Wrangell’s City Hall, September 2020.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

As COVID-19 case counts skyrocket across Alaska, Wrangell’s assembly has agreed to consider a mandatory mask rule. But it won’t take up the issue until next week.

The assembly held a discussion Tuesday with officials from the state’s unified command, Department of Health and Social Services, and the Alaska Division of Homeland Security — covering PPE, emergency relief funds, hospital and medevac capacity, and the rapid spread of COVID in many Alaska communities.

Wrangell Fire Department Captain Dorianne Sprehe, who heads Wrangell’s EOC, asked the assembly on Tuesday to reconsider the current rule, which encourages — but does not require — people in public cover their faces indoors. 

“I feel like — we feel like it may be one of our options so we can keep these numbers low within our community,” Captain Sprehe said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I know that the governor says he supports local governments making local decisions for themselves, and that just puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the assembly and our local government. But we are in a position where we need to look out for the greater good of our community and get ahead of it. We’re looking at the YK region in just a crazy position right now, and I would really like to see Wrangell stay ahead of this however we can.”

She’s referring to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta including Bethel, which is seeing one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus spread in the country

Wrangell’s mayor Steve Prysunka expressed his worry that the city has potential for a serious outbreak that would strain Southeast’s already-limited medical resources.

“We haven’t done an official survey,” Mayor Prysunka explained, “but my little unofficial survey sitting outside the grocery store watching patrons go in — we’re less than 20% compliancy with masks. I think there is exhaustion, but for us, also, there’s just a belief that it’s not going to hit you. The irony is that the folks that get hit become the largest advocates for wearing masks and social distancing. I’ve seen that twice now in our community; where somebody’s loved one got very sick and had to medevac’d out and then all of a sudden they were huge advocates for the masks and social distance.”

Federal and state public health authorities both strongly recommend wearing masks that cover the nose and mouth when around people outside your bubble. That includes during vigorous physical activity, where possible

Wrangell has had 20 cases of COVID-19 since March, with no new cases since mid-September. 

The assembly will hear public comment and discuss options for a mask mandate at 6 p.m. on November 5. Interested community members can sign up to make statements by calling city hall at (907) 874-2381 or emailing the borough clerk: clerk@wrangell.com.

Get in touch with KSTK at news@kstk.org or (907) 874-2345.