The Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution to encourage the use of face coverings, opting not to pursue a more aggressive ordinance that would have legally required people to wear masks in public.
The commission is the first governing body to consider and approve the resolution. The Hailey City Council is expected to consider the resolution at its meeting Tuesday evening and the Sun Valley City Council will discuss the matter at its Thursday meeting. Agendas for upcoming Ketchum and Bellevue city council meetings were not yet available as of press time Tuesday afternoon.
Last week, the county commissioners told the Idaho Mountain Express that they would be in favor of implementing an ordinance that would require the use of masks or face coverings in certain public settings. But in a meeting Friday, the mayors of Hailey, Ketchum, Bellevue and Sun Valley came to the consensus that they would prefer a resolution over an ordinance, Commissioner Angenie McCleary told the other commissioners on Tuesday. Local law enforcement had also expressed concerns about an ordinance legally requiring mask use, Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said.
The county could implement its own ordinance without the approval or cooperation of city leaders. But a county-only ordinance would apply only to unincorporated parts of the county—not its cities—rendering such an ordinance largely useless.
The resolution passed Tuesday doesn’t require people to wear masks when they’re in public, but it does state that the county expects every person to “wear a face covering that completely covers the person’s nose and mouth when the person is in a public place and others are present.” The resolution goes into effect immediately and expires on Aug. 31.
“I have been very concerned, as we all are, about the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Idaho and around the country,” McCleary said. “As I’m seeing cases increase, I’m trying to figure out what we may be able to do locally before we get into a difficult situation again.”
A resolution could also help to clarify local expectations for out-of-state visitors, Greenberg noted.
“I’m really concerned about people who are coming to visit and misunderstanding that you don’t have to [practice safety measures] here and jeopardizing what we’ve done so far,” Greenberg said.
The resolution includes exceptions for certain people and situations, such as children under age 5, people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask, people who are hearing-impaired or communicating with a person who is hearing-impaired, on-duty law enforcement officers and others “for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work,” those who are “obtaining a service involving the nose, face or head,” people eating or drinking at a restaurant and people engaged in outdoor or indoor exercise so long as social distancing guidelines are followed.
Official local guidance on mask-wearing could be helpful to local businesses that are considering implementing mask rules of their own, suggested Dr. Terry O’Connor, medical director for the Blaine County Ambulance District.
“I feel like a lot of concerned business owners are looking for support for something that they want to do,” O’Connor said. “They want to ask their patrons to wear masks, but they don’t feel like they have good support to do so.”
While the commissioners have opted for now to stick with a resolution, they indicated in their meeting Tuesday that they have not eliminated the possibility of taking stricter measures down the road if the resolution is not effective.
“This could be a first step, or it could be left simply as a clear message to the public for what we expect,” McCleary said.
Gov. Brad Little said in a press conference last Thursday that it’s unlikely Idaho would implement a statewide mask requirement.
“You could do something, but the compliance would be terrible,” Little told reporters, noting that the number of people wearing masks in Idaho has “gone up astronomically” in recent months without a mandate. “We’ve got a way to go, but mandatory masks don’t make sense for a lot of Idaho.”
At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Idaho, Blaine County and its cities chose to implement additional restrictions on top of the state’s self-isolation order. That could happen again if the number of cases in the Wood River Valley sees another spike, Commissioner Dick Fosbury said Tuesday.
“If people refuse to wear masks and we get a high level of infection again, with the governor’s support we’ll need to go back to a shutdown,” Fosbury said. “Nobody wants to do this. We can work around this if people will do very simple actions. And face coverings and masks are a part of that.”