Citing a need to protect people from COVID-19, Sun Valley City Council members voted unanimously last Thursday to extend the city’s existing mask-wearing order through the end of March.

The public health order put forth by Mayor Peter Hendricks mandates that all people must wear a 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.

Recent data show a slight drop in COVID-19 cases in Blaine County, Hendricks said, but the situation is still very serious.

“It’s less bad. But it’s still bad,” he said.

Blaine County remains in the “Critical” risk category for COVID-19, as established by the county’s own risk-assessment model. As of Monday evening, there had been 111,893 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Idaho, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, including 1,383 new cases recorded that day. There had been 1,055 coronavirus-related deaths across the state.

Hendricks encouraged citizens and visitors to continue to practice recommended safety measures, which include wearing masks, social distancing, practicing diligent hand hygiene and limiting social circles.

“Let’s do the best we can,” he said.

The order allows a list of exemptions that include children under age 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.

The order extends an existing order—which lasts through the end of December—from Jan. 1, 2021, through March. It can be amended, extended or rescinded by the City Council.

The state has implemented its own COVID-19 protocols under its Idaho Rebounds response plan but has not issued a statewide mask mandate. Local orders that are more stringent than the state’s do hold effect and are enforceable.

Hendricks said he spoke to a Sun Valley Resort official before the meeting Thursday and was told that electronic safety cameras are monitoring resort employees going in and out of the company dorms near the Sun Valley Community School. The devices monitor whether the employees are wearing masks and take their temperature. If they are not wearing a mask, they cannot enter, and if they are deemed to need health care, they are taken to a quarantine area, Hendricks said. In addition, sanitizing protocols at the resort are “very, very stringent,” he said.

“I’m impressed with all of the things they’ve been doing,” Hendricks said.

Councilwoman Jane Conard said council members have received some letters objecting to regulations that the writers believe violate citizens’ “rights to freedom.”

In response, she referred to founding father Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, which recognize certain “unalienable rights,” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“And if you don’t have life, [then] liberty and happiness are not going to happen,” Conard said.

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