Ketchum city leaders are considering when they can start to ease some of the restrictions enacted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Prompted by Mayor Neil Bradshaw, City Council members on Monday offered their thoughts on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and discussed whether some elements of the city’s health order implementing COVID-19 restrictions could soon be relaxed.
Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin told council members that significant strides have been made in combating the virus.
“The light is at the end of the tunnel and we can see it,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said 15 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in Blaine County last week, a number that was “not anywhere near” those of the last surge, though case numbers did rise some in the third week of March.
By Monday, 56% of Blaine County’s population had been vaccinated against COVID-19 and an additional 14% had made appointments to do so, he said. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, its vaccination figures count the number of people who have received at least one dose.
The county could theoretically reach a level of so-called “herd immunity”—the threshold of when enough people are vaccinated or have antibodies to limit spread of the disease—in coming weeks, but people can still get the coronavirus and should continue protective measures, McLaughlin said. By mid-May or late May, McLaughlin said, there should be very limited spread of the virus in Blaine County.
“I think we’re going to be looking at a very different picture in a month or so,” he said.
The city’s health order enacted by the City Council to limit the spread of the virus includes (but is not limited to):
- 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 some exceptions.
- 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 some 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.
- Rules for operation of restaurants and bars.
- A provision that people who violate the order can be fined $100.
The city has enacted different versions of COVID-related health orders since March 2020.
Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton stressed the importance of keeping the community safe but said she recognizes that leaders must measure the need for restrictions and mandates.
“I want to assure the public that we’re not trying to keep masks on forever. That is not our goal,” she said.
However, health experts have advised that now is not the time to relax mitigation measures, Hamilton said.
“I look forward to having that conversation,” she said, noting that she could soon be open to considering increasing the permitted size of some gatherings.
Councilman Jim Slanetz said he thinks requiring people to wear face masks while outdoors is “detrimental” to the community. He said he would like to see that mandate lifted.
“We’re setting an example that doesn’t exist in the real world,” he said.
Councilman Michael David said he believes people in Ketchum are wearing masks “out of respect for each other,” not because they could be fined. He said that while some people would prefer easing restrictions, others are still “scared out of their wits” by the virus. He noted that people do not have to wear masks outdoors if they stay 6 or more feet away from others.
“I can’t wait for the day that I don’t have to wear them,” he said.
Hamilton noted that polling of visitors by the Visit Sun Valley organization indicated that some visitors support the city’s mask mandate. David noted that the mask mandate can also help business operators by making mask wearing a requirement of the city, not the specific business, thereby making enforcement easier.
Councilwoman Amanda Breen said she is “encouraged by the trends we’re seeing” but is concerned about visitors and the tourism sector. She said she is open to changing the city’s limitations on outdoor gatherings.
“I’m really proud of our community,” she said.
Bradshaw said he plans to propose making “adjustments” to the city’s regulations for outdoor gatherings at the next City Council meeting on April 19.
Bradshaw indicated that city leaders could consider other changes in May.