The Ketchum and Sun Valley city councils on Tuesday afternoon both passed new ordinances that mandate masks in indoor public places, citing the need to respond to increasing COVID-19 case numbers and mounting pressure on health-care systems.
In special meetings, both city councils also passed ordinances granting emergency powers to each city’s mayor and council, giving the cities a wide range of authority to impose orders to protect public health.
Ketchum passed the ordinances by 3-1 votes, with Councilman Jim Slanetz dissenting to both. Sun Valley passed the laws by 3-0 votes, with Councilman Keith Saks absent because of pre-established travel plans.
Hailey and unincorporated Blaine County also passed similar mask measures earlier this week. The four jurisdictions are the only municipalities to require masks in the South Central Public Health District, district spokeswoman Brianna Bodily said on Thursday.
Ketchum Councilwoman Amanda Breen said she was disappointed that the city was again facing a COVID-19 crisis after seeing major progress in countering the pandemic last spring.
“It’s an emergency—bottom line,” she said.
Both ordinances were set to take effect by midnight Tuesday. Ketchum’s order will expire in 90 days, unless rescinded before then. Sun Valley’s order will stay in effect until rescinded by the council.
The Ketchum health order mandates that people wear masks in indoor public places where staying 6 feet apart from others is not possible. It also recommends that people wear masks in outdoor public places when other people are within 6 feet.
The order provides some exemptions, including for children younger than 5; people who medically cannot tolerate wearing a mask; on-duty law enforcement officers; people who are eating or drinking at a food or beverage establishment, if they stay 6 feet from people who aren’t in their party; and people who are exercising, if they practice social distancing.
Ketchum’s ordinance also requires that groups of non-household members stay 6 feet apart at gatherings in indoor public places and recommends social distancing for groups of people not in the same household at outdoor gatherings. Some exemptions are provided.
Violations of the order are punishable by a fine of $100.
Sun Valley’s health order mandates mask wearing in indoor public places “when members of the public are present for otherwise unprotected social interaction.” Its exemptions mirror those of Ketchum.
Sun Valley’s ordinance does not have specific orders for social distancing at gatherings. It also provides for a fine of $100 for violations.
The Sun Valley order notes that 51 COVID-19 cases were recorded in Blaine County the week of Sept. 1-7, one of which was in Sun Valley.
Hailey resident Brian Opp, who had previous attended Hailey and Blaine County’s mask discussions, told Sun Valley leaders that he is “100 percent opposed to mask mandates” and called the ordinance “government overreach.”
“To me, it’s all theater,” he said.
Councilwoman Jane Conard said she wished the city had taken action before Labor Day, when many Idahoans traveled and celebrated in groups.
“If we want to attract tourists to our beautiful valley, we need to keep the disease rates down,” she said.
Later in the afternoon, Opp also voiced opposition to the Ketchum ordinance, telling city leaders that he believes masks are harmful to children.
“Anyone’s free to wear a mask if they want,” he said.
The Hailey City Council voted 4-0 Monday night to enact an emergency health order requiring all residents to wear face coverings in public, ci…
Randy Hall, a former Ketchum mayor who works for St. Luke’s as a paramedic and emergency manager for the Wood River, Jerome and Magic Valley areas, urged the Ketchum City Council to adopt the mask mandate.
COVID-19 case numbers are surging, hospital beds are in short supply, ICU units are full, and staff are being pushed to fatigue and frustration, Hall said. The St. Luke’s Health System was treating 484 adult “acute care” patients, Hall said, far above the average of 300. St. Luke’s Wood River had 18 patients on Tuesday, significantly higher than the average of six to eight patients, he said.
“The challenges are immense,” Hall said.
St. Luke’s is now pausing all elective surgeries, St. Luke’s Wood River Public Relations Manager Joy Prudek told the council. Chris Roth, CEO of the St. Luke’s Health System, had told St. Luke’s employees that the system was “getting crushed” by COVID-19, Prudek said. Roth has warned that a request to the state to implement Crisis Standards of Care—which allow health-care facilities to use below-normal standards, including the rationing of care—is “imminent,” Prudek said.
Blaine County will require masks in indoor public places following a unanimous vote by its commissioners Tuesday morning.
Breen and Council President Courtney Hamilton both said they are especially concerned about hospital capacity and whether adequate care will be available not only for COVID-19 patients, but for people suffering from other conditions, such as a stroke or injuries from a car accident.
“Be cautious,” Hamilton advised.
Councilman Michael David questioned whether the health order was strong enough to address the COVID-19 surge.
Slanetz said he viewed the decision of whether to wear a mask to protect against COVID-19 as a matter of “personal responsibility.” He noted that he supported a resolution passed last week that recommends that all residents and visitors wear masks in many situations but would not support a mandate.
Ketchum implemented different versions of an emergency health order last year that mandated masks in specific situations and at times ordered other mitigation measures for people and businesses. It was rescinded when cases ebbed in May, as was a mask order in Sun Valley.
The new laws fall in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that all people—even those vaccinated against the virus—wear masks indoors.
The South Central Public Health District—which requires masks at its facilities—agrees with the CDC recommendation, Bodily said, and also urges residents to get vaccinated against the disease.
“I know it’s frustrating for some who are vaccinated. I feel this all too well, as I am also fully vaccinated and hate wearing masks,” she said. “These vaccines give our immune systems an important and effective boost, but they don’t stop the virus completely.
“Studies have shown masks, when worn properly, are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. As we see cases surge and hospital impact worsen, it’s important we all make choices that will help slow the spread of disease. This means get vaccinated, wear a mask in public areas (even if you are vaccinated), social distance around people you don’t live with, and take care of your health.”
Additional reporting by Mark Dee.