Wrangell’s assembly will re-consider the city’s mask mandate and public facility closures in response to the widening COVID-19 pandemic.
The assembly held a work session Tuesday evening to discuss the city’s COVID-19 mitigation measures. The three locals who commented at the meeting were divided, with two speaking out against perceived fear and reactionary governance, and another supporting a city-wide plan to take pressure off of businesses and services to enforce COVID mitigation on their own.
Wrangell Mayor Steve Prysunka said he understood restrictions on public life and business have been painful for the community.
“Nobody wants to see businesses close,” Prysunka said. “And I think the city has demonstrated over and over again, our desire to help businesses out with close to a million dollars in grants being given out and the amount of money we spent just trying to prop up businesses and the work that we did with our one operating cannery this year.”
But he added that certain precautions are necessary to protect people’s health, adding: “One of the things about the mask mandate that’s nice, is that even if somebody doesn’t quarantine, we still have that protective element there that the majority of people are wearing masks.”
Assembly member Terry Courson was one of the two assembly members who voted against the mask mandate. He added at Tuesday’s meeting that he feels that the ordinance violates the rights of Wrangell’s citizens. He indicated he would continue to oppose the mandate.
Assembly member Patty Gilbert strongly condemned division in town over the issue of masking and the science of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying: “In all reality, this assembly is not stifling anybody’s freedom. In reality, it’s a beautifully constructed particle with a protein coat and a small string of RNA genetic material that is stifling people’s freedom, and sometimes their ultimate freedom. It just pains me that we are fighting one another over a three by five inch piece of cloth over someone’s mouth and nose, and that people are construing that as restricting their freedom.”
City facilities were closed to the public on November 12. Assembly member Ryan Howe says he felt that was done too hastily and wanted to discuss alternatives.
“To just say: ‘Here’s a mask mandate, it’ll keep everybody safe,’ and yet shut down access to the pool and library in the Nolan Center seemed… fast for me,” Howe explained.
Mayor Prysunka told the assembly Tuesday that there have only been two calls to the police about mask non-compliance, and no tickets issued.
City Manager Lisa Von Bargen said the city expects to receive additional guidance from the Dunleavy administration at the three week mark since his emergency announcement, which would be Thursday, December 4.
The assembly will then consider direction from the EOC, along with any state guidance, and vote on extending a mask mandate at their regular meeting on December 8.
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