The Hailey City Council voted 4-0 Monday night to enact an emergency health order requiring all residents to wear face coverings in public, citing a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant and the need to protect hospital infrastructure.
The mandate—effective Tuesday afternoon—makes the city the first local jurisdiction to reinstitute a mask requirement. It will remain in place until Tuesday, Oct. 12, when councilmembers will reconvene and assess its performance.
Monday’s order defines a “public place” as “any place open to all members of the public without specific invitation.” Examples include retail floors, grocery stores, libraries, buses, government offices, salons, movie theatres and medical facilities.
The mandate differs from past emergency health orders in a few areas. While customers in any indoor public space must wear a mask, bandana or face shield, establishments themselves are not legally required to enforce the mandate with signage. The city is also not implementing any indoor or outdoor group-size restrictions.
People exempt from the mandate include first responders on duty, such as firefighters; those spaced apart 6 feet or more outside; people eating or drinking at a food establishment; anyone undergoing a cosmetic or medical procedure involving the face; and anyone participating in an athletic event.
Mayor Martha Burke, who did not vote on Monday, said she was hesitant to implement a mask mandate.
“Implementing a mask mandate was a challenge a year ago, but what was different was our whole state was involved, and we were coming out of lockdown. This time, we know enforcement will be a battle,” she said. “Some people in our community—people who have chosen not to get the vaccine, not to wear masks and to spread the disease—just won’t wear masks no matter what.
“I don’t think this is the way to unite the community.”
Councilmembers expressed more confidence in the mandate, which they viewed as non-ideal but effective. Councilwoman Heidi Husbands framed the discussion by offering a few recent statistics.
“There are 283 probable cases in Blaine County. We’re running a daily average of 37.2 new cases. Masks do have an impact,” she said. “I don’t want to see our hospital go into crisis standards of care, where there is no room for you if you get into a car accident and you are put on a gurney in the hallway.
“People can deny that COVID exists, but all you have to do is open your eyes and pay attention.”
Councilman Sam Linnet agreed.
“We’re talking about people dying here, entire families losing access to healthcare. For the last month, our public health district and hospital have been advocating for the reinstatement of COVID restrictions to reduce the pressure on our healthcare infrastructure,” Linnet said. “I take what they say very seriously.”
Linnet added that he understood the frustration from residents who believe that a mask mandate is unconstitutional or an overreach of government.
“I hear you, I see you, and I am happy to talk to you one-on-one,” he said.
Councilwoman Kaz Thea believed the mandate would not be necessary if “80 to 90%” of the community were voluntarily wearing masks.
“I get it. It’s a pain. I do not enjoy wearing a mask,” Thea said. “But it is the least invasive step we can take to protect our community.”
“Masks will mitigate airborne disease, and that’s what we need right now,” Councilman Juan Martinez added.
Not following the masking order could potentially result in a citation. Hailey Police Chief Steve England, however, said he will be focusing on education first.
“Our goal is not to be authoritative with this, but to educate,” he said.
For full coverage of Monday’s meeting, pick up a copy of the Wednesday paper.