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Despite some community pushback, city councilors extend Unalaska’s mask mandate

Unalaska city hall sept 2021
Theo Greenly
/
KUCB
Council members voted 5-1 in favor of extending the city's mask requirement. While the local coronavirus risk level remains in the “moderate” category, council members also took other things into account, like the shortage of hospital beds in Anchorage, and the increased number of people being medevaced off the island.

In a somewhat contentious City Council meeting Tuesday, councilors voted to keep Unalaska’s current mask mandate in place for the next two weeks.

The island currently has 40 positive COVID-19 cases — 15 of them community members, according to city officials.

While the local coronavirus risk level remains in the “moderate” category, council members also took other things into account, like the shortage of hospital beds in Anchorage, and the increased number of people being medevaced off the island.

“For the first year of the pandemic, I think we had two medevacs for the entire year. What we’ve seen with [the Delta variant] — we’ve had three medevacs in the last six weeks,” said Melanee Tiura, the clinic director at Iliuliuk Family and Health Services.

Approximately six of the community’s active cases are people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Tiura. She added that getting local patients admitted to hospitals in Anchorage has been a challenge.

Two members of the public spoke out against requiring face coverings, saying that masks were ineffective and burdensome to wear.

Jazzmyne Shapsnikoff, a local business owner and bartender, said her daily interactions with the public shows her a community that is hurt by the mandate.

“I call this the mask mandate meltdown ... I wouldn’t mind just putting it on in the grocery store. [But] six to eight hours in this, talking to people when you are muffled and nobody can understand or hear you, is very, very hard,” Shapsnikoff said.

Councilmember Daneen Looby recognized the discomfort of face coverings, but said they were better than more extreme measures like shutting down businesses.

“They don’t hurt anybody financially,” she said. “If we were to go to quarantining or closing businesses down, that puts people out of work. That affects people financially.”

But Looby did propose amending the resolution to simply encourage mask-wearing, rather than requiring it.

Councilmember Shari Coleman voted with Looby to lessen the requirement, but in the end, councilors approved the mask mandate 5-1, with only Looby voting against it.

Community-acquired COVID-19 cases have dropped significantly from the high of 30 reported on Sept. 1. That decline encouraged some members of the council that the masks are working.

Councilmember Darin Nicholson said he hoped that keeping masks in place for the next two weeks would continue to bring local cases down.

“If we go a little longer, we might be able to take care of the problem. People that are vaccinated are getting this. It’s not something that’s going to go away,” Nicholson said.

The mask requirement is set to expire in two weeks. Council members are expected to discuss the mandate at their next meeting on Sept. 28.

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