Concerned by the increasing number of coronavirus cases across Alaska, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly in Juneau on July 20, 2020, has passed an emergency ordinance that mandates wearing masks in certain indoor settings in public spaces and communal spaces outside the home. The Assembly voted unanimously for the ordinance to impose cloth face coverings in public to stop the spread of coronavirus after considering public testimony, both in person and by email, on the issue.
The ordinance will go into effect immediately and will last for 90 days until October 18, 2020, unless the Assembly amends it.
The ordinance was welcomed by those in favor of it, saying it is the government’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of the community. At the same time, opponents questioned the ordinance for interfering with personal freedoms and its effectiveness in controlling the community transmission.
The facilities and places that must require wearing a mask under the ordinance include bars and restaurants, grocery stores, retail stores, personal care facilities, public transportation, and other communal spaces. The ordinance requires employers to post signs stating mandatory mask-wearing and ensure that their employees have access to a mask.
However, the ordinance exempts people from wearing a mask while eating or drinking in a café, bar, or restaurant. It also exempts children and those who are medically uncomfortable to wear a mask.
The ordinance states that a fine of $25 will be imposed on people as the penalty for not wearing a mask, though the employers would not be fined if customers deny from wearing a mask. It also urges people to obey the ordinance and not abuse or harass those who do not.
Assembly Members Wade Bryson and Michelle Hale have supported the ordinance, stating mask requirement as the need of the hour. They also expressed concerns over the increasing number of COVID-19 cases with the recent COVID-19 outbreak reported at a local seafood processing plant, which got 38 people infected.
However, Governor Mike Dunleavy has opposed the statewide mandate for wearing masks, saying it would infringe people’s civil rights. Dunleavy stated that Alaska is doing good with a low number of hospitalizations and deaths related to coronavirus.
With this ordinance, Juneau has joined the list of Alaska communities, including Anchorage, Seward, and Valdez, that have also made wearing masks mandatory.