By Melinda Munson

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata has repeatedly said he feels mask policies should come from business owners, not be legislated by the borough assembly. The assembly apparently disagreed. In a vote of four to two on March 18, they passed Resolution 21-08R which requires face coverings while in buildings open to the public where six feet of social distancing is not possible.

The mandate came into effect on March 19 after being reviewed by the borough attorney. It was vetoed on March 22 by Cremata.

“I found this particular resolution to be confusing … if I don’t understand it, there are business owners that don’t understand it,” he said, pointing to vague language regarding public and private businesses.

The assembly meeting in which 21-08R was passed went nearly four hours with assembly members volleying varying viewpoints. 

“…The business community has been working on a medallion program related to COVID protocols and they are close to being done with this process. The real tourist season doesn’t start for another month, so I have no issue with waiting for that process to mature before making any unilateral health-related decisions from the assembly table that affect the entire community,” said Cremata.

Assemblymember Jay Burnham, who voted aye, didn’t see the mask mandate as invasive.

“I don’t feel it’s infringing on my rights anymore than my rights have already been infringed on. It’s just being nice to your neighbor,” Jay said.

The mandate required everyone five and older to wear face coverings unless they had specific medical needs. Exceptions were made for activities such as “while in the act of consuming food or beverages.” The resolution was amended to drop the $10 fine, meaning failure to comply would result only in a warning, and no longer recommended that individuals wear masks while outdoors. 

Resolution 21-08R was sponsored by Assemblymember Steve Burnham, who said procedurally, putting the initiative forth in his name was the only path to get the resolution on the agenda. Steve said he was “picked on by community members” in the last week. 

“It’s not very cool, and it doesn’t feel good,” Steve said. “The people who are saying those things don’t understand the process and that we’re trying to make and hold these discussions in ways that the public can participate in. That they can come and read what we’re talking about and know when they’re commenting to us, that they have an opportunity to affect what we’re going to decide on.” 

He noted that the Health, Education and Welfare Committee has been discussing a mask resolution at their meetings since last November. Steve proposed Resolution 21-08R when it seemed likely the testing and quarantine mandate, Resolution 20-44R, would be repealed.

“The goal would be to protect others … to protect visitors to our community … to protect those who don’t have a vaccine,” Steve said. 

According to the CDC, individuals who are vaccinated may still contract and spread COVID-19, although they are more likely to be asymptomatic. 

“Being vaccinated does not mean an immediate return to normal,” said Assemblymember Reba Hylton, advising the assembly to err on the side of caution. “We’re saying continue doing what you’re doing,” Hylton said, pointing out that any businesses that accept SNOW grants from the municipality are already required to mask.  “We are in a real life pandemic. That has not gone away.”

Assemblymember Dustin Stone, an avid supporter of masks, voted against the measure, as did Asssemblymember Sam Bass.

“I don’t think mask mandates work in the climate we find ourselves in,” Stone said. “If you’re still arguing the efficacy or the necessity of masks, you’re behaving like a selfish a-hole. Selfish a-holes don’t follow mask mandates with $10 fines.”

Assemblymember Orion Hanson said wearing a mask is “really not that big of a deal” but added, “This resolution is a little too cumbersome for me to get behind. Maybe we make another stab at it at a different format, different version.”

After the resolution passed, Assemblymember Orion Hanson, who voted yes, asked that the vote be reconsidered at the next meeting. Due to a clerical error, reconsideration of Resolution 21-08R was not in effect for the April 1 assembly meeting. 

“As an elected body we’re looking to find the best language,” Orion said. ‘We’ll get it right.”

Orion believes masks are the new reality in Skagway.

“In the future, for us to have a vibrant tourist plan, that’s going to maybe be the reality moving forward. We might be wearing a mask a whole lot more than we like,” Hanson said.

Cremata said another reason he vetoed the resolution was because “he didn’t feel like the intent of the assembly was met.” He acknowledged that the meeting went long which may have added some confusion to the process.

This is the first time Cremata has used his veto power. He said the assembly can override his veto “if I’m wrong.”