By Melinda Munson

Skagway business owners are not obligated to direct employees and customers to wear masks. Resolution 21-09R passed five to one on April 15 with the words “shall” and “require’’ changed to “should” and “recommend.” As a result, Skagway entrepreneurs will decide what health protocols to follow in their businesses.

It’s a departure from an earlier attempt by the assembly to require masks in all buildings open to the public. Resolution 21-08R, passed on March 18, required face coverings when six feet of social distancing was not possible. Mayor Andrew Cremata vetoed the resolution days later, stating he believed the intent of the assembly was not reflected in the language. His veto was not challenged.

Resolution 21-09R, which was very similar to the March 18 legislation, drew passionate public comment, with no correspondence or public remarks in favor of a mask mandate. Just four weeks ago, a majority of the public communication favored a mask mandate and the passage of Resolution 21-08R.

“I don’t think you can set the ground rules for all of us,” said Rocky Outcalt, owner of Klondike Doughboy as he urged the assembly to let businesses decide if they would require face coverings. He added that if cruise ships require masks, business owners will comply.

“If it comes to that, of course we’ll mask up,” Oucalt said.

Beth Smith, owner of Happy Endings Saloon and two other establishments, said she felt the city was “micromanaging” business owners.

Assemblymember Jay Burnham suggested the language change in Resolution 21-09R.

“It looks good to have a resolution that you should wear a mask and I also agree that we shouldn’t tell people how to run their business. This is my attempt at having both,” he said.

When the amended resolution passed, many business owners breathed an audible sigh of relief and clapped quietly as they exited.

Assemblymember Reba Hylton, who voted for the measure, doesn’t feel satisfied.

“We did what we had to do to get the resolution passed. It was literally the very least we could do,” Hylton said. “I have some serious concerns. There are still so many unknowns.” 

Hylton said that in her ideal resolution, essential businesses would be required to don masks.

Assemblymember Orion Hanson was the single no vote for Resolution 21-09R. 

“I don’t know that it’s terribly effective,” Hanson said. “I wish the business community would present whatever they’re working on.”

The Skagway Visitors Department, along with the local business community, have been crafting a voluntary program which certifies that participating establishments comply with specific COVID-19 mitigation practices. The visitors department has yet to make a proposal to the assembly.

While masks may not be required in private businesses, face coverings are still mandated in all municipality buildings.