Juneau Assembly passes emergency mask mandate

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

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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.

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“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.