The Wrangell Assembly voted unanimously on Tuesday to declare a local emergency. The declaration gives the city manager and mayor broad authority to issue mandates restricting gatherings and other activities to prevent coronavirus from spreading in the community.
President Trump recommended Monday that people not gather in groups of 10 or more. The city has followed suit, ordering no gatherings of 10 or more people in public and private settings.
“If we’re going to issue an emergency order I say it should be all encompassing,” says Wrangell City Manager Lisa Von Bargen. She says a ban on gatherings should be blanket. For example, it wouldn’t apply to bars but not churches.
“And although for many this may be the perfect time to get together and pray, it’s probably not the safest thing to be doing,” Von Bargen says.
The order also states that food vendors can serve take-out but no dine-in options. Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued the same mandate for the same day.
Cases are increasing in Alaska. Six cases are confirmed, with one in Ketchikan.
Von Bargen says Wrangell police could enforce the city’s mandates.
“They have the ability to break up the gathering,” she says. “And two, they have the ability to charge people with a misdemeanor, if they are doing so intentionally, or they refuse to break up.”
The city also recommends those who have recently returned from out of state to self-quarantine for 14 days. The city has no authority to enforce this. But Mayor Steve Prysunka says he is two days deep into voluntary two-weeks of isolation.
Wrangell Medical Center has three ventilators to treat people with respiratory problems, one of the most serious symptoms of coronavirus. Four or more patients with these ailments could overwhelm the hospital, and mean medevac assistance.
Assembly meetings will occur telephonically. The public can participate by calling in. Non-essential meetings have been canceled. The status could last for six months or until the feds and state lift their emergency orders.
Members of the Wrangell Assembly say they hoped the declaration could help the city leverage more federal and state resources. Though it’s unclear how or when that would happen.
This was updated March 18th at 11:15 AM.