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Ketchum's revised health order comes as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise steadily throughout the South Central Public Health District.

Responding to an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and illnesses, Ketchum City Council members on Monday unanimously approved a citywide health order that expands and clarifies coronavirus-related regulations.

The city health order—which went into effect at midnight on Monday and supersedes previous orders—maintains provisions of a health order enacted Nov. 3, but also implements specific regulations for recreational facilities, offices and construction activity. The new health order states that “churches and religious gatherings are recommended to reduce capacity to allow six feet between all persons or household groups or to conduct activities remotely when possible.” It maintains pre-existing rules limiting group sizes and requiring face coverings, except in specific cases and situations.

Councilwoman Amanda Breen said she believes the city should take action but that a balance—of regulation and enforcement—should be sought between “the COVID police swooping in” and not doing enough to protect citizens from the potentially fatal virus.

“I’m extremely concerned about Thanksgiving, both locally and nationally,” she said. “… If anyone thinks that this is going to plateau anytime soon, it’s not, and I think the medical professionals around the country are strongly, strongly saying that Thanksgiving could be a real spreader event.”

The action came after Gov. Brad Little moved Idaho back to Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds coronavirus response plan on Nov. 14, implementing more restrictive statewide measures to bring case counts down. The statewide health order signed by the governor on Nov. 13 includes limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, mask requirements for long-term care facilities and a seating-only policy at bars, restaurants and nightclubs. It encourages telework and states that “all vulnerable Idahoans should self-isolate.” It does not include a statewide mask mandate.

The new Ketchum health order includes some changes intended to bring the city’s regulations more closely in line with the state’s Stage 2 rules and exemptions. One such change is requiring bars and restaurants to follow the state’s Stage 2 protocols.

In assessing the threat of the coronavirus in the city and immediate surrounding area, Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin told the City Council that Blaine County remains at the “critical” level in its risk-assessment model. The county is experiencing its “highest level of cases since April,” he said, with data showing a coronavirus case rate of 70 people per 100,000, since last Friday.

“The hospital capacity concerns, however, are the biggest one,” McLaughlin said.

On Sunday, McLaughlin said, the state “hit its highest level yet” of people hospitalized in Idaho facilities, at about 440, and about 90 in intensive-care units.

“Staffing issues are becoming greater and greater all the time,” he said.

Locally, 911 calls for COVID-related cases are increasing but are still “manageable,” McLaughlin said. With other parts of the state experiencing “critical” staff shortages, Blaine County officials are fielding calls about sending personnel to help elsewhere, he said.

Last week, Idaho had 9,400 coronavirus cases, up 80 percent from a month before, McLaughlin said. Some Blaine County bar and restaurant workers have contracted the coronavirus at work, he said.

“We’re at a point where this is getting, obviously, very concerning.”

The main elements of the health order enacted on Monday are:

• A requirement that people in the city “shall, when in any indoor or outdoor public place, completely cover their nose and mouth when members of the public are physically present and within six feet,” with exceptions. That language re-establishes an existing mask mandate in the city.

• A requirement that “all gatherings of non-household members shall maintain 64 square feet of space per person in every indoor and outdoor space,” or room, and a requirement that indoor or outdoor gatherings not exceed 10 people, with exceptions.

• A requirement that “fitness centers, public gyms and recreational facilities are limited to 10 persons in any room or area or limited to no more than one person per 64 square feet,” plus other rules for cleaning and mask wearing.

• A requirement that “all offices and work locations that are not open to the public shall restrict occupancy to no more than one employee per 64 square feet,” with rules for social distancing and masks.

• Instructions for other businesses, bars and restaurants.

• Specific rules for construction sites and workers. Workers must wear personal protective equipment and stay 6 feet apart.

• A provision that people who violate the order can be fined $100.

In late October, Idaho moved from Stage 4 of its reopening plan to a modified version of Stage 3—with more restrictive protocols for Idaho residents and businesses—before going to Stage 2 this month. City regulations more restrictive than Idaho’s Stage 2 rules will continue to apply.

Mayor Neil Bradshaw said the health order was written to protect public health and maintain a viable local economy.

“This is all an attempt to keep the economy moving forward, keeping businesses operating, keeping people able to support our local businesses,” he said.

Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said she is concerned about whether people are adequately complying with existing regulations and whether the rules are being enforced.

“That’s my biggest concern, is how do we get this message across that this is really, really bad and it’s going to get worse, and it’s likely to affect you if you don’t start to make a change,” she said. “… I do think that we need to get it out there that we’re serious about this, and we really need you to comply with this for the good of the community.”

Councilman Jim Slanetz said changes in regulations can foster confusion. He voted in favor of enacting the health order but stated that he is “not as negative” as other officials and wants the city to be open to loosening restrictions if the situation improves.

Breen requested that the city explore looking at a system implemented by the city of Boise in which people can call a hotline to report rules violations or other coronavirus-related concerns. And, she said she hopes people will limit their Thanksgiving dinners to a gathering of household members.

“This isn’t just about Thanksgiving. This is about keeping our economy open,” Breen said.

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