Pedestrians in downtown Juneau on Monday, July 20, 2020. The City and Borough of Juneau voted a mandate for cloth face-covering in public spaces at a special meeting Monday night. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Pedestrians in downtown Juneau on Monday, July 20, 2020. The City and Borough of Juneau voted a mandate for cloth face-covering in public spaces at a special meeting Monday night. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Masks are mandatory, city says

Assembly unanimously passed emergency ordinance

Cloth face coverings will be required in public following the passing of an emergency city ordinance.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed the ordinance unanimously Monday night after more than an hour of mixed public testimony.

The ordinance requires people to wear masks or cloth face coverings over their noses and mouths when indoors in public settings or communal spaces outside the home.

The ordinance also lists private facilities that must require masking, including bars and restaurants, with a limited exception while people are eating, and grocery and other retail stores. Exemptions to the mandate include children under 12 and those with health conditions complicated by wearing a mask.

Opponents of the mandate said even with rising cases, the number of hospitalizations and deaths haven’t gone up and the precautions already in place were working. Supporters, ultimately including all members of the Assembly, argued scientific evidence showed the effectiveness of masking and city officials have a responsibility to protect the public health.

Mayor Beth Weldon said she didn’t like mandating anything, but the current circumstances called for it.

“(Mandating) really rubs me wrong,” Weldon said. But more importantly, we have an increase of community transmission.”

A $25 fine is listed as the penalty for not wearing a mask, and the ordinance is in place for 90 days, according to the mandate’s text. The mandate went into effect immediately following its passage.

The issue of wearing a face mask is contentious politically, while some view it as a necessary step to limit the spread of COVID-19, others view it as an infringement on their personal freedoms. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has repeatedly said he doesn’t intend to issue a statewide mandate for cloth face coverings as some states have done.

At a July 13, press conference the governor said not infringing on people’s rights was important to him, and that he preferred to rely on individual initiative.

“I certainly don’t want to infringe on the rights of folks, that’s very important to me,” Dunleavy said at the press conference. “If we just did a few things every once in a while, if we step back just a little bit and start working on some of these mitigation approaches we did several months ago, we will get to as close to normal as possible. We don’t need to take draconian actions here in Alaska.”

Without a statewide mandate, some municipalities have passed their own requirements, most notably Anchorage, which has had a mask mandate in place since late June. In news releases, City and Borough of Juneau has characterized Juneau’s mandate as similar to Anchorage’s.

Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner previously told the Empire in an email, “local governments are permitted, in consultation with the state, to implement their own mandates.”

[Recommendations or regulations? Unions call for stricter COIVD-19 protections]

Over the weekend Juneau city officials announced a spike in cases stemming from an outbreak among employees at a seafood processing plant. On Sunday, the city announced 26 additional cases stemming from an original nine confirmed positive cases at the facility announced Friday. Those people were in isolation and city and state health officials are conducting contact investigations, a CBJ news release said.

Some states, such as California and Texas, have reversed course on their reopenings and governors have once again ordered businesses to close their doors. Dunleavy has said the initial hunker down period allowed the state to build up its health care capacity and is currently able to manage the spread of the virus.

When asked about mask mandates in the past, Dunleavy has cited the state’s low number of hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus as evidence of the state’s success. On Monday the state had a total of 1,563 active coronavirus cases, but only 29 were hospitalized, according to the state’s data hub. So far, 100 Alaskans have been hospitalized, according to state data, with one new hospitalization announced Monday.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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