Ketchum city leaders on Monday weighed the significance of a recent increase in positive test cases for the coronavirus in Blaine County but ultimately determined that the city’s response plan is adequate and new measures are not immediately warranted.
The discussion at City Hall came six days after City Council members voted to adopt Blaine County’s COVID-19 response plan, which is based on the Harvard Global Health Institute’s metrics for determining coronavirus transmission risk. The Blaine County system is based on the same metrics as the Harvard Global Health Institute, but is calculated each Thursday according to average case numbers from the previous week—not on a rolling basis, as Harvard’s system is. Previously, the city used the South Central Public Health District’s response plan, which calculates risk based on a 14-day average.
Ketchum Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin told Mayor Neil Bradshaw and the City Council that Blaine County on Oct. 1 had a positive coronavirus rate of 27 per 100,000 people. McLaughlin said the number had since dropped to 16 per 100,000, putting it in the county’s “orange”—or high—risk level. One of the criteria for a high-risk ranking is a seven-day daily average of 10 to 25 new cases per 100,000 people.
“It’s going to go up and down,” McLaughlin said, noting that Blaine County’s case rate is below the statewide average and below that of neighboring counties. He also noted that testing is primarily being done on people with symptoms of the virus, not asymptomatic people.
The county’s risk-level guidelines provide recommended mitigation strategies based on the determined risk. The risk categories are: minimal, moderate, high and critical.
In the high-risk category, recommendations include—but are not limited to—increasing education and messaging, requiring the use of face coverings, limiting large indoor gatherings, self-isolation of vulnerable populations and reducing occupancy in places of business and public buildings. (Though Blaine County is utilizing Harvard's metrics, it is not bound to the Global Health Institute's policy recommendations.)
McLaughlin said Monday that Blaine County has not seen “evidence of community spread linked to the business community,” but officials have seen evidence of so-called “COVID fatigue,” in which people get tired of following guidelines or orders designed to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.
McLaughlin said social gatherings in Blaine County could be a catalyst for spread of the coronavirus, adding that to this point there has not been significant spread of the virus among school-age children. He recommended the city continue to monitor the situation and provide education to the public, and to “do the best you can as an individual.”
Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said she believes “COVID fatigue is a thing,” but she does not want to see the community go through a lockdown “if it can be avoided.”
“I really wish we weren’t in this place,” she said.
Councilwoman Amanda Breen said she wants to dispel rumors in the community that because the city adopted the response plan that uses the Harvard metrics, leaders might now have to implement a “total shutdown.”
“I can tell you that is the farthest thing from my mind right now,” she said, noting that the plan’s recommendations should be viewed as “guidelines.”
Breen said she is concerned about weddings and large indoor gatherings acting as spreader events for the virus and suggested that vigilant monitoring will be needed as the weather gets colder. She said she wants to see people wearing masks and observing social distancing.
“No full shutdown right now,” she said.
Councilman Jim Slanetz agreed.
“I think we’re still at acceptable levels,” he said.
The city website on Tuesday, using data from Sept. 20-26, stated that the rate of positive tests for the coronavirus in Blaine County was 9.87 percent. That figure also meets the criteria for a high-risk ranking.
The city on Sept. 29 renewed for 182 days an “emergency health ordinance” that allows it to issue health orders. On July 7, it implemented a mask mandate requiring people to wear a face covering in public places “when members of the public are physically present,” with some exemptions.
Meanwhile, the state of Idaho has stated that its response to COVID-19 “is now primarily local or regional in nature.” Data released by the state at the end of the business day Monday reported that Idaho has had 44,422 confirmed and probable cases of coronavirus, with 458 new cases that day. The state has reported 487 deaths linked to COVID-19. In Blaine County, 700 confirmed and probable cases have been reported.
In the end, city leaders tacitly agreed to continue to monitor the risk level and data, and to continue to promote safety measures.
“We continue to remind the public of the protocols we started messaging in April—maintain social distancing, wash hands, etc.,” Lisa Enourato, Ketchum’s public affairs and administrative services manager, stated in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express.