A sign seen near Twin Lakes on Sept. 17 encourages residents to wear cloth face coverings while in public. A social gathering tied to a recent cluster of cases of COVID-19 is unlikely to lead to punishment, but city officials are hopeful it may encourage people to be more cautious. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A sign seen near Twin Lakes on Sept. 17 encourages residents to wear cloth face coverings while in public. A social gathering tied to a recent cluster of cases of COVID-19 is unlikely to lead to punishment, but city officials are hopeful it may encourage people to be more cautious. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Event tied to case cluster unlikely to lead to punishments

Here’s why.

A social gathering that’s led to one of Juneau’s larger COVID-19 clusters doesn’t seem to have run afoul of any local mandates, said the head of the city’s emergency operations center.

Incident Commander Mila Cosgrove, who is also City and Borough of Juneau’s deputy city manager, said in a phone interview that to the best of the city’s knowledge it does not seem that an Aug. 22 event broke the local face-covering mandate or the mitigation measure that as of Aug. 21 limited gatherings to fewer than 50 people.

The city’s emergency face-covering ordinance, which can be enforced with a fine not to exceed $25, includes an exception for eating or drinking while in public, and Cosgrove said the event almost certainly included food and drinks.

“Was it a strict violation of mandates? Probably not,” Cosgrove said.

[Community spread of the coronavirus hits new high]

Similarly, Cosgrove said despite public speculation, there is no proof an attendee or attendees at the gathering violated the state’s travel mandate that requires out-of-state travelers to submit a travel declaration and self-isolation plan, arrive with proof of a negative COVID-19 test and get a second COVID-19 test one to two weeks after arriving in the state.

Additionally, Cosgrove said Public Health has not traced the cluster back to any single index case, the first identified case in a group of related cases.

During a news briefing Thursday, state health officials referred a question about best practices for gatherings to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services webpage on large gatherings, sports and community events.

The state’s website advises people do not need to ask for the state’s permission to host a large gathering, but that event planners should develop a COVID-19 mitigation plan and consult the local community where they hope to hold an event.

Cosgrove said the city was not advised of the gathering ahead of time.

The state’s advisory document for reopening recommends people continue to maintain 6 feet of distance from people who are not household members and wear a cloth face covering in gatherings that include people from multiple households.

Cosgrove said it’s hoped the outcome of the event — a cluster of cases numbering in the 30s, closing bars to indoor business, tighter restrictions on restaurants and hundreds of COVID-19 tests — provides a teachable moment.

“It’s impacted a lot of people,” Cosgrove said. “It’s closed businesses. It’s impacted people’s health. We just have to be cautious.”

She also said that while the recent spike in cases has directly impacted bars, it is not the city’s intent to single out or condemn the alcoholic beverage service industry.

“It just happens to be that’s where the risk is right now,” Cosgrove said.

She also said any sort of large gathering presents a risk of spreading COVID-19.

“It could equally have been a big sporting event or a revival with multiple congregations,” Cosgrove said.

Cosgrove said while some of the city’s larger clusters, such as cases among Kensington Gold Mine and Alaska Glacier Seafoods Inc. employees — have been connected to critical infrastructure industries, there have also been clusters connected to personal gatherings such as weddings, graduations and funerals. Moments when people tend to let their guard down.

“It’s horrible, really,” Cosgrove said. “The things that lift us up and give us joy in these uncertain times are also the things that make us sick.”

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

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