At Thursday’s meeting, the Emergency Services Council delayed indefinitely the prospect of creating a mandate that would limit the indoor capacity of businesses. The ESC had put off making a decision on that potentially divisive issue at its previous meeting.
The Emergency Services Council also decided to revise language in its new mask mandate to clarify that neither business managers nor building owners are not responsible for enforcing it.
The Emergency Services Council said at its Thursday meeting that it never intended for businesses to shoulder the enforcement burden, but some wording in the mandate implied that was the case, said City of Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson.
The controversy centered around the following sentence: “Businesses and building owners shall deny admittance to any individual who fails to comply with this regulation and shall require or compel removal of such individuals from the premises.”
“Are we now dictating everything that businesses should do if there are people not acting in ways that [the ESC] does not agree with?” USCG Base Kodiak Capt. Edward Hernaez said. “The Emergency Services Council mandates masks, but we shouldn’t get into the weeds of what private businesses should be doing beyond that mandate.”
The rest of the ESC seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
They unanimously agreed to rephrase portions of the mask mandate in order to unambiguously remove any responsibility of enforcement from businesses. The Emergency Services Council is doing everything it can to ease the burden of COVID-related safety restrictions from businesses.
Dan Rohrer, owner of Kodiak’s two Subways, is pleased with this decision. In the past, he instructed his staff to ask unmasked people to cover their faces and encourage them to wear masks, but leave them alone if they refuse to do so. This updated mandate will not change his operations.
“If people didn’t respond to our suggestion or ignored it, we let it go,” Rohrer said. “I don’t want to fight with my customers about anything they feel passionately about.”
During other conversation about the mask mandate during the ESC meeting, Meagan Christiansen, who handles special projects for the Kodiak Island Borough, raised the concern that some customers might respond violently if asked to leave because they were not wearing a mask. City Mayor Branson pointed out that “people can be violent whether there is a mask mandate or not.” Still, she argued in favor of changing the language.
The mask mandate originally had the support of many businesses because it gave them the ability to ask their customers to wear masks, according to Branson. Now people are telling her that they do not want to be forced to make people wear masks.
Branson did not know that this language was going to be in the original mask mandate before it was issued, she said at the meeting. She also said she was not aware that the mandate was going to take effect immediately — she thought that businesses would have a weekend to make changes.
Rohrer said he wished that had been the case. At the City Council work session on Tuesday, he voiced his concern that the Emergency Services Council was too far removed from the public. Later, he told the KDM that having even a day to comply with a new mandate would have made it easier. Branson advocated for clearer communication between the ESC and other government agencies, as well as with the public, in the future.
As of Thursday, the ESC said there were 81 known, active cases of COVID on Kodiak. That is down significantly from Aug. 26, the day before the mask mandate was implemented, when there were 123 known, active cases.
A total of 13 cases were diagnosed on Wednesday. Eleven of them were the result of close-contact with an infected individual, and two were the result of community spread. According to the Emergency Operations Center, close contact is the leading cause of transmission on Kodiak.
Bill Roberts, mayor of the Kodiak Island Borough, is expecting a slight bump in cases in the near future as a result of spread that may have occurred over the holiday weekend. Despite this, the Emergency Services Council decided against passing any sort of mandate that would limit the number of people who could be physically present within a business, school, church or other gatherings. Last week, the ESC had deferred making a decision about this matter.
Although there is no way of knowing why the rate of COVID spread has decreased, Mike Tvenge, director of Kodiak Area Emergency Services and the city manager, believes there is a good chance that the mask mandate impacted this. Since the mandate is, ostensibly, still in place, the Council does not feel that they need to create any other regulations.