Face masks

Protective masks, normally used for surgery, are now in use to fight the Corona Virus SARS-nCov-19.

Don’t expect a mask mandate in the Fairbanks area anytime soon.

Even if the Fairbanks City Council approved it and set a fine, the Police Department is too short-staffed to enforce it, according to Teal Soden, city communications director.

The mayor of North Pole said he spoke about it with his city’s attorney. Mayor Mike Welch doesn’t think the city is vested with that power. If he could mandate masks, he would also need council approval, but his Police Department also is ill-equipped to enforce it, he said.

Under the Fairbanks North Star Borough Code of Ordinances, Mayor Bryce Ward “shall consider, on a continuing basis, steps that could be taken to prevent or reduce the harmful consequences of disasters. The mayor shall make recommendations to the assembly that facilitate measures for the prevention or reduction of the harmful consequences of disasters.”

The borough — along with the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole — has been under a disaster declaration for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Ward has limited health and social services powers under the code, which describes those powers as “to maintain the Fairbanks Health Center building and to receive and pass through health and social services grants and assist in raising any required match.”

The borough has no police force; it enforces local law with code enforcement officers.

In Anchorage, the mayor issued an emergency order requiring face coverings “indoors in public settings or communal spaces outside the home,” according to a proclamation that went into effect on Monday as the number of coronavirus cases in Alaska continues to rise. The state reached a new record of more than 1,000 combined resident and nonresident cases last week.

Fairbanks city Mayor Jim Matherly is calling on local businesses to require face coverings.

“The governor had to take drastic steps to slow the spread of the virus earlier this year, and if we cannot step up to protect ourselves and neighbors, he may have to institute stronger restrictions,” he wrote in a letter to the editor published in today’s Daily News-Miner.

“All businesses should require patrons wear masks and practice social distancing,” he wrote. “As individuals, we should be proud and thankful when we see a business doing such. They are protecting us and their employees. This is our community and we must each hold ourselves accountable for taking care of it. Can it be an inconvenience to wear a mask at times? Sure.”

He wrote that it’s “an incredibly small price to pay for the well-being of Fairbanks” and thanked the businesses already requiring face coverings and social distancing.

“If your business has not yet done that, I implore you to take additional steps now to protect your business, your family, and your neighbors,” he wrote.

Masks are not required to be worn at the Patrick B. Cole City Hall, which is open to the public. Soden said Matherly would be requesting masks to be worn at the City Council meeting on Monday, and city administrators are revisiting the policy on masks at City Hall at a meeting today.

Welch said he also recommends residents in his city wear face coverings. He noted there is no mask requirement at North Pole City Hall, which is open to the public.

The borough’s Juanita Helms Borough Administration Center is closed to the public except by appointment or during assembly meetings. Masks are required to be worn by employees and visitors under the borough’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.