Jessie Duke, of Soldotna, browses books with 7-month-old Danny Dommek on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, at River City Books in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Jessie Duke, of Soldotna, browses books with 7-month-old Danny Dommek on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, at River City Books in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Anti-masking graffiti found at River City Books

River City Books was defaced with anti-mask and anti-COVID-19 vaccine rhetoric after closing time Tuesday, according to owner Peggy Mullen.

Wednesday, employees found graffiti writing on the windows of the book store, which has been a staple of the Soldotna community for more than two decades and is part of Mullen’s family’s own personal homestead property.

“We just aren’t used to having other people be that way,” Mullen said.

Over River City’s notice in the window that says, “Yes! Please continue to wear a mask in our store,” “Lie!!” was written over the top.

On other parts of the storefront the graffiti read “Immunity is from the infection not needles!!” and “Stop lying or you will go bankrupt!!”

Mullen said she was able to erase the markings on Wednesday with cleaner.

Soldotna city council member Justin Ruffridge said he saw the graffiti on the way into the storefront for a book Wednesday morning.

“That land has represented a lot for the City of Soldotna,” he said. “And to walk onto a place that is private property … to have it defaced is un-American, frankly, and unkind.”

River City has enforced mask requirements in the book store since the beginning of the pandemic, even early this summer when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance for fully vaccinated people, stating masks indoors were no longer necessary.

“We have, from the very beginning, been mask providers,” Mullen said, adding that one employee hand made over 800 masks in the earlier days of the pandemic.

Mullen also said they were surprised to find the building defaced Wednesday, when most of their customers don’t seem to mind the mask requirement. She said throughout the pandemic, they’ve probably only been met with verbal opposition about a half dozen times.

Ruffridge said it’s “discouraging” to think someone would spend their time defacing a local book store.

“I hate that that happened, honestly,” he said. “You just feel like those places should be safe.”

Especially now with the uptick in cases and perhaps the start of another wave of serious illness, Ruffidge said, it’s important to practice empathy and treat people with kindness.

Mullen said the River City staff is trying to take precaution with the delta variant, which is labeled a “variant of concern” by the CDC for its increased transmissibility.

This week the CDC changed its masking guidance again, stating that fully vaccinated people in high risk areas should go back to wearing facial coverings indoors. Since the vaccines were authorized for emergency use, unvaccinated people have still always been advised to wear masks indoors.

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the cases have spiked far above the high-risk threshold, which is categorized as a seven-day rate of 50 cases or more per 100,000 people.

There were 158 new positive COVID cases in the borough over the past week. With a total population of only about 56,218 people, the peninsula has almost six times the number of cases the CDC deems high risk.

Mullen said she thinks it’s problematic that a person would think COVID immunity comes from avoiding mitigation protocols and the not getting the vaccine.

“Ignorance is rampant,” she said. “Here’s someone who is being fed a total lie.”

Officials with the state Department of Health and Social Services have continued to urge Alaskans to get their COVID vaccines, stating that it is the first line of defense against the virus.

At a press briefing last Thursday, Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said this fourth wave of cases officials are seeing is “demoralizing,” and reiterated that the vaccines are the best tools at Alaskans’ disposal to combat the negative effects of the pandemic.

Even though all Mullen’s employees at River City are vaccinated, she said they continue to enforce a businesswide mask requirement because of new research suggesting that even people immunized against COVID-19 can still catch and spread the delta variant.

Mullen said she doesn’t have much of an interest in pursuing the culprit of the graffiti, and she didn’t report the incident to authorities.

“It was not worth reporting it to the police,” she said.

To try to remain open as safely as possible, River City is requiring customers wear facial coverings while in the book store.

“My customers are readers … and they don’t mind masking up,” Mullen said.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

The front facade of the relocated River City Books and Lucy’s Market in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

The front facade of the relocated River City Books and Lucy’s Market in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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