Masks are now required in certain public settings in Ketchum and the unincorporated parts of Blaine County.
On Monday night, the city of Ketchum issued a public health order, enacting an enforceable mandate for the use of masks in public spaces, both indoors and outdoors. The following afternoon, the Blaine County commissioners approved a similar ordinance. Both are enforceable by a fine.
The city of Hailey became the first in the Wood River Valley to mandate mask use in public after the City Council voted last week to enact a public health order. The cities of Sun Valley and Bellevue, meanwhile, opted to instead pass unenforceable resolutions encouraging people to wear masks in public.
Ketchum’s public health order was passed by a 3-1 vote Monday, with Councilman Jim Slanetz opposed. The city will now mandate the use of masks in all public spaces, both indoors and outdoors where social distancing is not possible. The mask mandate does not apply to children under 5 and those with health issues that may be aggravated by the use of a mask. The mandate will be in place until the City Council or mayor rescinds, supersedes or amends the order.
The county ordinance, approved unanimously by the three commissioners, similarly requires every person to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in an indoor or outdoor public space where others are present. It includes exceptions for people whose health conditions prevent them from wearing a mask, young children, law enforcement officers, those who are hearing impaired and people who are eating, drinking or obtaining a service involving the face or head. Anyone engaged in outdoor recreation or work is also exempted as long as social distancing is possible.
Those who violate the county ordinance are subject to an infraction and a $100 fine.
Last week, the commissioners passed an unenforceable resolution encouraging the use of face masks in public. At the time, Commissioner Angenie McCleary described the resolution as a possible “first step” to stricter measures.
“We need to do everything we possibly can to ensure that the people who are appropriate to be wearing face masks or face coverings should be doing so,” McCleary said at Tuesday’s meeting, adding that she viewed the ordinance as “a real opportunity for education, to give a clear message to the public about what we expect.”
Calling Ketchum’s mandate “largely unenforceable,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw said he believed the health order would divide the city rather than bring it together, and recommended to the council a resolution instead.
Bradshaw said that until this point, the city has spent a lot of time on outreach and education and “a plethora of posters” around town asking residents and visitors to be “Ketchum kind” and use face coverings when entering any business establishment or interacting with a group in close quarters.
“My view has been that we accomplish more through signs on the highway, banners across the streets and a plethora of posters around town and at the entrance of businesses,” he said. “I’ve felt that education and awareness can lead to higher adoption rates of safe practices than what is typically just put on a piece of legislative paper—whether resolution or health order.”
Bradshaw said the mask issue has pushed people into political camps, those supporting the use of masks and those opposed, at a time when the community needs to come together.
“In my opinion, our message of kindness, thoughtfulness, awareness and empathy is something we can all get behind and is key to us pulling through both the health issue and the economic crisis we face,” he said.
Of the 106 public comments received by the city between June 26 and July 6, 58 were in favor of a mask mandate, including a letter signed by Harry Griffith on behalf of the Sun Valley Economic Development’s 150-plus members and its board of directors, as well as a letter from the Sun Valley Gallery Association, which includes nine galleries in Ketchum. The city also received a letter of support for a mask mandate from St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center’s emergency department physicians, eight in all, and a handful of business owners within the city, including the owners of Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee and Sister.
Those against the mask mandate argued that a health order would infringe on the public’s freedoms and constituted government overreach. In addition, some argued that there is little science behind face coverings and that they could do more harm than good, though medical professionals as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the use of face coverings mitigates the chance of contracting and spreading the virus while presenting no risk to healthy adults.
Opposing Bradshaw’s more lenient strategy, Councilwoman Amanda Breen said a resolution without a mandate behind it is a “waste of time,” and an emergency order would be the only way to effect communitywide compliance. Breen said she was most driven to consider a mandate after speaking to several business owners throughout town who say a legally binding order would give them the backup they need to enforce mask use in their stores.
“They’re saying they’re really having a hard time when, you know, they get some of these people who don’t have a mask and they say, ‘Well, is it the law?’ and well, no, it’s not,” she said. “They need that power to say, ‘Look, hey man, it’s the law.’”
Business owners are also extremely afraid of their employees getting sick, Breen said.
According to the letter to the council from Sun Valley Economic Development, the fears of business owners go beyond the prospect of being forced to shut down again.
“They have made it very clear that a mask mandate will give them the support they need, to help them deploy an enforceable and consistent mask policy in their establishments for both customers and employees,” the letter states.
The organization also expressed support for the county ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting, with Outreach Director David Patrie speaking on its behalf.
Public comment at the county commissioners’ meeting included a mix of testimonies for and against an enforceable ordinance, with two commenters speaking in opposition to the ordinance and four commenters speaking in support of it.
Tatyana Gray, who spoke against the ordinance, described the matter as a “rigged public spectacle,” comparing the county commission to leaders of the Soviet Union.
“You do not work for the experts. You work for the people,” Gray told the commissioners. “Your job is not to tell people what to do. Your job is to do what people tell you.”
Other commenters defended the ordinance, saying local leaders need to take action on masks when leaders at higher levels of government had not.
“Mask wearing has nothing to do with one’s constitutional rights,” said Betsy Stoll, in a written comment read aloud by McCleary. “Rather, mask wearing is a choice to show one’s patriotism; a way for all of us to show how much we care about our communities and the health and safety of our fellow citizens.”
Citing a valley-wide prevalence of confusion and misunderstanding around mask requirements, Commissioner Dick Fosbury suggested delaying the commission’s vote for one week.
“People are afraid, people are angry, and I think we need to do a lot of work to help with communications with the understanding of the purpose of this,” Fosbury said.
Both McCleary and Commissioner Jacob Greenberg described the ordinance and related discussion as already overdue.
“This should have been discussed and deliberated and resolved prior to the height of our season in July and August,” Greenberg said.
Fosbury ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance, along with Greenberg and McCleary. The ordinance will remain in effect until it is repealed by the county commissioners.