There are 51 active cases of COVID-19 in Kodiak right now. Just over one month ago, on Dec.11, there were 311 active cases.
It’s hard to know why cases dropped, but a recent study by the Alaska Division of Public Health suggests that Kodiak’s mask mandate and capacity restrictions on indoor spaces may have helped.
The study examined the spread of COVID-19 in Anchorage this summer and found that both the mask rules and capacity likely reduced, and eventually reversed, the spread of the virus for a certain period of time.
Faced with rising counts in late June, Anchorage officials instituted a mask mandate on June 29. Then, on July 24, Anchorage limited capacity at public spaces like bars, restaurants and gyms. On Aug. 3, it ordered that they close.
These three emergency orders were known as EO 13, EO 14 and EO 15.
The researchers examined how the spread of the virus in Anchorage changed around those orders. Fourteen days after the mask mandate went into effect, virus transmission dropped by 18.6%. In the two weeks before those rules were in place, the virus was growing at 10.8% per day. In the weeks after the rules, that dropped to 4.7% per day.
A survey also found that mask use increased by 7-14%.
After EO 14 and EO 15 were instituted, virus transmission declined further. Daily growth rates went negative, down to minus 0.9% average daily growth.
Researchers who worked on this study said that the findings were applicable to other Alaska communities, not just Anchorage.
Masks, as most people know at this point, help slow the spread of COVID-19 by preventing respiratory particles from person to person. So more mask wearing will help anywhere.
“That can work really in any environment. The mechanism for masks can work in any community, and many have used it,” said Tom Hennessy, a University of Alaska epidemiologist and one of the researchers who conducted the study.
Fewer people in fewer buildings will also slow the spread, regardless of location, Hennessey said, though the effect might be more pronounced in a bigger city like Anchorage where there are more bars and restaurants.
In Kodiak, the local Emergency Operations Center leveled the mask rules, which required everyone to wear a mask while in a public space, on Nov. 19. It instituted the capacity restrictions, which limited most indoor spaces to 25% of the fire marshal’s limit, on Dec. 7.
Cases peaked on Dec. 11, and have been on the downward trend since. Having both measures seems to help, researchers say, plus the public takes the virus more seriously if people see leaders making emergency orders.
“There are always limitations to any study but the general pattern of layering mitigation strategies seems to yield the most effectiveness,” said Jennifer Meyer, assistant professor at the UAA Division of Population Health Sciences and another study author.
“Similarly, when a decision-making body issues an emergency order to the public, it communicates a level of seriousness that influences behavior and community expectations.”