Comments made by the chair of the state’s medical board at a recent Sitka School Board meeting have been called into question on a statewide news program.

During the school board meeting on January 5, Sitkan Richard Wein, a medical doctor who chairs the State Medical Board called the school district’s mask mandate “nonsense.”

“N95s are the only ones that are able to do it. The bottom line is, Joe McLaughlin said, ‘It’s filtration. It’s N95. Cloth doesn’t work.’ The surgical masks that I’m seeing here, etcetera, are poorly fitting masks. They will not work,” Wein said to school board members. “And these things can be removed without any effect on mitigation.” 

Dr. Wein’s comments were reported by the conservative Christian news blog Alaska Watchman. During Talk of Alaska on Tuesday, (1-18-22) host Lori Townsend spoke with Dr. Joe McLaughlin, chief epidemiologist with ADHSS, and the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink about the ongoing omicron surge. Townsend asked them to respond to Dr. Wein’s comments:

Townsend: He says the masks being used don’t work, especially cloth masks. And he claimed that you supported his statements Dr. McLaughlin, and others who are against wearing masks say that unless people are taught how to properly put them on, and only use N95s, they’re useless. Now, you were just saying that any mask is better than none. So help us understand. This is confusing information coming out of the the State Medical Board’s Chairman. Help clarify what people need to know about masking right now.”

Dr. Joe McLaughlin is the chief epidemiologist at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Here’s his response, followed by the state’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink.

McLaughlin: In terms of the general recommendation that we’ve always provided myself included with respect to masks and face coverings is they’re not perfect, but they are a helpful tool in in helping decrease the risk of transmission of the SARS CoV2 virus, whether it’s that’s from Omicron, or any of the other variants that we’ve seen so far. And so the masking guidance that CDC put out last week, really kind of underscores that fact and maybe and I’ll see if you have anything to add to that.

Zink- Yeah, I think I appreciate that. Dr. McLaughlin, do we continue to follow this data has continued to evolve over time science continues to change and this virus continues to change and sharing that information out there. I just want to also emphasize, you know, state government is large. We are not the medical board. We’re not the pharmacy board. Sometimes we joke that really the only authority we have is to zoom. And so there’s a lot of different components within state government that do different actions. And so I think it’s important to realize kind of the limitations of each of the different sections within within DHS and within the state government and the federal government as a whole. But really, Dr. McLaughlin and I were part of the public health team here to share information, which is different from medical board, pharmacy board and other boards. 

That’s Alaska’s chief medical officer Dr. Anne Zink, and state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin responding to comments made by Dr. Richard Wein at a recent school board meeting in Sitka. Wein is a former Sitka Assembly member, and the current chair of the state Medical Board. He was named to the board by Governor Mike Dunleavy in 2019. 

Listen to their full conversation about the omcricon surge with Lori Townsend on Talk of Alaska here.