Two Bethel City Councilmembers Go Maskless After Voting For Policy That Requires Masks At Meetings
On Tuesday, July 13, Bethel City Council held its first in-person meeting open to the public in nearly a year. Two council members were not wearing masks. During the prior meeting, both had voted for guidelines that require masks during meetings.
During the July 13 meeting, Councilmember Mark Springer arrived wearing his mask, and then removed it to eat and drink. He kept the mask off for an extended period of time after finishing his snack. Councilmember Perry Barr arrived at the meeting not wearing a mask, and did not wear one throughout the meeting. Barr did put on a mask to leave the meeting.
Under a council resolution passed on June 22, council members must wear masks during meetings regardless of vaccination status or physical distance from other people in the room. Food is not permitted. Both Springer and Barr voted unanimously with other council members to pass the resolution.
Both Springer and Barr issued responses to KYUK regarding not wearing masks during the meeting. Springer acknowledged that he took his mask off to drink water and eat chips. He also noted the small meeting audience. Barr referenced an ordinance that allows masks to be removed to eat and drink, but that ordinance applies only to unvaccinated people in restaurants, not to council meetings.
Although this was the first meeting open to the public in-person since last year, the audience only consisted of two city officials and a KYUK reporter.
Also during the July 13 meeting, the council voted unanimously to extend a city-wide mask mandate. The mandate requires masks for all unvaccinated individuals in public indoor settings. It also states that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask in health care settings and on public transportation. It also says that public facing city employees and officials must wear masks, including in public meetings.
The council extended the mask mandate following a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Alaska and the Y-K Delta. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation says that the Delta variant is now circulating in the region. The variant is more contagious and symptomatic than previous variants. The spikes in cases in Alaska in the past week have been in regions where vaccinations are the lowest.
Recently, the Ministry of Health in Israel reported new rates of breakthrough COVID-19 cases in its country following the spread of the Delta variant. A breakthrough case is a COVID-19 infection in a fully vaccinated individual. It said that while the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine is still 93% effective at preventing serious symptoms and hospitalization, it is now 64% effective at preventing infection at all. That number was downgraded from 95% in May.