Wrangell City Hall, December 2020.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Wrangell’s Assembly let the community’s mask mandate lapse on Tuesday. 

Wrangell Mayor Steve Prysunka cited a lack of direction from Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has declined to initiate a state-wide mask requirement — or provide a state update — just weeks after sending out a widespread cellphone alert warning Alaskans of rising infection rates and strained hospital resources. 

“I was waiting for the governor to come back and give us an update, to say: ‘Hey, great job,’ or ‘Wow, not good,’ or whatever,” Prysunka explained at Tuesday’s meeting. “But he’s AWOL on this. He’s not showing up to discuss it at all.”

The assembly had passed an emergency ordinance on Nov. 12 requiring masks in indoor public spaces. The city administration closed all municipal buildings to the public the same day. 

Assembly member Patty Gilbert echoed the mayor’s point that local governments have been waiting for stronger leadership from the state leaders, saying: “If we’re not going to get any backing — as I suspected we would — from the governor, at least some indication at the end of his emergency caution that he issued that expired December 7, then I’m in favor of — Wrangell residents know what the options are. And they are well informed of what could happen if they did succumb to this.” 

As the assembly declined to reconsider a mask mandate, Wrangell’s city administration indicated it would follow suit, allowing most city facilities to reopen to the public as of this morning (December 9). The Nolan Center will reopen on Friday (December 11), and host an indoor holiday market on Saturday, December 19. 

Requiring masks indoors has been a contentious topic in Wrangell. At last week’s meeting, though, a majority of elected leaders had expressed support for extending Wrangell’s mask mandate. 

Assembly member Anne Morrison stated she hopes that people will continue to mask up with or without being compelled to by a local ordinance. 

“I think the community by and large is advocating them taking control of — self control,” Morrison said during the assembly discussion. “Most people that I’ve talked to who wear masks say no matter whether the mandate is removed or not, they’re going to continue to do it. They’re going to do it out of concern for their own health and other people’s health. And that’s that’s the way it should be. So I think the fact that we got no backing from the state on our mandate — Yeah, I think it’s just not a good thing to keep on the books.”

Wrangell had previously formally recommended people wear masks. That softer ordinance — which had no enforcement mechanism — expired on November 10. The CDC and state public health officials continue to recommend that people wear a mask when coming into contact with anyone outside their household. 

As of now, in Wrangell, following state and federal health advice on wearing a mask indoors will be a personal choice.  

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