Newly-elected council member Hessler votes 'no' on mask mandate
During the Oct. 12 Bethel City Council meeting, four newly elected council members were sworn in. Then the council voted to renew a series of pandemic mitigation measures, including a mask mandate. The measures passed easily, but the mask mandate came up against some rare opposition from an audience member and a new council member.
During the first part of the meeting, council members Alyssa Leary and Haley Hanson voted with the other members to accept the results of last week’s election, and then turned their seats over to the new members.
Of the new members, only Mary “Beth” Hessler is brand new to city council. Another council member, Eric Whitney, has sat on council once before; Mark Springer and Conrad “CJ” McCormick are incumbents.
Of the new members, only Hessler appeared at the meeting in person. Whitney was traveling and participated in the meeting for the swearing-in portion before signing off. Mayor Michelle DeWitt said that Whitney was traveling and in a different time zone.
Then the council voted on a series of pandemic measures that have come up for renewal every two months. One is a city-wide mask mandate. Another is an ordinance that requires unvaccinated people traveling to Bethel to either receive a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine. The third is a measure that prevents water shutoff for people struggling financially due to the pandemic.
The mask mandate and the testing and quarantine mandate have faced nearly no opposition from either members of the public or council members since their initial inception in September 2020.
Until the Oct. 12 meeting.
The meeting opened with public comments, during which one member of the audience, Bill Howell Sr., spoke against the mask mandate.
“I would hope that the city would relinquish the masking mandates for people. They’re nonsense. They don't work,” said Howell Sr.
Howell Sr. did not provide any information to back up his claims. Howell Sr. claimed that the controversial medicine ivermectin works better than masking in the fight against COVID-19. The medicine is used in humans to treat parasitic worms, head lice, and skin conditions.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not authorized or approved ivermectin for treatment against COVID-19, calling it neither safe nor effective.
Council member Hessler alluded to ivermectin during the meeting. She said that she read an internet article about one state in India distributing "medicine kits." After the meeting she told KYUK that these kits contained primarily vitamins and ivermectin.
Hessler said in an interview with KYUK after the meeting that she was not yet familiar with the process of how to create an ordinance, so she’s not planning on pushing legislation just yet. She also says she wants to work together with the other council members to come up with new ordinances.
“I'm not yet familiar with all the processes, so I need to find my way first and get my bearing. I want to be useful and be sensible. And together with the council, we'll see what we come up with,” said Hessler.
The pandemic mitigation measures carried 5-1, with Hessler being the only dissenting voice.
All of the other council members doubled down on their support for the mitigation measures, citing their belief in science as a guiding factor in their support for masks and vaccines.
Council member Rose “Sugar” Henderson said that she’s in favor of the mask mandate because COVID-19 touched her life personally.
“Until you've really lost a close friend or a close family member to COVID, it's really hard, I think, to really truly understand the importance of the masks. And I've lost both. And as much as I am tired of these masks myself, I willingly use a clean mask every day,” said Henderson.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and wearing a mask remain the best ways to avoid serious infection.