When the Sitka Assembly meets tonight (7-29-21), it will tackle three emergency COVID-19 proposals.
The first is a mask mandate: It would require masks in public spaces, including businesses like grocery stores and restaurants, public transportation, and childcare facilities. Those who don’t mask could be subjected to a $50 dollar fine, but businesses wouldn’t be fined for customers not masking, as long as they had clear signage that required masking in the establishment. The ordinance also includes exceptions, including children under 2 and those with a medical reason.
When the Assembly considered a mandate last year, it was met with more resistance from the public than support. But given the recent COVID surge, the group is under more public pressure to consider it. At its regular meeting on Tuesday, during a “government to government” check-in, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska presented the Assembly with a resolution asking that they enact a mask mandate.
“We’ve been in crisis mode for the last few weeks with more illnesses and hospitalizations than ever before with this illness. And yes, it has hit people who’ve been vaccinated, but it’s hit the unvaccinated among us even harder. And more importantly, it’s hitting the most vulnerable among the elderly and the kids who are too young to be vaccinated yet,” said Tribal Council Vice Chair Dionne Brady-Howard when she presented the resolution to the Assembly.
“We also know that some of us may have a base who places a heavy emphasis on their own freedoms,” she continued. “But in respecting that emphasis on that one concept, we’re neglecting a concept that’s more important than that–our responsibility to protect those among us who need it most.
The assembly is also going to consider options for quarantining visitors. With the first tourist season in two years, hotel occupancy is high for the rest of the summer. So there’s no easy answer for where to house non-residents who test positive for the virus and must quarantine for 10 days. The Assembly is considering renting two hotel or lodge rooms for use as needed on an emergency basis, to house COVID-positive non-residents. The visitors would be required to pay for the rooms, but if they’re left unused, it’s estimated to cost the city around $40,000 to keep them on retainer.
The Assembly will also consider offering $1000 grants to Sitkans who test positive for the virus and must quarantine for 10 days. A program that guaranteed emergency sick leave from the federal government expired at the end of last year, and this money is meant to supplement the income of Sitkans who can’t work due to quarantine or parents who must stay home to quarantine with a sick child. The money would come from the city’s General Fund, and it would be retroactive to July 1.
The Assembly meets to consider the three emergency COVID-19 ordinances tonight at 6 p.m. at Harrigan Centennial Hall.
Stream the meeting live here.