Bethel City Council To Consider Airport Testing And Mask Mandate With Enforcement

Aug 29, 2020

Bethel City Council will consider an emergency ordinance on Aug. 31 that would require passengers arriving at the Bethel airport to either arrive with a negative test result, get tested upon arrival, or quarantine for 14 days.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Following pressure from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and Sen. Lyman Hoffman, the Bethel City Council is considering mandating COVID-19 testing at the airport. The council is also thinking about mandating and enforcing mask wearing in public. 

On Aug. 31, Bethel City Council members will conduct a special meeting to consider an emergency ordinance jointly drafted by City Attorney Elizabeth "Libby" Bakalar and YKHC’s legal counsel.  

The airport testing mandate would mirror the requirements that the State of Alaska has for people flying into the state. All passengers arriving at the Bethel airport would have to either provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, take a test at the airport, or quarantine for 14 days. 

According to the proposed ordinance, if you arrive with a negative COVID-19 test result, it must have been administered in the last 72 hours, which is the same as the state’s requirements. If you test upon arrival, the ordinance states that you must self-quarantine until you are notified of a negative result. The city would also copy the state’s exception for critical infrastructure employees, who would not need to follow these rules.

The proposed ordinance adopts the argument that by declaring an emergency, Bethel gains added authority to respond to COVID-19. It also recognizes that the state has granted second class cities the authority to enact mitigation measures during the pandemic.

How the city would enforce the ordinance is not yet clear. YKHC’s legal counsel has suggested some options: the city could issue citations with, perhaps, an educational warning for early offenses. YKHC also suggested that the city could enforce only the violations that are reported. That way, an enforcement officer would not need to be at the airport for every inbound flight. 

The ordinance also contains a section that directs the city to enter into an agreement to share liability with YKHC should the city be sued.

During the same meeting, the Bethel City Council may also upgrade its recommendation that people wear masks in public places to a requirement. This second emergency ordinance states that “the city reserves the right to use all available enforcement options to ensure compliance with this mandate.”

You can tune in to KYUK 640 AM to listen to the special city council meeting, broadcast live on Monday, Aug. 31 at 6 p.m.