Since the start of the COVID pandemic, members of the City Council have been given the option to meet virtually through a mayoral emergency order that needs to be renewed every month.

At the Oct. 28 City Council meeting, some people questioned the relevance of this emergency order and if it was time to lay it to rest. Surrounding this discussion — and others like it — is the question: Are things in Kodiak back to “normal,” or as normal as they can be?

During the public comments section of the Oct. 26 City Council Work Session, resident Dan Beehler argued that Kodiak is no longer in a state of emergency. His evidence? The Emergency Services Council has not met in over a month, which means that things have passed the point of disaster.

Kodiak resident Betty McTavish, who showed up to both the City Council Work Session and regular meeting last week to protest mask mandates, also believes the emergency order should lapse. Her argument is that there is no way to ensure that people are engaged.

Councilman John Whiddon voted against renewing the Emergency Order, but for different reasons than the ones articulated by McTavish. Whiddon said that if people felt comfortable going to work in person, they should feel comfortable going to meetings in person. There are social distancing measures at City Council meetings and a mask mandate in place so it is a safe environment to be in, he said.

Whiddon believes that there should be exceptions for people who are genuinely sick or if someone is traveling, but if that is not the case then there is little reason not to show up.

“As a general rule, we need to attend in public,” Whiddon said. “I don’t think the dynamic is the same when we are attending virtually. As for the public. ... I understand the intent (of the emergency order), but I believe that the public expects us to be here.”

Despite Whiddon’s remarks, the rest of the council voted in favor of extending the emergency order, and the motion passed 5-1.

“Let’s attend in person if we can and if we choose to,” Councilman Terry Haines said. “If we’re talking about freedom here and not being tyrannized, then I think that at this time, right now, we are at a high level (of COVID cases). ... That is an atmosphere with danger. If folks want to participate in these meetings virtually, that is their choice.”

There were 71 known, active COVID cases in Kodiak as of Monday, according to Emergency Operations Center data. The EOC judged that the island is at a “medium risk level” because of the number of active cases.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services determined that Kodiak is at “high alert.” The DHSS came to this conclusion using its own COVID reports which vary from the ones put forward by the Emergency Operations Center.

The number of COVID have been generally decreasing since early October, according to numbers reported by the Emergency Operations Center. In fact, between Oct. 15 and last Friday, the number of reported COVID cases in Kodiak dropped by 36%.

Still, Kodiak is not in the clear. One person was hospitalized this weekend for problems associated with COVID and one person remained hospitalized with COVID as of Monday, according to numbers reported by the Emergency Operations Center. In total, 90 people have been hospitalized locally with COVID or COVID-related ailments since the start of the pandemic, and nine local people have died for reasons related to COVID, according to the EOC. 

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 2,634 known cases of COVID on the island, meaning that about one in five people on the island have been infected with COVID at some point. 

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