Wrangell back under face mask ordinance through April 30

Face masks are required in all indoor public spaces until 11:59 p.m. April 30 under an emergency ordinance approved unanimously by the borough assembly Saturday morning as the city responds to the COVID-19 breakout in town.

The community tallied 16 cases April 8-16.

“This is the highest number by double we’ve ever had active in Wrangell at any one time,” Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen told the assembly.

In addition to protecting public health, the outbreak is hurting the town’s economy, Von Bargen said. The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium has canceled its quarterly meeting, which was scheduled for Wrangell, and the Wrangell Medical Center open house also has been canceled, she said.

“That’s money out of the pockets of our business people,” the manager said.

It’s important that the community stop the spread of the Coronavirus before more people come to town and more events start up next month, she said.

“Let’s see if we can do a two-week push to help arrest the spread,” Von Bargen said. “The least invasive way is a two-week reset of the mask mandate.”

Wrangell has ordered face masks twice the past year during the pandemic.

“If we dig deep right now, we probably should be able to shut this down,” Dr. Lynn Prysunka, of SEARHC, told the assembly.

About 60% of eligible Wrangell residents have received at least their first vaccination shot, she said.

Before adopting the emergency ordinance, however, the assembly amended the measure to remove any fines, penalties or other enforcement mechanisms against people who refuse to wear a face mask when indoors in a public space.

The police chief confirmed that no one had been ticketed under previous mask orders. Police, when called, would talk with the person and explain the requirement, he said.

Removing even the possibility of a fine or other penalty might be more effective, Assembly Member Patty Gilbert said. “I’m just thinking this may make it more palatable to increase compliance,” she said.

Gilbert made the amendment to remove penalties from the ordinance. The amendment also said that no one should be harassed for either wearing or not wearing a mask.

Assembly Member Terry Courson said he knows of people who are tired of masking and other restrictions during the pandemic, and who arrive in town at the airport and “just blow off” the COVID-19 testing.

“It seems a manufactured hysteria, from my perspective,” Courson said of restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.

The amendment passed with only Mayor Stephen Prysunka voting no. Police need the option so that they can talk with people who are not wearing a mask in a public space, he said.


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