Sun Valley City Council members opted on Thursday to keep the city’s existing COVID-19 regulations in place, after being asked by the mayor to review and consider relaxing them.
Without conducting a formal vote, council members generally agreed that they would be willing to review the matter and consider amending the city’s public health order in a month, when they convene in early June.
In early April, the City Council voted unanimously to extend the city’s public health order—which includes a mask-wearing mandate—through the end of June. The order states that all people must wear a face covering that completely shields their nose and mouth “when members of the public are physically present for otherwise unprotected social interaction,” both in indoor and outdoor public places—with several exemptions.
The city follows state guidelines on other COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Councilman Keith Saks said he was surprised to see the matter on the agenda, stating that COVID-19 data indicated that a significant threat still exists.
“I think it would be very irresponsible to change anything now,” he said.
Mayor Peter Hendricks gave council members a summary of numbers presented at a meeting of Blaine County elected officials on Wednesday, May 5. The COVID-19 vaccination rate in Sun Valley—broken down by zip code—was determined to be 107%, he said. The number was likely inflated by second-home owners and visitors getting vaccinated, he said.
The vaccination rate in Ketchum was determined to be 136%, Hendricks said, while Hailey was 56% and Bellevue was 40%.
In Idaho, any person 16 or older can get a COVID-19 vaccination.
In March, there were 108 COVID-19 cases in Blaine County, Hendricks reported, and the number dropped to 97 in April.
“That is half the number of a year ago,” he said.
The May 5 meeting presented “all sorts of good news” about the pandemic—including low hospitalization numbers locally and a high rate of vaccination in the county—but some challenges do remain, Hendricks said.
Councilwoman Jane Conard reiterated concerns stated in April that it is not Blaine County residents who pose the most serious threat of spreading the virus, but visitors coming from numerous places. She advocated keeping the mask mandate in its current form for at least another month.
“I don’t think our ordinance is overly burdensome,” she said.
Saks said he thought relaxing or eliminating the health order on Thursday could hurt Sun Valley Resort by placing the burden of responsibility for implementing COVID-19 regulations on the company, instead of the city. He also expressed concern about tourists and other visitors traveling to the area in the coming months.
“When we get into the summer season, we’re going to have an influx of people coming from God knows where,” he said.
Saks said he wants to avoid political influences on the matter and wants the city to follow established science—which he said supports mask-wearing. He noted that he had suffered from a serious case of COVID-19.
“I take this very seriously,” he said.
Councilwoman Michelle Griffith said she was willing to wait a month to reconsider changes to the health order but believes that amending the mask mandate is ultimately in order.
“At some point, we’re going to have to give up the masks, or decide that we’re never giving up the masks,” she said.
Hendricks said he did not fully expect the council to act on the matter on Thursday but does believe the city must continue to evaluate the effects of “pandemic protection”—which include reduced schooling, reduced economic activity and negative psychological impacts.
“I think there are enormous costs to all of this,” he said.
The mask-wearing exemptions in the city’s order include: children under the age of 5; people with a medical condition, mental-health condition or disability that prevents wearing a mask; people who are hearing-impaired; certain workers for whom wearing a mask would create a risk; people receiving a service that involves the face, nose or head; people who are eating and drinking at a public establishment while still maintaining 6-foot social distancing; outdoor public gatherings where social distancing is maintained; brief outdoor encounters while recreating; and people exercising indoors while maintaining social distancing.
Violations of the order are deemed an infraction, punishable by a fine of $100.