Mask mandates return to the Wood River Valley

With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising in Blaine County, and the availability of ICU beds decreasing across the state, the county’s COVID-19 risk level is critical.
Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 4:56 PM MDT
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BLAINE COUNTY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising in Blaine County, and the availability of ICU beds decreasing across the state, the county’s COVID-19 risk level is critical even though its vaccination rate is above 90%. However, the problem isn’t necessarily residents. Local hospitals are reporting a large number of visitors testing positive for COVID-19 according to the South Central Public Health District.

“I think we are seeing problems in different areas. We have a lot of workers coming from different counties,” said Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary. “We also have visitors who come from around the state and out of state.”

On Tuesday the Blaine County Commissioners took action and unanimously passed a face mask mandate for indoor public places.

“I think we watch the issues closely and as a community, we try to be as proactive as possible in taking care of our neighbors,” McCleary said.

The Hailey City Council reinstated its mask mandate on Monday that extends to indoor and outdoor public places when social distancing is not possible.

“We have a lot of the daily, weekly season workers that come through our area, and a lot of park type of events so they wanted to make sure we could be safe while outside,” said Hailey Police Chief Steve England.

There is no requirement for Hailey businesses to enforce the order, but England said he is not concerned about compliance because in the past people have been respectful about following mandates in place. He said the police department has never had to issue a fine due to someone violating the order.

“We don’t want to be really heavy-handed on it. We want it to be more educational and make people aware there is a mandate back in place,” England said.

On Tuesday, Sun Valley passed an indoor mask mandate to be consistent with what was going on in the valley. The Ketchum City Council passed a similar order, but with an outdoor mask recommendation.

One displeased resident who attended the Hailey and Ketchum council meetings told KMVT he feels the mandates are more about politics and control than public health. He also feels masks are not effective in mitigating the spread of COVID.

“I see a slippery slope of our liberties and rights disappearing,” said Hailey resident Brian Opp.

The Bellevue City Council is planning on having a special meeting next week, but they plan to issue a recommendation due to the polarizing nature of this topic.

“50% are going to go mask, 50% are not going to go mask, and they are going to complain to the local officials about what the other side is doing,” said Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns.

Opp agrees the issue is becoming divisive, especially with politicians who are using it as a campaign tool.

“Everyone of these councils in the Blaine County and the Blaine County Commissioners is all Democrats, and they are welcome to be Democrats, but I don’t think it would be the same if Republicans were holding these seats,” Opp said.

All of the mask mandates will be effective by the end of the week, and the Haily City Council plans to revisit its mandate in four weeks. Ketchum’s mandate will be discussed again in 90 days.

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