The screening and testing tent at the James A. Johnson airport in Petersburg (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday voted to end one COVID-19 health mandate and replace it with a downgraded health alert. They also agreed to add language to remaining mandates that recognizes federal guidance on fully vaccinated people, travel, testing and quarantine.

One change downgrades the local health mandate number nine, replacing it with a health alert. That’s for travelers from elsewhere in Alaska coming to Petersburg and it means testing and quarantine requirements for that intrastate travel are reduced to recommendations.

Petersburg’s incident commander Karl Hagerman called it a small step to returning to normal.

“It’s a step towards some kind of normal and really the first major step towards backing out of the pandemic,” Hagerman told the assembly. “It is a baby step but a step nonetheless. And it does acknowledge the fact that the vaccination rate is improving in Petersburg and the state of Alaska at a very good rate and the CDCs guidance surrounding the benefits of vaccination should be recognized. We have followed the CDCs recommendations through the pandemic and I think it’s wise to continue to follow their guidance and recommendation.”

The assembly approved those changes unanimously. And they voted to keep two other health mandates on the books with some changes, but those votes were not unanimous.

That includes the local requirement on travel, testing and quarantine for people coming to Petersburg from out of state. Local health officials recommended including the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control that fully vaccinated people no longer need to quarantine or test after travel.

Assembly member Bob Lynn also wanted to add some language to clarify that people still need to complete the airport screening by filling out a state travel form.

“The screening process includes completion on the day of travels state of Alaska safe travels form on the state of Alaska’s travel portal and processing of that electronic form by the airport screeners upon arrival,” Lynn suggested as additional language.

Most of the assembly was supportive of Lynn’s changes. But assembly member Taylor Norheim voted against one of the amendments and mayor Mark Jensen joined Norheim to vote against the out of state mandate with those changes.

Jensen explained the process sounded too complicated for people with limited technology skill or limited access.

“Like I mentioned earlier I’m not very techy, I can muddle through stuff but it sounds awful complicated and almost impossible for people that don’t have internet access, a phone or a tablet or a computer,” Jensen said. “So I guess for those people, maybe including myself, I’ll just get off the plane and go show them my vaccination card and say where do I fill it out?”

Still that amended mandate passed the assembly. They also voted to change one for pre-approval for cruise ships docking in Petersburg. That also now recognizes the relative safety for fully vaccinated to disembark from cruise ships, although pre-approval is still required. Assembly member Norheim also voted against that. And later in the meeting he wanted to hear from his colleagues on their criteria for removing required COVID health precautions altogether.

“I was looking for what exactly the assembly would consider an appropriate level of, what, no cases, or vaccination or just what in general is it that the assembly is looking for in order to terminate the public health mandates,” he wondered.

Dave Kensinger responded he would defer to guidance at the local, state and federal levels.

“I think that the team that the team that is in place here in the city has proven themselves during this pandemic by keeping us as safe as we can possibly been in this time and I’m going to respect their guidance,” Kensinger said.

The new out-of-state travel mandate is in place through the end of June unless the assembly votes to remove it or the state ends a contract for that travel testing. The cruise ship mandate is extended past the end of the cruise season, until September 30th.