Masks

Though masks continue to be required on Mountain Rides buses, at Friedman Memorial Airport and at Blaine County School District schools, they’ve become optional in most local businesses.

In downtown Hailey, dozens of “Masks required” signs that had graced storefronts for 14 months were noticeably absent on Tuesday. Plexiglass barriers disappeared from checkout counters. While some stores continued to display printouts of the city’s now-defunct mask order, others had new signs urging customers to wear masks.

Ever since Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey formally rescinded their emergency public health orders last week--lifting requirements to wear masks, socially distance and limit group sizes--business owners have been left to their own devices to draft up custom mask policies.

With much variance in rules among establishments, some business owners say it’s been difficult to keep customers satisfied.

At Saigon VN Nails on Main Street in Hailey, two signs on the door request that customers wear masks and sanitize their hands before entering.

“We plan to keep the masks on every day,” nail technician My Le Tran said of the store’s policy, which was created to protect unvaccinated employees.

But Tran said not all clients have been on board with the rules, and she’s witnessed more combativeness over the last week and a half.

Jane Drussel, owner of Jane’s Artifacts, told the Express on May 17--shortly after Hailey pulled its mask mandate--that she planned to keep the store’s mask requirement for customers and employees.

“I understand the city was put between a rock and a hard place with what the CDC did,” she said then, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement on May 13 that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks inside or outside. “But I think it should have been more gradual. Now, all the burden is on us, the businesses, to patrol this whole thing.”

On Tuesday, Drussel noted a decline in mask use both in-store and around town. Though concerned for her employees who have been unable to receive a vaccine due to health issues, she said she didn’t think she could deny anyone business.

“If someone comes in without a mask, we just try to deal with it and go with the flow,” she said. “I wish everyone would abide by our [requirement], but that’s just not going to happen. People are too eager to get rid of the masks.”

Luke Snell, owner of Luke’s Family Pharmacy, said he settled on an optional mask policy for both employees and customers, but “at least 90%” of customers have continued to wear masks.

“It’s too difficult to be the mask police and ask for [proof of vaccination status],” he said, adding that he backed Hailey’s mask rescindment order. “I think our community is in good enough shape for people to decide what’s best for them.”

KB’s Burritos owner Rodolfo Serva—who along with his brothers oversees restaurants in Ketchum, Hailey, Boise, Twin Falls and McCall—said he is requiring employees to wear masks in Ketchum and Hailey to protect the “10% of staff” there who chose not or are unable to receive a vaccine.

“Some people just don’t want to be vaccinated. I can’t force it,” he said, adding that 100% of his employees are vaccinated in Boise. “But 90% is pretty awesome.”

Similarly, Atkinsons’ staff members are required to wear masks, but customers can opt in or out.

“We are still putting up signs encouraging mask use purely out of respect and gratitude to our frontline co-workers,” co-owner Peter Atkinson told the Express. “Our main concern is their safety and the safety of our customers.”

Albertsons did not return a request for comment on the Hailey store policy.

Other establishments, such as Starbucks in Ketchum, The Attic Thrift Store in Hailey and the Hailey Public Library, have an “honor system style” mask policy in which fully vaccinated customers can go maskless but unvaccinated people are asked to wear a mask.

Michelle Baird, sales associate at The Attic, said she hoped that customers in favor of wearing masks do not demand to see documentation from maskless customers.

“No one knows who’s been vaccinated. That can pose some difficulty. But I don’t want to see customers taking our [policy] wrong, to the level of ‘Hey, show me your vaccine card,’” she said. “That’s a violation.”

Caitlyn Mills, public services librarian at the Hailey Public Library, said the library crafted its current mask policy based on employees’ vaccination timelines, waiting two weeks before making masks optional for visitors. That milestone was reached Monday, she said.

“Now that everyone on our staff is fully vaccinated, we have ended our mask policy. But we ask that folks who are unvaccinated continue wearing masks,” she said. “Obviously, we trust that folks that wear masks are doing so for their comfort, and folks that aren’t are vaccinated. It is the honor system here--we aren’t checking you at the door.”

At the Wood River YMCA, masks are still required and members are asked to wipe down equipment. Guests no longer have to have their temperature taken by a noncontact wrist thermometer, however.

Serva said mask skirmishes have gradually faded away ever since he took down “Masks required” signs at KB’s locations last week. Now, he has more time to focus more on how the pandemic has impacted his business and address higher food costs, he said.

“I just need to figure out a new formula. I like to walk around town supporting other restaurants, collecting ideas,” he said.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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