As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Idaho and neighboring states continues to rise, Blaine County officials and some local mayors have begun to discuss the possibility of requiring people to wear face masks in certain public settings.
An ordinance mandating mask use has not officially come before the county commissioners or any local city councils, but there is support for such an ordinance among the commissioners. The mayors of Ketchum and Bellevue, who are in talks with the county, have indicated that they may be open to the idea as well.
The commissioners are expected to discuss the matter at their regular meeting next week, though no decision will be made at that time.
“For me, I think there’s more and more scientific evidence that this is a preventive measure we can take,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said in an interview. “It isn’t costly to wear a mask and it’s a way that, hopefully, we could really improve the health outcomes for our community while keeping the economy going.”
Commissioner Dick Fosbury and Commissioner Jacob Greenberg told the Idaho Mountain Express that they would also be in favor of some sort of face-covering requirement.
“The spike of new infections in the state of Idaho is worse than last April, and masking is a key part of mitigating the spread of this disease,” Fosbury said. “I wear my mask whenever I am indoors out in the public to protect my family and our community—it’s easy to do.”
Such an ordinance “would help support the efforts of our businesses and keep us all safe,” Greenberg said. “[Masks have] proven to be the most effective tool in keeping the transmission level down. If we want to safely stay open, we have to act safely.”
While Blaine County hasn’t seen a drastic spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, nearby counties including Twin Falls, Cassia and Ada have. There were 22 new cases reported in Twin Falls County this week as of Thursday morning, 26 in Cassia County and 293 in Ada County, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Idaho to 4,465.
“I think a number of people here are wearing [masks] but I think there can always be improvement,” McCleary said. “And as we see more and more visitors coming into the area, I think it’ll be that much more important.”
Seven counties in Oregon have implemented some sort of mask mandate, and Californians statewide are required to wear face coverings in certain public settings. Gov. Brad Little said in a press conference Thursday that it’s unlikely Idaho would implement a statewide mask requirement, noting that nine counties in the state have yet to report a confirmed case of the virus.
“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.”
While a Blaine County ordinance hasn’t been drafted, it would likely incorporate elements of similar laws in California and elsewhere, McCleary said. She said she expects a local ordinance, if one is drafted, to include exemptions for people in certain social settings, such as restaurants. The order would likely also exempt people unable to wear a mask due to health conditions and very young children. Masks would not be required outdoors as long as social distancing is possible.
A mask requirement at the county level would only apply to unincorporated parts of the county, however, rendering such an ordinance largely useless unless local cities take similar measures. McCleary said Wednesday that she had spoken with the mayors of Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue about the idea.
The city of Ketchum “will consider all options,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw told the Idaho Mountain Express on Thursday, adding that the city will continue to advocate for mask-wearing through signs, posters and other forms of communication.
“I am trying to encourage kindness, awareness, thoughtfulness and empathy,” Bradshaw said. “That is what will get us through this more than anything else.”
Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns said city leaders would assess the matter after a meeting with McCleary on Friday and potentially discuss it at the next City Council meeting in July.
Hailey Mayor Martha Burke did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline Thursday.