City prepared to reduce mask rules by June 9

Medical team will not recommend eliminating mandates until after fishery is underway

Signups for coronavirus vaccinations have decreased, and Cordova is nearing the point that all residents who want vaccines have received them, said Dr. Hannah Sanders, medical director for Cordova Community Medical Center. However, the Cordova Medical Response Team is sticking to its judgment that a possible recommendation to reduce virus mandates will not arrive before June.

At an April 21 Cordova City Council meeting, Councilman David Glasen asked why the city should wait until June to reduce mandates, if it’s unlikely that many more people will choose to be vaccinated.

“I think we’re ready now,” Glasen said. “I think people that want to get vaccinated have been vaccinated, and postponing it any longer just doesn’t seem like it would help anything.”

Councilwoman Melina Meyer cautioned Glasen against concluding that everyone who wants to be vaccinated has already been vaccinated. Meyer said she had been approached by members of the public who were uncertain how to sign up, or who had previously been skeptical of the vaccine but had since changed their minds.

“I think just because a lot of our population has gotten it, that some people are feeling a little more comfortable to finally sign up,” Meyer said.

Sanders said that the Cordova Medical Response Team had discussed the issue several times, arriving at the consensus that possible changes should come around the end of May. The city is prepared to soften, if not totally eliminate, mask rules by June 9, when the current local emergency order is set to expire if not renewed, City Manager Helen Howarth said. While the city is considering eliminating its mask mandate, it will remain as a recommendation, based on current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said city emergency management coordinator Heather Brannon.

An influx of out-of-town fishery workers is expected to continue through April and May. It seems likely that fish processors will again run closed campuses this year, limiting contact between processor employees and the general public, Glasen said. However, waiting until June will give the city time to adjust their approach to accommodate the incoming workers and to offer them the opportunity to be vaccinated, Brannon said. By June, the city’s medical response and vaccination teams will have a clearer understanding of what adjustments can safely be made, Brannon said.

“We’re moving forward toward that day when we’re going to say, ‘No more masks,’” Howarth said. “We’re just waiting for another month or so before the entirety of the medical team feels comfortable removing the mask rule, but it could happen earlier.”

The city will work with an attorney and the state to make sure it is prepared for possible situations in which a portion of the current emergency order would have to remain in place for the city to be eligible for state and federal funds, Howarth said.

As of Monday, April 26, 1,237 people in Cordova have received the first of two coronavirus vaccine shots, and 1,213 have received both shots, according to data published by the city. The city hopes to attain a 70% COVID-19 vaccination rate for eligible recipients before reducing mandates, according to an April 14 announcement.

“If a vaccination rate of 70% is not achieved by June, the Unified Command will have to consider all factors moving forward to determine what action is recommended and appropriate,” Brannon wrote in an email.

All Cordovans 16 and older are currently eligible for vaccination, as well as anyone arriving in Cordova to work. Vaccinations can be scheduled by calling 907-424-3045.

The city has reported two new virus cases since March 23. Of those cases, one is believed to be currently active. Of the 127 local cases identified, 108 have been Cordova residents and 19 have been non-residents. On April 14, the city stepped its public health alert level down from Level 3, signifying caution, to Level 2, the lowest alert level consistent with implementing public health mandates.