The Ketchikan City Council at its regular meeting Thursday will consider a new ordinance that would mandate the wearing of face masks in public.
The ordinance was proposed by Council Member Sam Bergeron at the June 18 council meeting.
Bergeron explained his reasoning at that meeting.
“I think, in light of a lot of what’s going on with the increased traffic from the Lower 48, the spike in the COVID cases, that I would like to bring an emergency ordinance forward for the first meeting in July to discuss wearing face masks in public places,” he said. “I think that everything we’ve read, everything that we see points to that, if all of us wore face masks, the spread of COVID-19 would be drastically reduced.”
He continued, “I have a daughter that’s an emergency room nurse, I have a brother who’s got cancer, I’ve got a sister who’s got 15% lung capacity and all we have to do to really help those people out as a community is wear a damn face mask, and when I go to the store and I go to other public places, there are people who are not wearing face masks.”
The draft emergency ordinance developed by City Attorney Mitch Seaver would apply to all public areas within the city limits, according to a memo included in the council meeting agenda. It would be effective from 8 a.m. July 12 through Nov. 1 “unless earlier extended by the Council by ordinance or rescinded by a motion of the Council.” It will require a minimum of five affirmative votes to satisfy City Charter rules.
Face masks, according to the draft ordinance, must “completely and snugly cover the person’s nose and mouth when the person is in public and cannot easily maintain a continuous distance of at least six feet from all other persons.”
The draft ordinance defines “in public” as “any place, indoors or outdoors, other than a person’s own home (including residing in a domestic abuse shelter) which includes, but is not limited to, businesses or other establishments or locations where people congregate or members of the general public may enter; offices; public buildings; highways; parks; motor vehicles, watercraft and public transportation, including taxicabs and ride sharing.”
Several exemptions are listed, including children under the age of 5, and persons with medical or mental health conditions or disabilities that would prevent the wearing of a face covering. Hearing impaired people who rely on seeing faces and mouths to understand language also would be exempt.
People who are dining at a restaurant would be exempt, as long as they can maintain a distance of six feet from other patrons not in their households. Also exempt would be people in a household group who are in public, as long as they can maintain six feet of distance from non-household members.
Also exempt would be persons who are working, recreating or exercising outdoors as long as the six-feet of distance from non-household members is maintained, as would be persons who are swimming or those who are incarcerated.
The penalty for not complying with the ordinance could be, upon conviction, a $500 fine.
At the June 18 council meeting, Bergeron further explained his position.
“I don’t think you need a face mask when you’re hiking or you’re walking down the street,” he said. “We need to do more than just go ‘You know, you really should wear your face mask,’ I think that we need to mandate it. States and cities are starting to do this across the country.”
Council member Mark Flora, in light of a discussion at the June 18 meeting with Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center Incident Commander Abner Hoage about the more than 100 people arriving daily at the airport, expressed support for considering the adoption of the proposed ordinance.
“Like it or not, this looks like the risk that we’re going to take on as we open back up, and I think the community needs to be aware of it,” Flora said. “Perhaps it speaks to Council Member Bergeron’s ordinance that he’s going to propose.”
There also was discussion about the impossibility of tracking people who arrive to town and are expected to self-quarantine while they wait for coronavirus test results.
“This whole thing about self isolation and all that — it’s all on the honor system,” Bergeron said. “I mean, there’s no one checking you.”
Ketchikan City Mayor Bob Sivertsen suggested at the meeting that staff research the possibility of supplying masks to highly trafficked locations in the city to help citizens comply with the ordinance.
In an email to Ketchikan City Manager Karl Amylon written on June 23, Hoage said the EOC has about 4,000 masks “which could be made available to the public.”
He also recommended they be distributed to “various public facilities where hand sanitizer refill stations are located,” as well as at the large grocery and department stores.
Bergeron further explained his stance on the proposed ordinance.
“I think that face masks throughout the country and throughout the world are going to be what we’re going to need to do. If we want to get back into the cruise line business, if we want to have a school and we want to control the outbreaks, we need to do what we all know that we can do to prevent this.
“It’s kind of like having a car wreck and then you’re in the ditch and you’re bleeding and you’re dying and you reach over and strap on your seatbelt. We all know we should have been wearing the seatbelt before the car wreck and this is the same thing.”
Bergeron added that from his observation, community members have been loosening their adherence to safety precautions such as wearing face masks.
He summarized, at the meeting, “I’m in favor of mandating masks. That means that everybody that goes to the grocery store, goes to places that I frequent, are protecting me and everybody else around them as am I doing every time I go in. I think it’s reasonable, I think that we’re in a worldwide crisis and if we do this, we are doing our part.
“I would like the ordinance to go forward and then have a discussion,” Bergeron said.
The City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, at the Ted Ferry Civic Center. A maximum of 50 attendees will be allowed and chairs will be set six feet apart. Attendees will be asked to sign in at the door, and pens will be sanitized between users. Other surfaces also will be properly sanitized. Paper masks also will be available for use by attendees, and all people at the meeting will be encouraged to wear masks.
The meeting can be viewed live via the KPU television service as well as on the City of Ketchikan website at http://www.ktn-ak.us/current-agendas-and-minutes or on the City of Ketchikan Facebook page.