The Blaine County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to repeal the countywide mask requirement that’s been in place since last summer, following decisions by three Wood River Valley cities to do the same.
Commissioners Jacob Greenberg and Dick Fosbury voted in favor of repealing the ordinance mandating masks while Commissioner Angenie McCleary voted against it. McCleary additionally said she would not sign the new ordinance that will now be drafted to officially repeal the previous ordinance.
“I couldn’t feel more strongly that we should continue masking at this point where we are in the pandemic,” McCleary said.
Blaine County first implemented a countywide requirement that face coverings be worn in certain public situations in July 2020. The order only applied to businesses in unincorporated parts of the county; each city determined whether to issue its own mandate for businesses within city limits.
The cities of Hailey, Bellevue, Ketchum and Sun Valley all made public masking legally mandatory, as the county did. But Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley have all rescinded their mandates in recent weeks, following a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear face coverings indoors. The Bellevue City Council voted Monday to keep its mask requirement in place until 60% of the community is vaccinated, or until July 1—whichever comes first.
McCleary said she would like to see the county take a similar path as Bellevue, allowing more adults and eligible teenagers more time to become fully vaccinated.
Greenberg said he didn’t disagree that young people in particular should be given more time to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but had hesitations about extending the county mandate in light of the decisions made by Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.
“How do we protect those kids in the meantime, and do they need to protect themselves?” Greenberg asked. “I don’t see how extending the date within the county helps these 12-year-olds to get shots and stay safe.”
The official vaccination rate for eligible adults in Blaine County is 78%, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. But public officials agree that that number has likely been skewed by second-home owners and other out-of-state visitors, as the rates for the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley are each higher than 100%.
Under the county ordinance approved unanimously by the county commission last July, every person was required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in an indoor or outdoor public space where others were present. It included exceptions for people whose health conditions prevent them from wearing a mask, young children, law enforcement officers, those who are hearing impaired and people who were eating, drinking or obtaining a service involving the face or head. Anyone engaged in outdoor recreation or work was also exempted as long as social distancing was possible.
Those who violated the ordinance were subject to an infraction and a $100 fine.
The new ordinance, which will recommend that people follow federal public health guidelines but not legally enforce them, will go into effect after it is drafted, signed by the commission and posted in five public places.