Alaska News

Seward unanimously passes mask mandate as Palmer continues to weigh its own order amid public criticism

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The City of Seward this week enacted a mask mandate that goes into effect Wednesday. Meanwhile, leaders in Palmer are weighing a mandate of their own amid a flood of public comments, many strongly opposed.

Seward, a community of about 2,800 on the Kenai Peninsula with about 150 total COVID-19 cases since March, implemented a 30-day mask mandate in July during a coronavirus outbreak associated in part with downtown bars. An outpouring of public testimony at the time was mostly negative.

New cases are starting to pick up again. The city reported five new cases Tuesday.

The city council enacted the mandate ordinance Monday night with a unanimous vote, according to city clerk Brenda Ballou. Public testimony was mostly in favor.

Ballou in an email said the council’s support for the mandate was prompted by “concerns about the rising cases across the state, wanting to get the students back in school, wanting to get the sports programs going again.”

The ordinance requires a mask or covering over nose and mouth in buildings open to the public when they cannot maintain 6 feet of space between themselves and individuals outside their household. It exempts children 4 and younger, people with trouble breathing or with a medical condition that prevents them from covering their nose and mouth.

Palmer, a city of about 7,300 in Mat-Su, has had more than 700 cases reported in residents since March, with cases increasing starting in September. Mat-Su is in the midst of a surge in cases.

[Distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine could begin in just a few weeks. Here’s what we know about Alaska’s plans.]

Palmer’s city council met last week to take testimony on a proposed mandate but delayed the decision until Wednesday evening after receiving a deluge of hundreds of comments, many opposed.

Dozens of people, many not wearing masks, testified for several hours after waiting outside in the cold. Another 500 emails still remain to be read into the record by the city clerk Wednesday. Many are also in opposition. People were also expected to testify about the mandate at a regular city council meeting Tuesday evening.

The city council meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday to continue last week’s meeting on the mandate.

A 6-1 vote is needed for approval.

If approved, Palmer’s emergency ordinance would require masks or face coverings in all indoor public settings or communal spaces outside the home, at outdoor gatherings, and outside when it’s impossible to maintain 6 feet of distance from non-household members.

It would become effective immediately and last no more than 60 days.