Audio of the full meeting can be found by clicking here or by going to KSTK.org under the “Borough Assembly Meeting” section.
This post has been updated to reflect a change in the date of the assembly meeting at which the assembly will consider a possible mask mandate.
Wrangell’s assembly is now scheduled to debate an ordinance requiring masks to be worn indoors and in public spaces when social distancing is not possible.
Violators would be liable to pay a $25 fine.
The assembly heard more three hours of testimony Thursday night, from more than 20 members of the community, the Emergency Operations Center, the police department, and the city’s lawyer, about the intricacies and legality of an enforceable mask mandate.
Wrangell EOC and administration officials explained that case counts on every side of Wrangell continue to rise, and that a mask mandate is a preventative measure to avoid another economic lockdown, like the city experienced in the spring. Dorianne Sprehe heads Wrangell’s EOC.
“There are folks who will say even with masks, we can get there — to that point of having to close things down,” Sprehe said. “And this may be true. But what I think is wise, is that we try some preventative measures first, and then we can say we tried.”
Wrangell’s city attorney explained to the assembly that as a home-rule city, Wrangell has the authority to require masks.
Wrangell’s police chief says his officers would enforce the rule.
The majority of community members who spoke at the meeting spoke in favor of a mask mandate in Wrangell, including owners of two of the town’s three grocery stores. They referenced the desire to avoid an economic shutdown, scientific recommendations, and community protection.
Zach Taylor was among the rule’s supporters. He said he lost all of his income because of the shutdown in the spring and summer, and added that he wants the city to follow the prevailing science.
“I urge the assembly to follow the guidance of the leading doctors and scientists in the State and the Nation, whatever that may be,” Taylor stated Thursday. “[If] they say ‘Lock down and wear masks,’ So be it. If it’s ‘Throw away your mask and dance in the streets,’ so be it. So long as science and medicine is a deciding factor.”
Federal and state public health authorities strongly recommend masks that cover the nose and mouth when around people outside your bubble. That includes during vigorous physical activity, like jogging, where possible.
Community members who spoke against the mandate cited a variety of concerns, including a lack of clarity about when a mask mandate would be repealed, a perceived incongruity between Wrangell’s risk level and a possible mask requirement, personal freedom and legality.
Bruce Smith said he felt that it would be government overreach, and noted that masks have caused fiery controversy online.
“You also need to understand that if you make this mandate,” Smith explained, “there will be a group of empowered feeling citizens either personally confronting non mask-wearers, or calling the police on every violation seen. Neither one of those will end with a good outcome. Just look at Facebook for a sneak peek of what’s to come. If enforced, I can see where things may escalate to a point no one wants to be responsible for. Your decision here will make some happy, but will alienate and anger many others.”
Wrangell police recently investigated online threats against an employee in Wrangell’s EOC. No charges were filed.
And Wednesday morning, a few community members — who had not spoken at the meeting against a mask mandate — posted on local social media pages against the proposed mandate, reigniting Wrangell’s weeks-long social media debate about masks. The Assembly was originally slated to take up the issue at their upcoming meeting, but pushed back consideration of a possible mask mandate to allow for further consideration of public comment.
Borough Clerk Kim Lane said in an email that the assembly will consider a possible mandate at either a special meeting, or their upcoming regular meeting on December 8.
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