20-10-21 Blaine County Courthouse Old  1 Roland WF.jpg

Following in the footsteps of the cities of Hailey and Ketchum, the Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday signed an ordinance tightening the county’s mask requirement and putting a limit on group gathering sizes as the number of COVID-19 cases in the county continues to grow.

“We want to keep our businesses open,” Commissioner Dick Fosbury said in a special meeting on the ordinance Monday. “We need to be proactive on this and manage this.”

The new ordinance, which did not immediately go into effect Tuesday, requires those who “cannot medically tolerate” a cloth face covering, as well as those who cannot wear a cloth face covering because they are hearing-impaired, to wear a face shield.

Masks are still not legally required for children under age 5, but parents are “strongly encouraged” to have their young children wear one—or, if that is not possible, to avoid bringing their young children to public places where face masks are required.

Exemptions under the new ordinance include people with documented disabilities, on-duty law enforcement officers or others for whom wearing a mask at work could pose a safety risk, people obtaining a service on their head or face that requires them to temporarily remove the mask and people eating or drinking at a restaurant, as long as they are able to maintain a 6-foot distance from others who are not in their party.

The new ordinance also places new restrictions on group gatherings: No indoor gathering can exceed 10 people, and outdoor gatherings must be limited to 50 people. All gatherings of people who do not live together must allow for 64 square feet of space per person, whether indoor or outdoor.

The ordinance includes exceptions for schools, grocery stores, health-care facilities, government and nonprofit facilities and households with more than 10 permanent residents. A business may also be exempted from the restrictions if its owners submit a plan to the county detailing additional safety measures they will take.

Any person who violates the order will be guilty of an infraction and may be punished with a fine of $100.

A county ordinance goes into effect after it has been signed and posted in five public places. As of early Tuesday afternoon, it was unclear when the ordinance would be posted in public.

The ordinance, which only applies to unincorporated areas of Blaine County, closely mirrors health orders passed by the Hailey City Council last week and the Ketchum City Council Monday night.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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