The Hailey City Council on Monday took another look at the city’s group-size restrictions—in effect since Oct. 14 as part of its revised health order—but elected not to loosen the restrictions, citing a lack of public participation from the business community.

Mayor Martha Burke originally scheduled Monday’s hearing after several business owners reached out to the city with concerns that the order’s capacity restrictions were sprung upon them without opportunity for public input.

“We heard from restaurant owners who felt that they did not see the previous order coming, that they didn't have sufficient opportunity to give public comment,” City Administrator Heather Dawson said.

Hailey’s Oct. 14 health order can be summarized in two parts. First, it limits indoor group sizes to one person per 64 square feet and outdoor group sizes to 50 people, with exemptions for schools, grocery stores, health-care facilities, government agencies and nonprofits. (The indoor size restrictions mean a 640-square-foot store could allow a maximum of 10 people, whereas a larger store could allow more.)

Second, the order requires all residents 5 and up to wear face coverings in public, including face shields for those medically intolerant of masks, and mandates that businesses enforce that requirement.

City Attorney Chris Simms said the existing 64-square-foot-per-person guideline, which the council adopted from the Harvard World Health Institute, is based on the assumption that each person takes up 2 square feet and needs a buffer of 6 feet from others.

Hailey residents Nicole Lichtenberg and Martha Bibb said they supported the guideline during a public-comment session.

“I feel better going into businesses knowing that there are clear safety procedures,” Lichtenberg said.

Burke asked to hear comments from business owners who disagreed with the capacity restrictions, but no one spoke up.

“This is why we’re doing this meeting. We’re looking to hear your concerns—we’re the people who might be able to help you solve your problem,” she said.

Mike McKenna, executive director of The Chamber of Hailey & the Wood River Valley, said he and Dawson had attended a recent meeting organized by frustrated business owners.

“They felt like they should just be treated as adults, not be told how to run their business and worry about being forced to close down,” he said. “Also, many business [owners] didn’t feel comfortable having to play a police role of kicking someone out because they aren’t following the [mask] ordinance.”

Councilman Sam Linnet said the mask mandate was not to “make everyone’s life harder,” but rather to keep citizens healthy and the economy going.

“Health care professionals are pleading with us right now to take more drastic measures because our hospitals are at capacity. They’re having to put [elective] procedures on hold, delay chemo treatment—to me that’s unacceptable,” he said. “I would just ask for our business owners to politely ask people to wear masks and explain it’s a city mandate. I'm happy to take the heat.”

Dawson said the two dozen business owners that assembled on Friday were primarily concerned with the group-size restrictions. Burke, Linnet and council President Kaz Thea questioned why they were comfortable gathering in private but not communicating with the council on Monday.

“The business community specifically requested discussing [group-size restrictions] and possible solutions tonight. I’ll just say I'm a little frustrated that there hasn't been more outreach, and would implore them to participate more,” Linnet said.

“I wish someone from the business community would step up and speak,” McKenna said.

City Councilman Juan Martinez asked the council to cut business owners some slack.

“What we have right now are players who've decided to walk away. It’s not their fault for not participating,” he said. “We’re talking about mathematical equations—not a whole lot of people understand the 64 square feet [calculation].”

The Hailey City Council will reevaluate its health order once again on Nov. 9 at 5:30 p.m.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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