As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Blaine County rises, leaders of neighboring counties and towns say they’re concerned about the virus spreading into their own communities.
A state-issued self-isolation order that went into effect Friday night doesn’t prohibit travel out of Blaine County if the travel is for an “essential” purpose. But nearby mayors and county commissioners are asking Wood River Valley residents to exercise special caution when visiting other towns and counties.
It’s important that people living in heavily impacted places like Blaine County don’t “attempt to escape” the virus by fleeing to hotel rooms and cabins in nearby areas, Custer County Commission Chairman Steve Smith said.
“This practice only spreads the virus like a fox’s tail on fire,” Smith told the Idaho Mountain Express. “What they really are doing is endangering others.”
In Stanley, a popular destination for recreating and weekend trips among Wood River Valley residents, there is one health care clinic, with the nearest hospital more than an hour away. If a pandemic were to spread among the town’s 60-something residents, that clinic could be “easily overwhelmed,” Mayor Steve Botti said.
“We would like to minimize contact with people who might be infected by the virus, but we recognize at this point it’s sort of discretionary,” Botti told the Idaho Mountain Express. “We hope that everybody will exercise caution and prudence and err on the side of being safe, rather than taking risks or putting anybody else at risk.”
In Camas County, several county employees are currently in self-isolation after spending time in Blaine County, Commissioner Marshall Ralph told the Idaho Mountain Express. No cases have been reported in Camas County, and Ralph said he hasn’t heard concerns from community members about Blaine County residents passing through.
“I’m not aware of COVID-19 contagion fears from 5B passthroughs, though 5B passthroughs are a reliable source of social wonderment here even at the best of times,” Ralph said.
Still, the county and its school district have taken steps to prepare for the possible spread of the virus, including restricting public access to county facilities and shutting down in-school operations. The board of commissioners also declared a state of emergency for the county to allow for budgeting flexibility in its response.
Camas County doesn’t have a hospital, but its first responders have “solid plans” for dealing with unknown contacts and the county has personal protective equipment and a dedicated ambulance for critical transports, Ralph said.
Leaders in Twin Falls County, where many Blaine County residents shop and dine, are also keeping an eye on the situation in the Wood River Valley, Twin Falls County Commissioner Don Hall said. In a typical month, 45 percent of Blaine County residents leave the county to shop, according to statistics complied by The Hunger Coalition, with most cars headed south towards Twin.
“Our hearts go out to those folks affected by this in Blaine County,” Hall said. “We wish the best for them. But obviously, because we know there’s a lot of travel between Blaine and Twin Falls, that is a concern of ours.”
Hall asked that Blaine County residents “be good neighbors” and follow the travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines put in place.
“We’re so connected together, all these communities are, that if it’s going to happen in one we know it’s going to happen in another,” Hall said. “We’re trying to take every step we can to protect our citizens.”
There was one confirmed case in Twin Falls County as of 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Blaine County spokesman Larry Schoen urged Wood River Valley residents to limit their in-person interactions with others, no matter where they are.
“If you have to travel out of county for some essential reason, limit the kind of contact you have with other people in the same way you would in Blaine County,” Schoen said.