Face masking mandate ends

The borough assembly on Monday failed to make a motion to extend public health mandate #4, the local face covering mandate, past its May 5 expiration date.

The face covering mandate first went into effect on April 21 and was set to last until May 5 at 11:59 P.M. The local face covering mandate requires all persons to wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth in certain social situations to help prevent the spread of droplets that could infect others with COVID-19.

As of Monday, May 4, 158 residents have had test samples sent to state and commercial laboratories to be tested for COVID-19, according to Petersburg Medical Center CEO Phil Hofstetter at the borough assembly meeting on Monday. Of those 158 test samples, 139 have returned negative, 16 are still pending and three have returned positive, but the three individuals have since recovered.

Incident Commander Karl Hagerman told the assembly in an email on Friday that he did not recommend they extend the health mandate past its expiration date. While there are reasons why he would recommend the mandate be extended, Hagerman wrote that the mandate has caused a division between neighbors at a time when the community should be coming together against the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The last thing we want to see is people fighting each other over masking or in fact goading each other or having close contact arguments over this issue," wrote Hagerman in his email to the borough assembly. "The backlash is causing a risk for spread that the mandate was designed to eliminate."

The state still has health alert #10 in effect, which recommends Alaskans wear a face covering in public during certain situations. Additionally, the first phase of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan, or state health mandate #16, requires the use of face coverings by employees and customers as businesses begin to reopen.

In state health mandate #16, there are 11 attachments that give requirements to specific businesses that must be met in order to reopen. Hagerman listed each attachment's face masking policy to the assembly on Monday.

For non-essential public facing businesses, not including retail businesses, only employees must wear face coverings. Although, for in home services, both employees and residents must wear a face covering. Employees and patrons are required to wear a face covering in a retail business.

Restaurants that are offering dine-in service must require employees who are interacting with the public to wear a face covering.

Personal care service providers, such as barbers, must wear a face covering. Customers must also wear face coverings with an exception of five minute intervals for services to be provided.

Employees at a non essential non-public facing business must wear a face covering.

At child care facilities and day camps, face coverings must be worn by employees. Face coverings are recommended for older children.

Fishing charter crews and passengers must wear face coverings.

Employees at gyms and fitness centers and lodging and overnight camping businesses must wear face coverings.

During day recreation activities made up of mixed households, everyone must wear a face covering.

Those at an outdoor social, religious or other gathering should wear a face covering. At indoor gatherings, face coverings should be worn when possible.

Anyone who doesn't follow the stipulations mandated in the Reopen Alaska Responsibly Plan could face a $1,000 fine and a class A misdemeanor charge, according to state health mandate #16.

"There is very, very strong language in the state's reopening plan regarding face coverings," said Hagerman. "The [Emergency Operations Center] will continue to emphasize face coverings as being an important factor in mitigating the spread of the virus."

When the renewal of public health mandate #4 came before the borough assembly on Monday, none of the assembly members made a motion to extend it, resulting in the original May 5 expiration date remaining in effect. Since the mandate didn't receive a motion nor a second, the assembly didn't discuss the mandate at that time. At the end of the meeting however, some of the assembly members gave their thoughts on the face covering mandate.

Both Vice Mayor Jeigh Stanton Gregor and Assembly Member Tremblay encouraged the public to pay close attention to the mandates coming out from the state.

"Right now, people are wanting things to go back to 'normal,' but if you want a business to be open, you need to be wearing a face covering as you participate in that business, basically," said Tremblay. "There are a few exceptions, but I encourage people to read through those details."

Assembly Member Taylor Norheim was in agreement with Stanton Gregor and Tremblay, but he also addressed some comments made by the public who feel Hagerman is taking a heavy-handed approach in his role as the borough's incident commander.

"If you have any problems with the way things have been running, you need to direct them at the assembly, not at [Hagerman] or the emergency council," said Norheim. "They're doing what we told them to do. I think that's an important thing for everybody to know."


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