In response to vaccine rates, Juneau officials are relaxing COVID-19 restrictions

A City & Borough of Juneau sign reads "Spread Kindness, Not COVID." Photographed Nov. 26, 2020, at Overstreet Park.
A City & Borough of Juneau sign reads “Spread Kindness, Not COVID.” Photographed Nov. 26, 2020, at Overstreet Park. (Jennifer Pemberton/KTOO)

Juneau officials are relaxing community restrictions and travel mandates intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The emergency rules about risk levels and community restrictions lapsed on April 24. The Juneau Assembly adopted new ones in an emergency measure on Monday.

It adds the community’s overall vaccination level as a factor in how city officials’ gauge risk. The more people get vaccinated, the more permissive things get when it comes to masks, social distancing and indoor gatherings.

Assembly member Wade Bryson was the only member to vote no.

“I am ready for this to expire,” Bryson said.

As amended, the new measure is set to expire at the end of July.

As of Monday, city officials estimate just under half of Juneau’s total population has been completely vaccinated. If it hits 50% and other risk factors stay stable, indoor gathering sizes will not be limited if everyone attending is fully vaccinated. Likewise, gyms and personal services could drop precautions if everyone in the facility is fully vaccinated.

Another emergency measure that requires strict social distancing and COVID-19 testing for travelers arriving in Juneau is also set to expire on May 1.

The Assembly considered adopting a new version that would no longer require strict social distancing and would let fully vaccinated travelers skip testing. But six members voted no, saying Juneau was out of step with much of the state and the country. Some members argued that it was confusing, would discourage independent travelers and hurt local businesses.

Only Alicia Hughes-Skandijs and Christine Woll voted yes. They said collecting the test results data was valuable and wasn’t much of an ask.

Woll also had kids in mind.

“You know, we do still have a segment of our community who can’t get vaccinated, which are our youth,” Woll said. “And until our youth can get vaccinated, I’m supportive of the measures that can help keep them safe as we see more visitors show up here this summer.”

After the city’s current travel mandates expire, testing at airports is still expected to be an option.

In other news, the Assembly decided to hold the next municipal election in October by mail again, due to ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic. 

However, Mayor Beth Weldon did say the Assembly would hold its next regular meeting in person. 

“May 24, we will meet in person as an Assembly. And the clerk’s office and I are working out the particulars, but you all know where you’re sitting on the dais,” Weldon said.  

It would be the first time since April 20 last year