Juneau’s new policy forcing all non-vaxxed residents to wear face masks, while allowing the “fully vaccinated” to go mask-free, is designed to both entice and coerce vaccine hesitant residents into finally submitting to a COVID jab.
According Robert Barr, the Emergency Operations Center Planning Chief for the City & Borough of Juneau, the mask mandate won’t be enforced, but he is confident the policy will incentivize vaccine compliance.
“Where we’re at right now certainly involves a bit of a policy balancing act,” Barr wrote in a May 19 email responding to a concerned resident’s question about how the mandate would be enforced. The new policy, he said, “does rely on the honor system and concerns that people have around that are certainly valid…”
In the same email, Barr acknowledges that Juneau already has a “relatively high (by comparison) community vaccination rate as well as our relatively high level of compliance with previously issued mandates and guidance.”
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More than 57% of Juneau residents, in fact, have already received both COVID shots and are classified as “fully vaccinated” on the borough website.
“We don’t have any evidence to indicate this generally compliant behavior will significantly change with this new guidance,” Barr said. “For many people, I think, the carrot of being able to unmask after full vaccination will drive more vaccinations. We do continue to see good turn out at our ongoing vaccination clinics.”
According to Juneau’s new policy, those deemed “fully vaccinated” for COVID can remove their masks in most indoor and outdoor settings. The unvaccinated, however, must continue wearing approved masks. This, despite the fact that Juneau now considers COVID to be a “minimal” risk to the community. With a population of 32,000 residents, Juneau had only one COVID positive patient in the hospital as of May 20, and just nine reported active cases in the community.
As written, the new policy could create tensions between the vaxxed and non-vaxxed, for it requires vaccinated residents to mask whenever a non-vaccinated person takes part in a social gathering. It also instructs attendees at indoor events to keep a six-foot distance from others when a non-vaccinated person is in attendance. In short, the new policy is designed so that the mere presence of an unvaccinated person subjects burdensome mandates on everyone else.
Juneau still requires that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks on Capital Transit, in Juneau International Airport, Juneau School District facilities, Bartlett Regional Hospital, and in any local business, workplace, healthcare, or other setting that still require it.