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Alaska News

Juneau Assembly unanimously approves mask mandate

The statue of William Henry Seward wears a cloth mask in front of the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — The local government of Alaska’s capital city voted unanimously to mandate masks be worn indoors in public spaces to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Juneau’s mandate, modeled after the one imposed in Anchorage and passed as an emergency ordinance, allows $25 fines for noncompliance. Removing a mask briefly “to eat, drink, or scratch an itch” does not violate the mandate, and the ordinance also states that residents should not harass people who do not wear a mask.

The mandate lasts for 90 days unless canceled early or extended by the Assembly. It is the second mask mandate in the city’s history: The Assembly voted in 1918 to require masks amid the Spanish influenza epidemic of that year, with a $21 fine for violators.

Mask mandates are relatively rare among Alaska cities. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said he opposes a statewide mandate and prefers to leave the issue up to local officials.

Speaking Monday night, members of Juneau’s elected Assembly said they were concerned by rising case counts statewide and the recent revelation of an outbreak at a local seafood processing plant, where 38 people have been diagnosed with the virus.

“I think we’ve reached a point that we have to take action so that we don’t allow the spread,” said Assembly member Wade Bryson, who announced at the meeting that his father was recently diagnosed with COVID-19.

Public testimony in person and by email was mostly in favor of the mandate.

Mayor Beth Weldon, who has recovered from a mild case of COVID-19, said she was “personally not in favor of mandating anything,” but she heard significant public testimony in favor of a mandate and was swayed by the argument that harsher public health restrictions should be required if disease spread is not reduced.

“I’ve had a lot of people say to me, we just don’t want to go back to hunkering down,” she said.

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