Hailey residents are now required to wear masks in public, the City Council ruled Tuesday night, with other cities in the Wood River Valley expected to consider similar measures in the coming week.

The Hailey mandate was the second of its kind to go into effect in Idaho after Moscow’s mayor issued a similar public health order Tuesday. A third city, McCall, did the same on Wednesday.

Whether other cities in Blaine County will follow suit is unknown, as local elected officials are split on whether mask use should be legally enforced through an order or encouraged via an unenforceable resolution.

Per the 4-0 Hailey council ruling, masks must be worn in all indoor public spaces, including retail shops, grocery stores and buses. Those exempt to the rule include the hearing-impaired, those eating and drinking at restaurants, those for whom wearing a mask presents a health risk or hazard at work and children under 5. Citizens must also observe the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines outside and wear a mask if social distancing can’t be accomplished.

Violations will be punished as infractions, carrying a fine of $100. 

Councilman Sam Linnet said he hoped other jurisdictions would pass similar ordinances.

“This is the best public health decision we can make,” he said. “It’s what our local doctors are telling us to do. Secondly, it’s easy. The cost of wearing a mask is minimal for an individual person, while the benefit is potentially huge.”

Earlier in the day Tuesday, the Blaine County commissioners passed a resolution encouraging public mask use, opting not to pursue a more aggressive ordinance that would have legally required people to wear masks in public. The commissioners had previously indicated support for an ordinance, but chose to pursue a nonenforceable resolution instead after local mayors expressed a preference for the latter, Commissioner Angenie McCleary said at the time.

On Wednesday, after Hailey had passed its order, McCleary told the Idaho Mountain Express that the county commissioners would consider an ordinance at their regular meeting next week. A draft mask ordinance has been listed on the agenda for Tuesday’s commission meeting.

“I think it gives a stronger message to the community of what’s expected,” McCleary said Wednesday. “I’ve always thought the best course of action for the counties and the cities is to take that step.”

Not all elected officials in the valley agree that an enforceable order or ordinance is the best approach, though, with some expressing a preference for a resolution. The city of Ketchum will consider both courses of action at an upcoming meeting, Mayor Neil Bradshaw told the Mountain Express on Wednesday. But Bradshaw plans to recommend that the city take the resolution route, he said, as a mandate would be “unenforced and unenforceable.”

“I don’t want people to be given tickets for not wearing a mask,” he said, adding that he has concerns about the health of the officers who might deal with unmasked people.

The Bellevue City Council was expected to consider a resolution or order on mask use at a special meeting Thursday afternoon. That meeting had not yet taken place as of press time.

On Wednesday, Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns told the Mountain Express that he was in favor of “whatever gets us the most buy-in from the public, be that resolution or emergency order.”

“I still feel like local Blaine County residents are doing the right thing the majority of the time, but we have such an influx of visitors who aren’t doing the right thing that we need to take action to keep everyone, locals and tourists, as safe as possible,” Burns said.

A resolution regarding mask use was also scheduled to come before the Sun Valley City Council on Thursday afternoon. Only a resolution was listed on the meeting’s agenda—not an order—but Mayor Peter Hendricks told the Mountain Express on Wednesday that he “wouldn’t presume to know what [the council] would or would not consider,” noting that such discussions at council meetings are often “far-ranging.”

Sun Valley City Council President Michelle Griffith told the Express she believed a resolution would be “reasonable given the nature of Sun Valley” and the private ownership of Sun Valley Village and other public gathering places in the city.

“In my over eight years on the council, nothing has had a more personalized and wide continuum of opinions than mask wearing,” Griffith said.

Nearly all Hailey residents who spoke during Tuesday’s public comment session or wrote letters to the city expressed support for the order.

Esther McLaughlin, however, said she felt it was a direct attack on the Constitution.

“Will we stand up against this oppression, or will we kneel to this control and be muzzled? We have to make that choice,” she said on Tuesday, adding that wearing masks can lead to “hy-poxia and hypercapnia.” (The CDC has asserted that face coverings do not present a risk of hypoxia or hypercapnia, which means excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, in healthy adults.)

Hailey resident Walt Denekas said wearing masks should be an absolute essential.

“The alternative is that we have another very serious outbreak and have to shut down for eight weeks,” he said. “That would be very financially and psychologically damaging.”

During the council deliberation period, Councilwoman Kaz Thea stressed that a second spike in COVID-19 cases would be catastrophic.

Councilwoman Heidi Husbands agreed.

“We don’t want to be where we were back in March,” she said. “But I wish that instead of us having to make an ordinance, people would take personal responsibility and businesses would take it upon themselves to require face masks.”

The emergency order in Moscow, issued by Mayor Bill Lambert, includes a harsher penalty than the orders in Hailey and McCall. In Moscow, any person who knowingly violates the order can be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The city of Hailey had initially set its fine for violation at $300, but both Linnet and Thea said that approach was too stern.

Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson said enforcement will start “gently.”

“We’ll start with educating people, letting them know about the order, and after a certain amount of time we’ll do a combination of citations and warnings,” she said.

According to Linnet, Hailey’s ordinance will be in effect until it’s rescinded by the council—there’s no built-in sunset date, he said.

The new regulations arrive this week as Idaho continues to work through its most intense spike in COVID-19 cases since the pandemic reached the state in March. As of Wednesday, Idaho had added more than 1,000 cases since Friday evening, bringing the total tally of confirmed and probable cases to 6,370, according to the state Department of Health and Welfare. As of Wednesday, Blaine County accounted for 523 confirmed and 12 probable cases, according to the South Central Public Health District.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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