Juneau Assembly passes emergency mask mandate, effective immediately

Traffic moves down Marine Way past Juneau City Hall on Sept. 25, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)
Traffic moves down Marine Way past Juneau City Hall on Sept. 25, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Updated Post — 8:10 p.m. by Adelyn Baxter, KTOO

During a special meeting Monday night, the Juneau Assembly passed an emergency ordinance mandating face coverings in public. The mandate takes effect immediately and lasts for 90 days, unless the Assembly decides to end it earlier. It includes exemptions for people with hearing or breathing issues and young children.

Twenty-two people testified during the public hearing for the ordinance. More than half were in favor of a mask mandate.

Juneau resident Chris Sperry is a member of the Alaska Pharmacists Association. He said scientific evidence clearly supports masks as a means of limiting the spread of COVID-19.

“This is a very simple thing. We don’t have medication for this disease. We do have masks,” he said. “So I am pleading with you to please approve this, to have an ordinance where masks are required.”

Kelly Fishler testified against the ordinance, saying face masks can be triggering for victims of sexual assault and will cause people with breathing issues who choose not to wear them to be bullied.

“I have been harassed, already, in town by people that had no idea what was going on,” she said.

The Assembly passed the ordinance unanimously. Several members said they felt mandating face coverings was the best way to keep businesses open and make it safe for schools to reopen next month.

Juneau has seen relatively few serious cases of COVID-19. But a recent outbreak at a local seafood processor was on many people’s minds during Monday’s special assembly meeting.

Mayor Beth Weldon, who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 earlier this summer, said she did not want to mandate masks. But she said she felt it was the best course of action considering the fears expressed by the public that increasing cases could force businesses to close again.

“In order not to close the businesses, increase the community transmission, I would reluctantly vote for this,” she said.

Weldon asked the community not to shame people for not wearing masks. The city will not require anyone with a disability or health condition exempted under the ordinance to carry proof with them.

The ordinance says people are allowed to remove face coverings to eat and drink, and that violators will be subject to fines of up to $25.

Original Post — 5:00 p.m. by Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO

The Juneau Assembly is taking public testimony this evening on two hot-button issues in two separate meetings.

First, the Assembly will consider imposing a public mask mandate through an emergency ordinance. Public testimony on that ordinance will happen during a special meeting that’s set to begin at 5:30 p.m.

The emergency mask ordinance needs at least six of the nine members of the Assembly to vote “yes” for it to pass. It would take effect immediately, and last for up to 90 days.

If the emergency ordinance fails, a parallel, non-emergency version is on tonight’s committee meeting agenda following the special meeting. It could advance to public hearing and final vote at the next regular Assembly meeting on Aug. 3. Regular ordinances require a simple majority to pass, but don’t take effect until 30 days after adoption.

With some exceptions, most people would be required to wear a face covering in public indoor spaces and communal spaces outside the home.

Separately, the Juneau School District adopted a mandatory mask policy for people at its facilities and events at a board meeting last week.

During the committee meeting, the Assembly is taking public testimony on an ordinance to establish a systemic racism review committee. That committee would review the city’s proposed ordinances and resolutions for systemic racism, and present potential fixes.

The Assembly is holding both meetings over Zoom video conference, and both will be streamed on the city’s Facebook page and on this post. Instructions on how to testify are available in the meeting packets.

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