Twenty months into the Covid-19 pandemic in Alaska, the Bethel City Council has approved an ordinance that will prohibit the public from attending in person any official meetings of the government, such as City Council meetings.
According to the ordinance passed on Oct. 26, officials and members of committees may attend government sessions, but the public must attend via video-conferencing through the Zoom program, or by conference call.
Appointed and elected officials on committees, commissions, or the City Council may also attend virtually, but the support staff for the meetings must attend in person. Volunteer members or staff are not allowed to attend in person if they have traveled out of Bethel 10 days prior to the meeting, unless they are fully vaccinated. They also must not attend if they have any symptoms of Covid or if any member of their household has tested positive or is in quarantine.
Also, no food is allowed in meetings, and masks must be worn by those who are allowed to attend.
The legislation was brought forward by Mayor Mark Springer as a way to address the Covid pandemic in Bethel.
In addition to the public being blocked from the government proceedings, two weeks earlier the city council passed a mask ordinance that applies to all over the age of 2 who are:
- Inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space;
- Obtaining services from a healthcare facility;
- Waiting for or riding on public transportation or while in a taxi or bus;
- Engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site, when:o Interacting in-person with any member of the public;
o Working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyonefrom the public is present at the time;
- Working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others;
- Working in or walking through public common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators,and parking facilities;
- In any room or enclosed area where other people (except for members of the person’s ownhousehold or residence) are present when unable to physically distance;
- Driving or operating any public transportation or taxi service or ride-sharing vehicle;
- While outdoors in public spaces when maintaining a physical distance of six feet frompersons who are not members of the same household or residence is not feasible.
On the Kuskokwim River, the City of Bethel is home to over 6,000 Alaskans, many of Yu’pik heritage. It is a hub community for Western Alaska and the Bethel Census Area, which has a population of about 18,000. Bethel is served by Alaska Airlines with typically two flights a day from Anchorage.
According to the State of Alaska Covid data dashboard, 5,388 people in the Bethel census area have been diagnosed with Covid since the beginning of the pandemic. The region has seen 121 cases in the past seven days.