Bethel's mask mandate is expiring. Here's what you need to know
Feb. 19 marks the first day that the City of Bethel has been without a public mask mandate in a year and a half. Under the new rules, most public-facing businesses no longer have to require employees and visitors to wear masks. What do you need to know about the new rules?
When does the mask mandate expire?
Feb. 18 is the final date of the mask mandate. That means you can begin going maskless in businesses that allow it on Feb. 19.
How long was it in effect?
The mask mandate was in effect for a little over a year and a half, since July 28, 2020. Over the summer of 2021, it was briefly lifted for people who were vaccinated.
What does the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) say about removing the mask mandate while we’re still seeing elevated cases due to the omicron variant?
YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges says that you should continue to wear your mask. She says that masks work well to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Hodges also said that they work to protect against some other airborne illnesses, like the flu and RSV.
“Proper mask wearing helps reduce the spread of COVID-19, as well as other airborne diseases such as flu and RSV. When more people in a community wear masks, it helps keep the community safer,” said Hodges in an email to KYUK.
You’ll still need to wear a mask at all YKHC buildings. A spokesperson that said they reviewed the policy and don’t expect it to change anytime soon.
Are stores dropping their mask requirements?
It depends on the store. Stores and restaurants can now make their own rules on masks.
How about on city-owned property?
The City of Bethel’s manager, Pete Williams, has been in support of COVID-19-mitigation policies throughout this pandemic. Over the summer, he mandated that city workers get vaccinated. Williams said that he’s concerned employees will get sick and not be able to perform their job functions. He said that’s worrisome when the city is already so short staffed.
Williams said that city employees will still need to wear their masks when they’re working together, indoors, or in cars. That extends to police officers and all other city employees.
And the Yukon Kuskokwim Fitness Center, which is a city-owned facility, will still require masks for those 2-years-old and up.
Even though the city council voted to drop this mitigation measure for city residents, they still have mitigation measures in place for themselves. They’re still only meeting virtually.
Are schools in Bethel still requiring masks? How about at sports games?
The short answer is yes. Everyone at the school will still be required to wear masks in every school-related activity, except during intense physical activity.
Many people involved with the schools have been outspoken against the mask mandate in recent weeks for one key reason: basketball. The general consensus in public testimony has been that athletes shouldn’t have to wear masks during vigorous physical activity.
The school had pushed for legislation to allow student athletes to remove their masks. While that legislation failed, it helped bring about a broader momentum among city residents to ask that the mask mandate be withdrawn.
YKHC continued to advocate for students wearing masks during games. Hodges says that it’s safe to wear masks during vigorous exercise.
Where else will I need to wear a mask around town?
There are still federal laws in place that say you have to wear a mask on transport. That includes at the airport, on airplanes, in taxis, and on buses.
Anything else to know?
Despite the city dropping this mask mandate, we are still in a pandemic. Bethel’s case counts are slightly down from the week of Feb. 4, but only slightly. During the week of Feb. 11, there were 387 new cases of COVID-19 in Bethel.
There is also pending city legislation regarding masks. Council member Rose "Sugar" Henderson, who voted to allow the mask mandate to expire, proposed a city-wide mask recommendation. If the legislation passes, instead of requiring masks, the city would recommend them during high surges in case counts.