys’ letter of November 18 outlined specific laws prohibiting second-class districts from issuing mask mandates in response to a pandemic.
The letter was signed by lawyers from the Aleutians East, Bristol Bay, Fairbanks North Star, Kenai Peninsula, Ketchikan Gateway, Kodiak Island and Matanuska-Susitna counties.
Alaska law does not authorize a political division to perform tasks that it is not otherwise authorized to perform during an emergency, the letter said.
Second-class districts can set up emergency shelters, maintain websites with information for local residents, and coordinate with private and public agencies, among other things, who carry out disaster prevention measures, the lawyers said.
“Second class counties have no ‘police powers’ or general health and welfare powers and cannot implement measures to protect the health, safety and well-being of their citizens as your office suggests,” the letter to Sniffen said.
Sniffen heads the State Department of Law and a spokeswoman, Maria Bahr, did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday asking for a comment on the letter.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, which will improve in two to three weeks. Some – especially older adults and people with existing health problems – can develop more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and death.