COVID-19 was a central theme among legislation debated by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly during Tuesday’s meeting, the last before the Oct. 6 municipal election.
The cities of Kenai, Soldotna and Homer are formally reiterating their recommendations that residents follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 with what Assembly President Kelly Cooper called a “combined voice” heading into the rest of the year.
The joint resolution strongly encourages communities to practice COVID-19 mitigation measures recommended by the CDC that have been shown to reduce its spread, including wearing masks in public settings, frequent hand-washing and social distancing.
District 3 Assembly Member Jesse Bjorkman was vocal in his opposition to the resolution. Though Bjorkman acknowledged that the resolution may not result in any tangible changes to how the borough is addressing COVID-19, he said people should assess risks for themselves without government entities suggesting what they should or should not do.
“When governments make suggestions … other organizations follow that guidance and then take opportunities away from people,” Bjorkman said, adding that he would vote in opposition.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, who is sponsoring the legislation, said the CDC recommendations are reasonable requests that help flatten the curve, and that the resolution disperses those recommendations without the issuance of mandates, which he does not support.
“I believe that Alaskans are essential and I believe we’re responsible individuals and that we can be given good information, good safeguards, reasonable safeguards, and we can choose to follow them or not follow them,” Pierce said.
The resolution passed by a vote of 7-1 with Bjorkman voting in opposition.
The assembly also voted against resuming in-person assembly meetings until next year. Resolution 2020-068 would have allowed in-person assembly meetings to resume in accordance with CDC guidelines, acknowledging that the Kenai Peninsula School Borough District recently held an in-person meeting.
In addition to current renovations being made to the assembly chamber, some members said shifting back to in-person meetings would require a lot of extra administrative work for borough staff that would otherwise be avoided by hosting meetings remotely.
“I’m all for it, but I sure am not very much in favor of going to a lot of work for borough staff when we’re functioning pretty doggone well right here and it’s all for two meetings,” District 7 Member Brent Johnson said.