Mayor laments lack of state, federal leadership as Tenakee Springs passes mask mandate

A float plane departs Tenakee Springs in February 2020. The community, which is only accessible by boat or plane, passed an ordinance requiring masks in buildings open to the public and outdoor public areas where social distancing isn’t possible. (Photo by Ari Snider/KCAW)

The City of Tenakee Springs now requires people to wear masks in any buildings open to the public.

The Tenakee City Council passed the ordinance unanimously Thursday, July 23 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the Chichagof Island community of around 100 people. They currently have no confirmed cases.

The ordinance includes all outdoor public areas where people cannot maintain social distancing and inside public buildings and businesses, including the town’s well-known bathhouse. The indoor mineral spring is still open to the public despite limited ventilation and a lack of regular cleaning or sanitation. City hall remains closed to the public.

How the community will enforce this new requirement is unclear. It has no local law enforcement. At Thursday’s meeting, Tenakee City Council member Rudy Ziel expressed concern about enforcement falling on private citizens and local businesses.

“I think the people who aren’t gonna wear masks, aren’t gonna wear masks. The city’s not gonna enforce it. And what the city’s asking people to do is they’re asking businesses to have their employees enforce our rule,” he said.

The council did add an amendment that states, “The City of Tenakee Springs respectfully requires the public’s cooperation with the provisions of this requirement for the benefit of all citizens and visitors. Violation of this resolution does not create grounds for residents to harass individuals who do not comply with it.”

Council members also discussed using CARES Act funds to purchase masks for local businesses and public buildings.

Tenakee’s mayor, Dan Kennedy, said he wished the state or the federal government would pass mandates instead of letting it falling on local leadership.

“What I’d like to see is some leadership from above,” he said. “If our governor would pass a statewide mandate, it would take a lot of strain off everybody, and if our president would make it a national mandate, it would take a lot of strain off everybody and everyone would be safer.”

Tenakee is the latest Alaska community to enact a mask requirement, joining cities like Juneau, Anchorage and Gustavus. Alaska’s coronavirus case count has spiked recently, and the virus is popping up in more remote parts of the state.

Tenakee Springs is still asking that anyone arriving from outside of the community quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.