Slow It Down Ketchum

Ketchum's "Slow It Down" COVID-19 banner has hung over Main Street for months as Blaine County enjoyed low infection rates throughout most of the summer. Moving into autumn, though, local case counts are beginning to spike once more.

The Ketchum City Council on Monday approved and enacted a new public health order that requires face coverings for most residents and implements new regulations that limit the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings, with exceptions for specific public facilities and businesses.

The order took effect at 12 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20.

The 3-1 vote to approve the emergency health order came with City Council members Michael David, Amanda Breen and Courtney Hamilton voting “yes” and Councilman Jim Slanetz voting “no.”

The health order was put forth to the City Council as Blaine County remained in the “red”—or critical—risk level for coronavirus, as assessed in the county’s own risk-assessment model. The county and the wider region have recently experienced a pronounced surge in coronavirus infections and COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin told City Council members that it is expected that Blaine County will continue to be in the critical risk category when new data is averaged and assessed this week. He noted that the state of Idaho had recorded some 2,300 new cases of coronavirus over the previous three days.

“This particular surge has been pretty widespread,” he said.

The main elements of the health order are:

• A requirement that people in the city “shall, when in any indoor or outdoor public place, completely cover their nose and mouth when members of the public are physically present and within 6 feet.” This essentially reinforces an existing mask mandate.

• A requirement that “all gatherings of non-household members shall maintain 64 square feet of space per person in every indoor and outdoor space,” or room.

• A requirement that indoor gatherings not exceed 10 people and outdoor gatherings not exceed 50 people.

• A provision that people who violate the order can be fined $100.

Exemptions for the mask requirement include children under age 5, people “who cannot tolerate wearing a face covering” for medical reasons, certain public servants, people performing a service that requires removal of their mask, people not of the same household who are receiving food or beverage service who remain 6 feet apart and people in outdoor public places where they can properly maintain social distance.

Exemptions to the limitations on gatherings include schools; grocery stores; health care facilities; households with more than 10 people; certain government-operated facilities; registered nonprofit organizations; private businesses that implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies and post informational signs about those strategies, and maintain “64 square feet of space per person in every indoor and outdoor space therein”; and businesses that have obtained city approval for a plan to implement additional mitigation measures.

The health order cites “a continuing and urgent need to protect all residents, employees and visitors in the city of Ketchum from the risks relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The city on Sept. 29 renewed for 182 days an ordinance that allows it to issue health orders. On July 7, it implemented a mask mandate, with some exemptions. The city has also adopted the county’s COVID-19 response plan, which sets forth specific recommended guidelines for responses to the four risk categories: minimal, moderate, high and critical.

McLaughlin provided City Council members with an overview of the coronavirus surge in the region and state. He noted that there have been more documented coronavirus cases in the southern Wood River Valley than in the Ketchum area but a degree of “crossover” exists because of commuting and everyday movement. He said the South Central Public Health District, which serves Blaine County and seven others, has had difficulty conducting adequate contact tracing because there are more cases to track than there are people to track them. He said compliance with existing regulations had been excellent in Ketchum retail establishments but he had seen evidence that non-household members at some drinking venues were not staying 6 feet apart, in observance of social-distancing measures.

“If we want to keep everything open, we’ve got to reverse this trend,” McLaughlin said.

Mayor Neil Bradshaw told council members that he wanted to keep the mask-wearing exemption for young children in the ordinance.

“I’m not a fan of putting a mask on a 2-year-old,” he said.

Hamilton said she strongly favored taking new actions to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think we need to remind people in maybe a stronger way that we really need to work on following these guidelines,” she said.

Hamilton said she believes there are “holes” in existing guidelines to combat the virus. She noted that she has “sympathy” for parents and “empathy” for people with disabilities who might not favor certain regulations, but she also wants to protect citizens from COVID-19.

“I want to do what I think is helpful for the general community,” she said. “… I want to make it clear that I care about people in our community.”

David said he wants the community to be safe but also wants to protect residents’ livelihoods.

Slanetz said he does not favor implementing new regulations. He expressed concern about rising hospitalization numbers but said he does not think the number of cases is “overwhelming right now.” He also expressed concerns about how the measures would be enforced.

“I’d like to stay where we’re at,” he said.

Breen said the city needs to consider what is happening in the region, not just locally.

“We’re not a bubble,” she said.

Breen said she believes the state has done an inadequate job responding to the virus and assisting municipalities.

“I think it’s really important to point out the failure of the state of Idaho,” she said.

Along with the mayor, council members considered other options—including not enacting new measures but working to educate people about and enforce existing measures—but the majority agreed to proceed with the emergency ordinance.

“I think it’s important we do something right now,” Hamilton said.

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