Assembly passes emergency mask, travel ordinances

In response to new COVID-19 cases in town, and with 85 reported cases in Petersburg in the past two weeks, the Wrangell Borough Assembly adopted three emergency ordinances by wide margins Tuesday night, including reinstating a community mask mandate.

The ordinances also require COVID-19 testing for interstate and intrastate travelers to Wrangell.

The community had two active cases as of Tuesday, Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen told the assembly.

Petersburg had 65 active cases as of Tuesday evening.

The mandates drew strong opinions from members of the public who spoke during the meeting. Of the seven people who spoke, four voiced opposition to the emergency ordinances and three voiced support. Mayor Steve Prysunka said the city had received numerous letters from the public on the ordinances, as well.

Common arguments against the ordinances, in particular the mask mandate, were that they are government overreach and would further divide an already divided community. Opponents also said the mandates are unnecessary, as Wrangell has had so few cases.

DJ McConachie said he saw no reason for Wrangell to worry just because there were problems "over there" in other communities.

Morgan Sanford said he did not want to see any of his liberties taken away. "You treat us all like we're stupid and unable to take responsibility for our own actions," Sanford said.

On the other end of the argument, several community members voiced support for the ordinances. Common arguments were that the ordinances would help keep the public safe and help get the community back to normal faster.

Valerie Massie said the mask mandate would help keep the economy moving through the pandemic by limiting the spread of the virus and helping avoid business or facility closures.

Zach Taylor, who operates the tour business Muddy Water Adventures and bus company Taylor Transportation, said all of his sources of income have been hurt by the pandemic. What Wrangell's economy really needs is an influx of independent travelers during the tourist season, he said. If the pandemic is not kept under control, that will not happen.

"If what happens in Ketchikan and Petersburg happens here ... we're not going to have any independent travelers," Taylor said.

The mask mandate requires everyone, with some exceptions, to wear a mask or other face covering while indoors in public settings, including grocery stores, restaurants, public transportation, offices and other locations.

Exceptions to the mandate, among others, include people with medical conditions that wearing a mask would exacerbate, people exercising and those performing an activity that cannot be done safely with a mask on.

Violators could be fined $25.

The mask mandate will sunset April 13 unless ended early or extended by the assembly. The mayor said the assembly could review any or all three mandates at any time if members felt they were no longer needed.

"I do believe that a mask helps mitigate the spread of COVID," said Assembly Member Patty Gilbert. "It's one of the least things that we can do for our community."

The other two ordinances adopted by the assembly require COVID-19 tests for out-of-state and in-state travelers.

All persons coming into Wrangell must complete a travel declaration form and self-isolation plan on the Alaska Travel Portal, Alaska residents and non-residents must follow one of several options outlined in the ordinances.

The three testing options are:

The traveler can submit proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure for Wrangell.

The traveler can submit proof that a test was taken within 72 hours of departure, and socially distance until the results come in. The traveler should also take a second test within two weeks of arrival.

The traveler can be tested at the airport, socially distance until results come in, and take a second test within two weeks of arrival.

There is an exception for Alaska residents, who can choose to quarantine for two weeks instead of testing.

A traveler will not need to obtain a test if they provide proof of a positive COVID-19 test within 90 days of departure and they currently exhibit no symptoms of the virus.

Everyone arriving in Wrangell, whether by plane or boat, will be able to use the airport testing site for free. The testing is scheduled to run through June.

The travel ordinances, like the mask mandate, are scheduled to sunset April 13 unless terminated earlier or extended by the assembly.

"It's just one more way for us to be sure we're catching the virus," Von Bargen said.


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