Four days after Delta Junction's mayor ordered the local hockey rink closed to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, the City Council voted in Tuesday’s meeting to re-open it, in response to an outcry from the local hockey association.
Mayor J.W. Musgrove ordered the hockey rink closed last Friday in response to the growing number of Delta-area residents testing positive for coronavirus. And Governor Mike Dunleavy’s emergency declaration that urged Alaskans to take more precautions against it. But nearly half of the 50 people who attended the meeting said the city should re-open the rink because the Delta-Greely Skating Association had already put measures in place to limit spread of the virus.
“The City of Delta Junction does not have a mandate to wear a mask in public,” association vice president Wes Pinkelman said in testimony to the council. “But I do know one place that does have this mandate. That’s the ice arena.”
Pinkelman and board member Jen Brant both assured the council that the organization requires parents and their kids to abide by that and other provisions of the organization’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.
Brant says the plan complies with the Alaska State Hockey Association’s guidelines that encourage patrons to maintain social distancing and to stay away from the ice if any member of their household is diagnosed with the disease.
“Parents' players will be responsible for monitoring their individual health and abiding by the CDC guidelines posted on the entrance doors,” she said.
Brant says a waiver of liability signed by the organization’s 94 members protects the city from being held responsible for cases of covid that result from use of the city-owned facility. But the most moving testimony she and Pinkelman and several others gave had to do with the importance of maintaining the hockey program at a time when local youth have few alternatives.
“In a world where they’re being told ‘You can’t – you can’t go to school, you can’t gather with friends, you can’t be near another person – our hockey program provides them with a safe place where they can,” Brant said.
Others who spoke talked about individual responsibility and complained of government overreach. But council member Mike Prestegard explained that the mayor ordered the closure because of the growing number of positive coronavirus tests in recent weeks. The Delta COVID Incident Management Team says local clinics reported 47 positives in the week ending Tuesday, up from 32 over the previous week.
“It’s hitting home,” Prestegard said. “That’s all I’m trying to tell you.”
Prestegard and Council Member Pete Hallgren both expressed reservations about the potential risks of re-opening the rink, but in the end, all six council members participating in the meeting voted in favor.
On Thursday, Musgrove said he thought when he issued the order that it was likely the council would change some of its provisions.
“All of those restrictions are daily under reconsideration,” he said, “depending on the medical situation in Delta Junction.”
Musgrove says that’s why the council decided to allow the nearly 50 people who showed up to enter City Hall, despite his order to close it to the public for walk-in business. The mayor said he considered the council meeting open to the public, because it's an essential service. He says city staff arranged the seats to keep attendees 6 feet apart.
But photographs of the meeting showed them sitting and standing next to each other. Most appeared to be wearing masks – except for the 10 or so kids in the audience.