Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge speaks at the city council meeting on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. Ruffridge, who also owns Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and has helped spearhead multiple COVID-19 response efforts on the central Kenai Peninsula, said it was important to acknowledge the repeal of mask recommendations for “celebration’s sake.” (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge speaks at the city council meeting on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. Ruffridge, who also owns Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and has helped spearhead multiple COVID-19 response efforts on the central Kenai Peninsula, said it was important to acknowledge the repeal of mask recommendations for “celebration’s sake.” (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna fully repeals masking recommendations for city buildings

The city has changed its guidelines multiple times over the course of the pandemic

The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to fully repeal masking recommendations in indoor city buildings that were enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Effective immediately, it is no longer recommended that people wear face masks in public indoor portions of buildings owned by the City of Soldotna. The new policy applies regardless of what the central peninsula’s community COVID-19 risk level.

The rigor of Soldotna’s masking policies has ebbed and flowed with the rate of COVID transmission on the central peninsula over the course of the pandemic. Wednesday’s move marked the first time the city has revisited its masking policies since last December, when council members voted to recommend — not require — masks during times of high or substantial transmission.

The resolution, sponsored by council member Justin Ruffridge, cites updated guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency in February revised the metrics it uses to determine a new “COVID-19 community level.” Among the metrics now monitored by the CDC are hospital beds occupied and the number of new cases in an area, as opposed to just new case numbers relative to population.

The city council approved legislation last August in response to the highly transmissible delta variant requiring that face masks be worn in indoor spaces in city buildings while the central peninsula was at substantial or high community transmission of COVID-19.

The CDC advises masks in counties where the COVID community level is “high.” The peninsula’s COVID-19 community level was considered to be “medium” as of Thursday, according to the CDC.

At medium risk level, the CDC recommends that individuals at high risk for severe illness talk to their health care provider about whether they need to wear a mask and take other precautions. Places with low, medium and high community levels are encouraged to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines; residents should get tested if symptoms develop.

“The current policy as adopted and amended by Resolution 2021-036 no longer aligns with current CDC guidance; therefore it is in the best interest of the city to repeal the previously adopted policy,” the resolution says.

Ruffridge, who also owns Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and has helped spearhead multiple COVID-19 response efforts on the central Kenai Peninsula, said during Wednesday’s meeting that even though the repeal was passed on the consent agenda, meaning it wasn’t discussed during the meeting, it was important to acknowledge it for “celebration’s sake.”

“I just wanted to say ‘hip, hip, hooray’ since we didn’t get to talk about it,” Ruffridge said.

Soldotna’s full Wednesday’s council meeting can be viewed on the city’s website at soldotna.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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