Juneau brings back penalty for violating COVID safety rules

A sign in Juneau reminding people about mask and physical distancing requirements. (Bridget Dowd/KTOO)

A lot of people turned out at Juneau’s special Assembly meeting last week to comment on the proposal to extend the city’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Most of those opposed were upset over an added penalty for those who don’t comply with mask mandates or other policies.

When the Assembly voted to extend the safety measures, they also approved the use of a $25 fine for violators. While that was alarming to some, Juneau Emergency Manager Robert Barr said the city’s had it in place before. 

“The penalty section has been there in every iteration of the strategies so far, except for the last one,” he said.

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By the last one, he means the set of strategies that expire at the end of October. But, even though the penalty has been an option in the past, no fines were ever issued. Barr said 90% of the time, just educating people about the policy and reminding them to follow it, is all that’s necessary.

“But those conversations with people about complying with the mitigation strategies were a little bit more challenging to have when we didn’t have that enforcement option,” Barr said.

That’s why city officials asked the Assembly to put the penalty section back in, which led to a debate between Assembly members, like Michelle Hale, during last week’s meeting. 

“I’m really torn by this,” Hale said. “I understand what staff is saying about the advantage of having the penalty. I’ve also spoken with a lot of people today and gotten a lot of information from people who really feel that the penalty goes too far.”

Hale said most of the city’s transmission had been at private gatherings and among families, where a compliance officer wouldn’t be going anyway.

The city also has civil enforcement options for businesses that don’t comply, but those steps have never been used either. The city says if anyone would like to report non-compliance, they can email covidquestions@juneau.org.

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