A sign reading "Masks Required" lies on the ground near a softball field at Melvin Park on Tuesday morning. In a community briefing, city officials clarified why the mask mandate changed last week and what to expect going forward. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Frequently masked questions: City shares information about when and where to wear one

Keep a mask in tow.

Vaccinated Juneau residents are free to shed their masks in most settings, the city said Friday. The abrupt policy change caught many people by surprise and left residents with masks tentatively poised in pockets and dangling around chins.

City officials aimed to add clarity to the new rules during a special-edition COVID-19 Community Update Tuesday afternoon.

“Please have patience. There is a moderated and disciplined way to work our way through the end of the pandemic. We need to be clear about what the changes mean,” said Rorie Watt, CBJ city manager. “It’s perfectly acceptable for vaccinated people to wear a mask. It’s still required in some places.”

Mila Cosgrove, deputy city manager and COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center incident commander, encouraged residents to keep masks handy.

“Keep your mask in tow, there may be times when local businesses or other situations call for a mask,” she said.

Both Cosgrove and Watt encourage unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“The quickest way to get out of a mask is to get vaccinated,” Cosgrove said.

She also urged COVID-19 testing at the slightest symptom, noting that testing helps city officials keep track of the number of people who are infected. People can set up a test by calling 586-6000.

A breath of fresh air

Why the change?

CBJ revised its COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies to reflect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance for fully vaccinated people. Federal officials say the change reflects mounting evidence that vaccinated people are protected from getting sick with COVID-19 and don’t spread it if they become infected.

Why now? Did the CBJ Assembly approve this change? When can unvaccinated people stop masking?

Anticipating that updated mask guidance may come from the CDC before the assembly could consider the matter, city assembly members voted to give the city manager the authority to make changes to mitigation strategies based on CDC guidance. The city announced the change the day after the CDC issued updated guidance.

Assembly members will ratify the decision — and hear public comment about it — at the May 24 assembly meeting.

The assembly is set to review the broader mask mandate, which is still in effect for non-vaccinated people, at the end of July.

New CDC guidelines: Vaccinated people can largely ditch masks

Can I go mask-free everywhere once I’m vaccinated?

No. Masks are required for everyone — fully vaccinated or not — in certain settings. Based on CDC guidelines and the city’s mitigation plans, masks are still required on Capital Transit, at the Juneau International Airport, in all school district buildings and grounds and at Bartlett Regional Hospitals and other health care settings. Per CDC guidance, masks are also needed in prisons and homeless shelters. In addition, local businesses or workplaces may require masks.

Could the mask mandate return?

Yes. CBJ’s mitigation plans are flexible and can change as conditions change. If infections rise to certain levels, masks and social distancing can be required again.

How do I know if I am fully vaccinated?

Full vaccination is achieved two weeks after receiving the final vaccine dose.

How do I get a vaccine?

Vaccines are available at pharmacies, local pop-up clinics, and from healthcare providers. There is no charge to receive a vaccine. More information is available online at juneau.org/vaccine.

The Juneau Public Health Center is holding two COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine clinics this week – Wednesday, May 19 and Thursday, May 20 – from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then, starting next Thursday, May 27, Public Health will hold a clinic every Thursday through July offering the Pfizer or the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. All clinics welcome walk-ins or appointments.

A drive-thru clinic will take place Saturday, May 22, from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the former CBJ Household Hazardous Waste facility, 5436 Commercial Blvd. Both Pfizer and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available at the clinic.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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