Ketchum hopes to avoid holiday surge in COVID-19 cases

Tourism industry is vital to local economy
Published: Nov. 30, 2020 at 3:40 AM MST
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KETCHUM, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) -Earlier this year the city of Ketchum was one of the hardest-hit cities in the country when it came to COVID-19, and now the city is getting ready for an influx of tourists as ski season kicks of this Thanksgiving week.

Since this summer, Kectum has had public health order that requires people to wear face-coverings indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible. The order also a $100 fine attached for anyone who violates it. This past week, the City Council updated the public health order to deal with construction sites and make the language of the exemptions more consistent with the state’s Stage 2 COVID protocol. Ketchum Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin said so far the city has had no problems with the order.

“We did a study of the mask compliance about six weeks ago, and we found out in the local supermarkets and retail businesses here in Ketchum we had a 100% compliance,” McLaughlin said.

Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw said when the city had a huge outbreak earlier in the year it was important that something was done to protect the community.

“We want our businesses to stay open and that means we have to reduce the spread, flatten the curve, whatever you want to call it,” Bradshaw said. “And mandating certain protocols we actually keep the businesses open. We keep people feeling safer.”

Bradshaw said when Ketchum first experienced COVID in March it really hit the community hard because it is a tourist destination.

“We were one of the worst areas in the country,” he said. “If not the worst on a per capita basis.”

McLaughlin said back in the spring the impact was so great they had to shut down the local hospital — St Lukes Wood River Medical Center, and everybody had to be transferred to Twin Falls.

“We are hoping we don’t get back into the situation again,” he said.

Bradshaw said what the city is trying to emphasize with the public health order is that it’s just not physical health they are trying to protect, but economic health and mental health.

“We want to keep people exercising. It’s important for our mental health. We want to keep the businesses open it’s good for our economic health,” Bradshaw said. “But we also have to be aware of our physical health too and what can we do to keep everyone happy and healthy.”

Walking around Ketchum residents and visitors will see plenty of signs around town and in storefronts advocating the wearing of face masks and social distancing. Not because it’s mandatory, but because it’s the “kind” thing to do. Barry Peterson of Peterson Jelwers said he and other small business owners support the mandate.

There are some people who feel like they don’t need it, that they are above it. But, for the most part, the community is fine with it, Peterson said.

However, even with the mask mandate, the city of Ketchum has still seen an increase in COVID cases, but McLaughlin argues the mandate is working.

“When we first instituted the face mask order our cases pretty much dropped to zero, and for a long time they were staying close to zero,” he said. “What we are also seeing now is that the cases we are getting are much less severe, and believe that’s because wearing a mask reduces your exposure.”

McLaughlin added that as a tourist community Ketchum has a lot of people coming in and out of the community, Some of the people are coming from areas that don’t have a mask mandate, and that has a lot to do with the surge in Blaine County and Ketchum.

Bradshaw said over Thanksgiving weekend Ketchum sees about a 10 or 15 percent increase in traffic, but when Christmas comes it will be more around 150%.

“This is kind of a dry run of what the ski season is going to mean to Ketchum and to our valley, as far as an influx of tourism,” he said.

The mayor said Ketchum hopes to avoid a holiday surge in coronavirus cases because tourism is very important to its economy, and all they can do is wait and see what happens, and for people to respect their policies and wear a face covering and social distance.

“We have this balancing act of making it safe for them (tourists), and making it friendly, welcoming those people,” Bradshaw said.

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