With more than 50 cases, Seward renews business restrictions, mask mandate

Seward Harbor (Alaska Public Media file photo)

Seward is keeping its emergency coronavirus restrictions in place for now after another jump in cases.

At its meeting Monday night, the Seward City Council debated increasing capacity for restaurants, city-owned campgrounds, and the size of gatherings from 10 to 20 people. Mayor Christy Terry and council member Sue McClure told the council they originally drafted it up to continue the emergency declaration, as the original was set to expire, and had put together the percentage guidelines based on the low case numbers over the last few weeks.

But Seward saw several large outbreaks last week, including one at a seafood plant owned by OBI Seafoods that ultimately infected nearly 100 people. Eleven of them were Seward residents who are quarantining at home. Seward, which has a population of just under 3000, had reported 56 resident cases as of Monday, 44 of which are active, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

The initial ordinance proposed Monday would have increased restaurants, bars and stores to 75% capacity and city campgrounds to 50%. Councilmember Julie Crites proposed amending the percentage in restaurants, bars and retail stores back to 50%, saying she didn’t feel comfortable going forward with that increase. She noted that the increase in cases over the last two weeks could affect schools, too.

“I think that going back up to 75% capacity at this point is not a great idea,” Crites said. “I would have to say the past two weeks, we definitely have exceeded even what the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has in place for kids to return to school.”

McClure said she and Terry worked on the language of the ordinance prior to the most recent outbreaks. Terry says one thing to consider is the impact on businesses who are trying to make it heading into the winter, especially with a depressed tourist season.

“I know everybody loves to say, ‘Follow the money,’ but let’s follow the money to our friends and neighbors, and our small businesses who are trying to make a living with downturn in tourism,” she said. “And I understand we are clearly in a health emergency and a pandemic, but there are also other ramifications that we are going to be looking at this winter.”

Other council members, including John Osenga and Tony Baclaan, said they’d like to keep the restrictions in place the way they are right now, as they can always be amended in the future. Terry says she has heard from the medical community that the main thing they want to see the city do is keep a mask mandate for indoor spaces in place.

The council passed the amended ordinance unanimously, keeping the emergency declaration in place in Seward. Most of the comments submitted in writing to the council prior to the meeting objected to the requirement for masks in indoor public spaces in the city rather than the capacity limits, saying the city should allow people to take the risks they want to take. Under the new ordinance, the mask requirement remains in place.

The state reported two new resident cases in Seward on Monday.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.