Toy Store Roundup

The sign of the times is loud and clear as businesses across the Wood River Valley--like The Toy Store in Ketchum--reopen their doors to the public and adjust to a health-conscious new normal.

As of 5:45 p.m., the South Central Public Health District reported 498 confirmed and 11 probable cases of COVID-19 in Blaine County, just one more than yesterday and the first confirmed case in several days.

Despite that, the health district warns of an impending spike in confirmed cases. Plus, many local agencies--including the City of Ketchum and the Blaine County School District--brace for critical economic impact. Here's more on those stories, as well as other top headlines from Tuesday, May 19.

• The Health District announced this afternoon that, as various organizations across region undergo cluster testing for COVID-19, case numbers are expected to spike in targeted counties. This is not necessarily cause for extra alarm, just an acknowledgement that increased testing will likely yield increased case confirmations.

“We know the virus is still active in our communities and we expect this extra testing to increase our numbers,” said Tanis Maxwell, an epidemiologist with the health district. “We will continue to investigate all confirmed cases and their close-contacts to slow the spread of COVID-19 wherever it is found.”

The Health District asks for increased vigilance among the community, especially with members in danger of complacency. Relaxed restrictions do not mean Idaho is out of the woods yet, Maxwell said, and those who ignore guidelines may be putting themselves and others at risk.

“Public health can educate and investigate, but we don’t have the legal authority to enforce guidelines,” Maxwell said. “This is why we ask everyone to protect their own health. If you walk into a restaurant and it is crowded—leave.”

The district urges people to maintain social distancing, wash their hands thoroughly and regularly, follow the governor’s reopening program and wear masks while out in public areas. For more, go to the district's website at phd5.idaho.gov

• With cancellations, business closures, unexpected health expenditures and a decimation of tourist traffic, the Ketchum city budget outlook is bleak. According to Mayor Neil Bradshaw, Ketchum could lose anywhere between $500,000 and $1.15 million in revenue due to the pandemic. As such, not only have city-sponsored events been called off, but a freeze has been placed on hiring, overtime payment will be curtailed for city staff, and many outside contracts have been reduced.

“The idea is to spend nothing now because it’s unclear what Sept. 1 will look like,” Bradshaw said during a special Ketchum City Council meeting on Monday.

The meeting confirmed that Ketch’em Alive, Jazz in the Park, the Pump Park Competition, the Skate Park Competition, Summer Solstice Festival, Movie Nights, Fair on the Square and the Memorial Day Celebration have all been nixed due to budget restraints. Wagon Days will be reduced to just the Big Hitch parade this year.

• Speaking of budgetary constraints, the Blaine County School District is trying to make plans for what next school year will look like. A fall re-entry plan drafted by district leadership details guidelines for social interaction, hygiene, the wearing of face masks, and suggests that students explore "jazz hands" as an alternative to high-fiving and fist-bumping.

The district's financial outlook may prompt further restrictions as well, Gretel Kauffman writes.

Gov. Brad Little has put forward a plan to cut 5 percent of K-12 funding next year, amounting to almost $99 million statewide, according to a memo obtained by Idaho Education News earlier this month, though that plan isn’t final. Blaine County School District Finance Manager Bryan Fletcher told the board that in the district, that would translate to a roughly $850,000 reduction to this year’s funding levels.

• While concerts and other huge gatherings have been called off, the city of Ketchum will open registration for its summer recreation programs tomorrow at 10 a.m. The two camps begin on June 8 and Aug. 10.

According to the city’s Facebook page, camps will be limited to the first 40 kids to register, and they must be residents of Blaine County.

• A grand total of 91 small businesses in Blaine County have applied for an received a cash grant from the state to help cover coronavirus-related costs. That number only includes grant recipients from the first wave of the governor’s Idaho Rebounds cash grants program, which singled out businesses with fewer than 20 employees. The second wave opened Monday and will benefit businesses with 50 or fewer employees. For the first time, self-employed Idahoans may also now apply for grants of up to $7,500.

• The Wood River High School will hold a virtual graduation ceremony this Thursday, followed by a parade of seniors through Hailey and Bellevue. A second, official graduation with the granting of diplomas will be held in June, according to district spokeswoman Heather Crocker.

As of 5 p.m., the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare counted 2,476 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in the state, an increase of 21 from yesterday's numbers. Seventy-seven people have died, three more than yesterday, and 1,668 people have recovered. For more news on the coronavirus' impact on Blaine County, pick up a copy of tomorrow's Idaho Mountain Express, or visit mtexpress.com at anytime.

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