Hailey City Hall

The Hailey City Council agreed on Monday to renew the city’s emergency health order and continue to require masks for another 30 days, mirroring its decision one month ago.

The health order requires residents and visitors 5 and up to wear masks, face coverings or face shields in indoor public spaces and in outdoor settings where social distancing is not possible. Exemptions apply to people spaced apart 6 feet or more outside, people eating or drinking at a food establishment, participants in athletic tournaments, first responders and anyone undergoing a medical procedure involving the face.

The council previously voted on Oct. 12 to continue mask-wearing by 30 days with an understanding that the order would expire on Nov. 11. But the order will actually expire on Jan. 10 due to a clerical error that erroneously listed a 90-day extension instead of a 30-day extension, City Attorney Chris Simms noted on Monday evening.

That came as news to the council. Regardless, councilmembers agreed that a sunset date of Jan. 10 was reasonable as long they had an option to repeal the order at any point.

Simms said no voting action was required on Monday to extend the mask requirement.

“This was an error on my part,” Mayor Martha Burke said, referring to the document with the typo that she had signed.

Councilwomen Heidi Husbands, Kaz Thea and Sam Linnet each felt that a 30-day extension of the order was adequate, while Councilman Juan Martinez said he was “fine” with a longer extension of the order.

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“As a ticket checker at Sun Valley Co. [last winter] with a bunch of tourists coming in, I only really felt safe with a mask on,” Martinez said. “I also don’t want people to have to guess what it’s going to be like in any business. A mask mandate makes it clear.”

Linnet said that while COVID-19 numbers are improving locally, the St. Luke’s health system has a backlog of thousands of surgeries, crisis standards of care are still in place and ICU bed availability was in the single digits last week. Local doctors have continued to ask city leaders to pull out all stops to fight the virus, including a mask requirement, he added.

“It would not be in our best interest to rescind our mask order against the advice of the healthcare advisors that we have been listening to for the last year and a half,” he said.

Linnet also stressed the importance of not acting alone, but in concert with other jurisdictions.

“From a policy perspective, we have acted in unison throughout and I would like to see us continue to do that. After a pretty rough fall, metrics are finally trending in the right direction,” he said. “The conversation now is shifting now to ‘How do we address this in the long term?’—COVID is not just going to go away next week or next spring.

“The reality is, this public health crisis transcends arbitrary jurisdictional boundaries, and we need to create a [countywide] public health strategy before we get rid of masks.”

Burke said she was most concerned about Blaine County employees who commute from surrounding counties that have vaccination rates below 50%. (According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Lincoln and Minidoka Counties had a vaccination rate of 35% as of Tuesday morning; Gooding County, 36%; Butte County, 41%; Custer County, 43%; and Camas County, 48%. Idaho’s average sits around 50%.)

“Our population is well-protected to a certain degree. The question is, what about those who come here to work from those counties?” Burke asked. “That is my concern.”

Thea took what she said was a “devil’s advocate” stance and asked if it was time to move to a mask recommendation as opposed to a mandate. As a baker at Hangar Bread, Thea said she has personally observed some customers not wearing masks but has not asked them to leave.

“People who wear masks are going to continue to wear masks and people who don’t, won’t. It just is what it is. At some businesses employees are not wearing masks at all,” she said.

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Thea then questioned the city’s ability to enforce its health order.

“Yes, our police are trying their best to have discussions with businesses when employees are not complying,” she said. “But honestly I don’t think we have hardcore enforcement. I would like to ask what does a mandate do to keep us safe that a’ highly recommend’ mask policy doesn’t?

“If there’s not going to be an emphasis on strong compliance with consequences—tickets, fees—and no signs on businesses, do we as government officials want to continue this mandate?”

Husbands said she’d been asking the same question.

“I see COVID happening—I have a number students out right now—but I’ve been going back and forth” between a requirement and recommendation, she said. “Enforcement has been challenging.”

Linnet responded that “no law, even speeding, can be enforced 100%,” but that he believed the city’s mask requirement had been effective so far.

“If there is not clear policy direction from the city, people are going to say ‘It’s not as serious now. I forgot my mask in my car but don’t need to get it,’” he said. “Some things need to be black and white.”

Public expresses opposition to order

Burke initially opened Monday evening’s comment session but closed it after no one participated. Hailey firefighter Phil Rainey then took a seat in City Hall and Burke reopened the session.

Rainey, who regularly testifies against the requirement, asked the council if they knew of any studies that prove that masks “stop the virus” and questioned what he said was an assumption by the city that “everyone is a potential carrier.”

“Don’t make a decision out of fear. You’re peddling fear and people are sick of it,” said Rainey, who was asked by a policeman in City Hall to wear a mask.

Hailey resident Dennis Harper echoed Rainey’s sentiment, adding that he believed the mask requirement was ineffective and “half of the people aren’t wearing masks in the grocery store.”

“I wish there was a bit more logic and decision-making versus emotions. I am hearing from the council, ‘This mask mandate makes me feel better,’” he said. “If you got the vaccination, you should be protected.” 

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