A sign detailing modified health protocols for the Wednesday Market is seen here at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska on June 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign detailing modified health protocols for the Wednesday Market is seen here at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska on June 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna passes policy on gatherings

The policy is an amended version of one crafted by City Manager Stephanie Queen.

Soldotna’s City Council adopted a policy Wednesday night clarifying how the city will handle public events at its parks and facilities.

Discussion of the city’s event policy took up most of the meeting, with several community members voicing their concerns on the policy and several amendments added to its final passage.

The policy is an amended version of one crafted by City Manager Stephanie Queen, who submitted the original policy to the council June 17 and spoke at the June 24 meeting to explain some of the details of the policy.

The policy, as amended, provides different guidance for events based on their nature and the number of people expected attend.

Prohibited events

First mentioned in the policy is a list of “prohibited events” that are considered high risk for spreading COVID-19 and are therefore not allowed in city parks. These prohibited events include beer and wine gardens, all live music performances and all attractions intended for children.

Originally the policy also prohibited the use of stage facilities for performances, speakers or presenters. An amendment introduced by council member Justin Ruffridge, which removed those events from the list of prohibited activities, passed 4-2.

Small events, up to 50 attendees

The first category of allowable events covered by the policy includes small public gatherings and private events of up to 50 people. Events of this nature, such as birthday parties or yoga in the park, do not require a permit or prior approval from the city as long as certain guidelines are followed.

The host or organizer of the event is encouraged to maintain a list of attendees for contact tracing information in the event of an outbreak. Attendees are encouraged to follow guidelines from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding social distancing and wearing a cloth face covering. The list of attendees does not need to be submitted to the city and will only be used by public health officials in the event of an outbreak.

Originally, this category was capped at 25 people, but an amendment by Ruffridge increased the cap to 50 to be more in line with current CDC recommendations for group gatherings.

Organized activities of between 50-250 people

For events that are expected to have between 50 and 250 people in attendance, the hosts will be required to submit a COVID-19 mitigation plan to the city that includes details on how the event will comply with current DHSS and CDC recommendations. At a minimum, the host will need to require cloth face coverings for event staff and volunteers and strongly encourage them for attendees. Adequate cleaning and disinfection supplies will need to be in place, attendance must be tracked to ensure it does not exceed 250 people, and there must be a point of contact at the event who has knowledge of the mitigation plan and can properly implement it.

This category was originally for events of between 25 to 100 people, but the cap was amended by Ruffridge and the increase was successfully adopted.

Events exceeding 250 people

Events that fall under this category will require independent review from the city manager and will be allowed provided the hosts can prevent the congregation of large groups during the event.

The Wednesday Market, which takes place every week at Soldotna Creek Park, falls under this category, and discussion of this policy made many residents and business owners concerned about the market’s fate.

All public testimony on the policy Wednesday night addressed the Wednesday Market, but many of the speakers noted that they were less concerned following Queen’s explanation of the policy.

During her testimony, Queen explained that she has already been working with Annette Villa, who organizes the Wednesday Market, on developing a mitigation plan for that event specifically. Queen said that the city’s policy, as it was adopted, would not negatively impact the ability of the Wednesday Market to continue as it has this summer. The nature of the Wednesday Market, Queen said, is such that people are not gathering in large groups and can stay relatively distanced from each other as they go from booth to booth.

The policy was adopted by the city council unanimously, and council members thanked the public for their input in the discussion.

An audio recording of the June 24 council meeting is available on soldotna.org/government/listen-to-meetings.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com

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