Against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 infections in the City and Borough of Juneau, members of the CBJ Assembly will gather Wednesday night to consider extending the city’s COVID-19 mitigation plan to October 31.
The current plan will expire Saturday, July 31, a deadline that was moved forward in late April when the assembly last reviewed the citywide mitigation measures and made adjustments to make them more flexible. At that time, vaccination rates were still climbing, and infection numbers were dropping dramatically.
Assembly members granted the city manager more latitude to adjust mitigation measures based on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On May 14, city officials updated the city’s risk mitigation measures to drop most mask requirements for fully vaccinated residents, in line with CDC guidance.
However, recent developments may have the assembly rethinking.
On Tuesday afternoon, CBJ’s Emergency Operations Center’s weekly report showed the city’s highest 14-day case count to date, with 150 people testing positive over the time period.
According to the city’s news release, “the majority of cases were among residents, and 70% of the cases were in unvaccinated individuals. The delta variant was the predominant strain identified in the most recent batch of sequencing in Juneau and accounts for over 80 percent of cases in Alaska.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported the CDC changed course Tuesday on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges.
Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.
Incoming Deputy City Manager Robert Barr said that the city’s COVID numbers “are not in a fantastic spot,” in a Tuesday afternoon phone interview.
“Three or so weeks ago we weren’t thinking we were going to have to come back to the assembly,” he said. “We are seeing a spike in cases and it is concerning. That’s why we are going back to them tomorrow.”
Ahead of the assembly meeting, the EOC endorsed the extension, citing various factors that influenced the recommendation.
“Due to a recent uptick in case activity, increased community spread, significantly restricted medevac capacity, and the presumptive spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, the Emergency Operations Center believes it is in the best interest of the community to extend the current COVID mitigation measures until October 31, 2021,” reads the description in the agenda item.
Compared to the current mitigation measures, the EOC is suggesting several changes to the criteria.
Notably, the new version recommends masking for fully vaccinated people when the city is in the moderate risk level — the city’s current overall community risk level.
In addition, the revised guidelines allow for gatherings of any size if all participants are fully vaccinated, even at the high-risk level. Barr said this change is aimed at gatherings where the facilitator has the ability to check vaccination cards, like a bar or an age-restricted event.
The revised guidelines allow for small group fitness classes in gyms for fully vaccinated people, even when the overall community risk level is set at moderate or high, and enables gym capacity to grow from 25% to 50% when the risk level is high. Likewise, it will enable waiting areas to operate at 50% capacity when the risk level is moderate, a change that is consistent with other capacity restrictions at the moderate level.
The new measures add a new “fully open” level. This level kicks in when 97% of the city’s population has the opportunity to get vaccinated. Officials estimate a six-to-seven-week implementation period after everyone age 2 or over is eligible for vaccination. Currently, federal regulators have approved COVID-19 vaccines for people age 12 and older and are studying the safety and efficacy of the vaccines in children ages 5 to 12, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.
CBJ Assembly members will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to review and discuss the plans. The agenda includes a time for public comment.
Assembly members will gather in the council chambers downtown with up to 8 audience members. All people participating in person must wear a mask, in accordance with current CBJ guidelines. The meeting will also be broadcast via Zoom and through a Facebook Livestream. Online meeting information is available on CBJ’s website in the CBJ’s agenda and minutes section.
Testing and vaccines
The city is urging anyone with even mild COVID symptoms, including the vaccinated, to get tested. Testing is available free of charge and by appointment through the city at the Hagevig Regional Fire Training Site in the Mendenhall Valley.
COVID-19 vaccine appointment information can be found online through https://juneau.org/covid-19/vaccine-information.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.