Angoon mayor issues mask order following first coronavirus case in Kake

An aerial image of Angoon shows buildings on a small peninsula next to several other inlets.
Angoon, pictured here in 2017, is home to about 460 people. (Photo by KCAW Raven Radio)

Following Monday’s news of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Kake, the neighboring Southeast community of Angoon is now requiring face coverings in most public places.

Angoon Mayor Joshua Bowen issued an emergency order on Monday, Aug. 10 requiring face coverings or masks in public buildings, businesses and churches as well as public outdoor spaces where social distancing is difficult to maintain. That includes the ferry terminal and the Alaska Seaplanes base, which provide the only links to the rest of the state.

Read more stories of how the coronavirus is affecting rural Alaska

The order does not apply to members of the same household or when employees can maintain six-foot distancing from one another in an office building. There are also exceptions for children under two and people who can’t wear masks because of health issues or disabilities.

Bowen said he’d been thinking about issuing the order for a while.

“I’ve had it ready to put out for a little while now, but I’ve just been counting on people to do the right thing and to wear their mask without being mandated to do so,” he said.

The tipping point came earlier in the day when a resident of the nearby community of Kake tested positive for the coronavirus. The village’s local tribe, the Angoon Community Association, already was strongly encouraging face coverings, and over the weekend an Alaska Marine Highway System employee on the ferry LeConte tested positive. The LeConte services the small Admiralty Island village of around 450 people.

How the order will be enforced is a question that many communities with mask requirements have faced, especially in places with limited local law enforcement like Angoon. The order doesn’t allow private citizens to harass other citizens who aren’t wearing masks.

“That’s the not fun part of these things,” Bowen said. “Enforcement.”

Bowen said the city can issue a five-hundred dollar fine for non-compliance, but he doesn’t plan to do so unless absolutely necessary. He said public feedback has been positive so far, and they haven’t had any major issues.

The city used CARES Act funds to make and distribute masks to all residents a few months ago, and the tribe has some available and is making more.

“The Angoon Community Association actually ordered a bunch of sewing machines and materials, and they will be going into production of masks here very soon,” Bowen said.

Angoon is also considering requiring all incoming travelers to self-quarantine upon arrival, something they’ll discuss at an upcoming city council meeting.

The order is in effect until September 15 or until rescinded by the city council. There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Angoon.