The Twin Falls City Council voted to pass a resolution encouraging residents to wear masks and practice other COVID-19 safety measures Monday night, a week after indefinitely shelving an ordinance that would have required the use of face coverings in public.
The resolution does not make masks mandatory, but encourages “unity and civility among the citizens of Twin Falls to slow the spread of COVID-19, protect lives and safety, and limit the continued negative impacts of COVID-19 in the community.”
City Attorney Shayne Nope described the resolution as an attempt to find common ground between Twin Falls residents in favor of a mask mandate and those who are not.
“Our hope was this resolution would speak to both sides in terms of educating and doing what we can to limit the continued negative impacts of COVID-19 on our community,” Nope said.
The resolution urges Twin Falls residents and visitors to practice the “three Ws”—“wash your hands,” “wear a mask” and “watch your distance”—and to “avoid public or private group gatherings unless physical distancing and mask wearing can be observed.” It also asks all businesses, organizations and institutions to promote those recommendations.
The council voted 6-1 to pass the resolution; the dissenting vote came from Councilwoman Nikki Boyd, who said she did not believe the resolution contained new recommendations that have not already been promoted by other local entities.
“We need to become kind to each other again and do what we can do,” Mayor Suzanne Hawkins said, noting that she and her extended family do not plan to have a large family gathering for Thanksgiving. “It’s not perfect, but it’s those small sacrifices that are going to help us get through this and hopefully on to a healthy 2021.”
Other members of the council, including Councilman Craig Hawkins and Councilman Greg Lanting, supported the resolution but questioned whether it would be sufficient to significantly lower the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the Magic Valley.
“I’m a little concerned that we’re falling short,” Lanting said. “I will definitely be voting for this, but I wish we could do more.”
Last week, the City Council voted 6-1 to indefinitely table an ordinance that would have legally required the use of face coverings in certain public settings, punishable as an infraction. Craig Hawkins was the only council member who voted against tabling the ordinance.
“I just don’t know if it’s enough,” he said of the resolution Monday. “I hope personal behavior will change enough that we can flatten the curve.”
The vote came after a presentation to the council Monday by Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs for the St. Luke’s health system in the Magic Valley, Jerome and Wood River Valley. There were about 50 COVID-19 patients in the Magic Valley hospital as of Monday, Kern said, resulting in the hospital’s having to divert intensive care unit patients. Four of the COVID-19 patients in the Magic Valley hospital Monday were in the ICU, Kern said.
Across the entire St. Luke’s system, 130 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Monday statewide.
In the Magic Valley and across the St. Luke’s system, COVID-19 hospitalizations remain at a “very concerning level that’s very difficult for us to think about maintaining for extended periods of time,” Kern said.
Last year, there were a total of six deaths at St. Luke’s Magic Valley between Nov. 1 and Nov. 16, Kern said. This year, there have been 19 deaths in that same period, with 12 attributable to COVID.
As of Monday evening, there were a total of 5,897 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Twin Falls County and 67 deaths, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
“Everybody at St. Luke’s wants this to be over as bad as everybody else does,” Kern said. “But the reality is we’re probably at the tip of the iceberg.”