Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai City Council discusses COVID-19, emphasizes diligence

Growing infection numbers, increased case rates and mask compliance were all discussed.

Growing infection numbers, increased case rates and mask compliance were all topics of discussion during the Kenai City Council’s “Response to COVID-19” agenda item Wednesday night.

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said at the Wednesday meeting that the first city employee tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend and that the city is working to determine how many others may have been exposed. Ostrander said that the employee’s symptoms “weren’t great for a while” but that they are doing better now.

In the last two weeks, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has reported 40 new cases in the City of Kenai and 138 cases in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Ostrander said that the central peninsula’s case rate jumped from four two weeks ago to 18 on Wednesday. Case rates refer to the number of cases seen over a certain period of time, usually either seven or 14 days, per 100,000 people.

Alaska’s seven-day case rate is 26, Ostrander said, which means Alaska has the 18th-highest case rate in the nation. Two weeks ago, Alaska had the 48th-highest case rate in the nation. If the Central Kenai Peninsula was ranked on the same scale, it would have the 24th-highest case rate.

“We’re no longer in a bubble,” Ostrander said. “We were in a bubble for a long time. We were probably one of the safest places in the nation to be. Not the case anymore.”

Ostrander also noted that nationwide about 290,000 more deaths have been recorded than previous years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted earlier this week that an estimated 299,000 more people died in the U.S. than usual between late January and Oct. 3. Ostrander said that the City of Kenai is taking COVID-19 “very seriously.”

“The thing we’re focused on and that we’re always focused on here is the health of our employees and trying to continue to make sure we can provide great service to the residents of this city,” Ostrander said. “I think to be able to do that while we’re seeing this surge in cases we need to continue to be very diligent in the things that we do here at the city.”

City Council Member Henry Knackstedt said that it might be time for the city to start “requiring, at least requesting” that people wear masks inside of city buildings, but said that trying to enforce a mask requirement could be a problem.

“I’m in a position now where — you know, with the number of cases that we have in this state — I know people that have it, have recovered from it, are sick with it, and I didn’t before,” Knackstedt said. “I didn’t know anyone that knew anyone that did, but it seems to be a lot more common and concerning as we enter into the winter here.”

Ostrander said the city has been discussing for weeks what changes they can make to how the public should be allowed in city buildings. Currently, they request members of the public to wear masks in City Hall. Ostrander said that some city employees feel more comfortable when members of the public wear masks inside the building, and that he’s in favor of “more strongly suggesting” that people wear masks. Not requiring masks would prevent city employees from having to enforce a mandate on members of the public, which Ostrander said he would be uncomfortable asking people to do.

Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel said that people seem to have become more lax since March and April, himself included, and that they should remain conscientious of COVID-19 mitigation protocols such as social distancing.

“I think that, probably, the prudent thing to do is just stay diligent,” Gabriel said. “I think this will end, one day, I don’t think this is the new normal — I certainly hope not — and as much as we can kind of maintain our business as a city going forward and try to minimize the impacts, the better off we’re going to be coming out of it.”

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at

More in News

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the Alaska House of Representatives on Saturday rejected the budget bill passed by the Senate earlier in the week. The bill will now go to a bicameral committee for negotiations, but the end of the legislative session is Wednesday.
House votes down Senate’s budget as end of session nears

State budget now goes to negotiating committee

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Candidate for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday and sat down with the Empire for an interview. Sweeney said the three main pillars of her campaign are the economy, jobs and healthy communities.
Sweeney cites experience in run for Congress

GOP candidate touts her history of government-related work

One tree stands in front of the Kenai Post Office on Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai taking down hazard beetle trees

The city hopes to leverage grant funds for most of the work

Former Alaska governor and current congressional hopeful Sarah Palin speaks with attendees at a meet-and-greet event outside of Ginger’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Palin brings congressional bid to Soldotna

The former governor took time Saturday to sign autographs and take pictures with attendees

In this October 2019 photo, Zac Watt, beertender for Forbidden Peak Brewery, pours a beer during the grand opening for the Auke Bay business in October 2019. On Sunday, the Alaska House of Representatives OK’d a major update to the state’s alcohol laws. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

Most Read