Valdez mandates face coverings

The city of Valdez has mandated the use of face coverings in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The City Council passed the rule Tuesday for all indoor areas outside the home where social distancing cannot be maintained, including public transportation, taxis and ride sharing services.

The rule expected to go into effect Friday requires protective masks or cloth facial coverings, which include homemade masks, bandanas, scarfs, and handkerchiefs.

There are exceptions for people with health concerns, children under 5 years old, children over 5 while at school, and people with disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks.

Exceptions are also allowed while people are eating or drinking.

The Prince William Sound community has experienced a growing number of visitors as the summer progresses, both for tourism and work at the terminus of the trans-Alaska pipeline, officials said.

Two residents and four nonresidents have tested positive for COVID-19 in Valdez, municipal officials said.

“We do have a small hospital but our medical capacity is limited here,” city spokeswoman Allie Ferko said Wednesday. “A large community transmission, a large outbreak — they don’t want to get to that point.”

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy recommended wearing masks but declined to require them, saying he trusts people will “do the right thing” including covering their faces in crowded public places.

Other Alaska communities with at least temporary mask mandates include Cordova, Seward and Napaskiak, while the state court system began mandating them June 1.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.