Sen. Lisa Murkowski gave an impassioned speech Friday on how Alaska’s growing coronavirus infection rate has strained the state in unforeseen ways, and she decried protesters comparing mask mandates to actions by the Nazis.

Addressing a relatively empty Senate chamber, Murkowski (R-Alaska) said that she had planned to return home this weekend but that most of the scheduled events and meetings had to be held virtually because of the virus.

“We are leading the nation right now in our covid rates,” Murkowski said, noting the drop in the Lower 48. “We’re separated enough geographically, but through the advantages of air travel and road travel, we mix, we mingle, we get around, and the virus knows no bounds.”

The United States will soon surpass 700,000 covid-19 deaths — a milestone that experts hoped would never have been reached with the availability of vaccines. But low vaccination rates in many parts of the country have played a major role in the continued spread of the virus.

At a Sept. 28 assembly meeting, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson (R) defended anti-mask residents who were wearing yellow Stars of David to protest mask mandates. (Municipality of Anchorage Meetings)

While the overall rate of new cases has declined 12 percent nationwide, the rolling seven-day average of cases per 100,000 people has risen 35 percent in Alaska, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, with more than 15,000 cases per 100,000 people.

“If Alaska were a country, it would be the nation with the world’s highest per-capita case rate,” Murkowski said, basing her statement on data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems, Science and Engineering.

Divisiveness over pandemic response efforts has continued throughout the country. Low vaccination rates in many places are tied to a climate in which misinformation and partisan politics are often shaping Americans minds more than medical professionals and scientific expertise.

“We have had some just horrible, horrible confrontations in our public meetings in Anchorage,” Murkowski said. “The top of the fold in the Anchorage paper is about an assembly meeting where individuals wore yellow Stars of David to protest the mask ordinance that the Anchorage Assembly was taking up, comparing a mask mandate to the Holocaust. It’s shocking.”

German Nazis forced Jews to wear Star of David emblems during their antisemitic campaign leading to the Holocaust. Protesters have claimed the mandates for wearing masks in public spaces and vaccinations are comparative to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups have condemned such comparisons.

Murkowski said the rising number of coronavirus cases has taxed Alaska’s health resources, that hospitals are having to turn away patients not suffering from the virus. She said hospital capacity is so stretched that when she recently visited an emergency room with a loved one, she was told that the individual would have to be sent to Seattle or Portland, Ore. — a 3½ -hour flight, thousands of miles away — because there was no availability in Alaska.

“That’s what’s happening in Alaska right now,” she said. “And again, keep in mind, the reason that I was there that evening with this individual was not covid-related. But that’s the squeeze. That’s the pressure that it puts on the rest of your system.”