Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Blaine County Residents Combat COVID Caution Fatigue
Everyone was wearing facemasks as Linda Ries, a member of Hailey’s Tree Committee, staged a tour of Hailey’s arboretum last week.
Wednesday, June 24, 2020


Silver Creek Outfitters’ three dozen fishing guides have seen a record number of requests for guided fishing outings this summer from out-of-state visitors eager to escape coronavirus lockdowns.

While grateful for the extra business, it does present a conundrum for some.

“Terry Ring has put a whole lot of precautions in place and fly-fishing is an activity in which you can social distance,” said fishing guide Bob Knoebel. “But, while I feel confident with most of the people in the valley, I’m not as comfortable with people from outside the valley because I have no idea where they’ve been and who they’ve been with.

Sarah Howe was covered on Friday as she poured wine for J. McLaughlin’s first Sip and Shop event since the pandemic started in mid-March.

“Already, I’ve taken out someone from Indiana, two from California and one from Oregon—it’s just like ski season where people came from all over and we ended up a hot spot for coronavirus,” he added. “It’s not like we’ve got a playbook for this. We’re feeling our way through it.”

Blaine County led the nation in COVID cases per capita as the pandemic began shutting things down.  But, after amassing some 500 cases, the number of new cases has sharply decreased.

Blaine County has reported only a handful of new cases in the past couple of weeks for a total of 520--at least, until Tuesday when it recorded three. And it’s last COVID-related death was reported on April 8.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID cases in Idaho has surged to more than a hundred a day for the past five days, with 164 on Monday even as the world recorded a record number of single-day cases. And Ada County reverted to Stage Three of the governor’s reopening plan this week because of a surge of new cases.

Paul Ries added three more cases to Blaine County's total, now 523, on Tuesday. Idaho reported 147 new cases and Twin Falls County four. Idaho is now up to 4,401 cases; Twin Falls County has 522.

A trip to Boise or Twin Falls may demonstrate the difference: While residents of those areas have discarded their face masks and begun crowding back into bars and restaurants, most Blaine County residents have not thrown caution to the wind.

Most are still wearing face coverings when entering stores and restaurants; many still prefer takeout or eating outside to dining inside.

“I think this is a huge success story,” said Hailey resident Paul Ries. “We socially isolated and bent the curve. Other communities have not been following recommended practices like mask wearing, and it’s showing up in their infection rates.”

“I think this community did a great job. People are smart and they’re careful and they care,” said Sarah Howe, who manages the J. McLaughlin dress shop in Ketchum.

Howe keeps a woven basket of Warfield Distillery hand sanitizer and face masks by the door, and she says even out-of-town visitors have been respectful about using both when they enter the store. She lays aside any article of clothing a customer has touched for 24 hours before steaming it and re-shelfing it.

This weekend she held her first in-person Sip & Shop since the pandemic started, offering customers a glass of rose, while donating a percentage of the sales to The Hunger Coalition. Customers were asked to don plastic gloves before helping themselves to a glass that had been poured or pouring themselves a glass.

“We still provide curbside pickup and shipping for those not ready to venture out,” she said.

It’s sometimes easy to forget there’s a pandemic when hiking trails where few are wearing masks. Those who walked down the streets of their neighborhood eyeing the very air that they breathed with suspicion as shelter-in-place orders were enacted say they are now jolted back into the reality of the pandemic only when they spot someone walking down Main Street wearing a mask.

Trips to the grocery store for one item may be more frequent. Wiping down those groceries may be a thing of the past.

“I have to remind myself it’s still a threat to us,” said Hailey resident Megan McCann. “It’s invisible so it’s easy to forget it’s there. And it’s been so traumatic not to be able to hug people because that’s what makes us human.”

Young people seem to be more blasé, often seen gathering without masks or social distancing outside an ice cream shop or in a park. And it’s those between the ages of 18 and 29 that are being infected the most. Especially, in Boise and Meridian where health officials say more than six dozen young adults are believed to have exposed others in bars while infectious.

Older people have typically been more careful, because they want to protect elderly parents or even because they want to protect grandchildren whom they may be asked to babysit from time to time.

Hailey resident Coni Foster has had tea parties with her neighbor in which she shows up with her own cup, and sits it on a table as the neighbor pours tea in it before Foster takes it back

And retired Forest Service official Paul Ries and his wife Linda had their first social engagement since the pandemic started last week, inviting friends over for a physically distanced visit in their back yard. Their friends brought their own beer as an added safety precaution.

“We’ve been pretty careful. But, every once in a while, someone has handed me something and I didn’t wash my hands right afterwards, Ries said. “I don’t go out a lot so I’m not around that many people. And I do wear masks whenever I do go out.

“But I fear that our discipline will be tested as we open up more and those from outside our community visit—we need to let them know our norms and expectation—maybe put signs back up on the highway asking them to wear masks and maintain their distance—or our infection rate will rise.”

Ketchum resident Quin Curran is one person who doesn’t get lulled into forgetting about the invisible enemy out there.

“I’m married to a doctor—it’s only recently that we let our children who are in their 30s back in the house,” she said. “When I see people in the grocery store not wearing masks, it’s very upsetting. I will not be staying in hotels for a while.”

After months of altered routines, limited socialization and fractured nerves, it is only natural that our motivation and endurance wear thin.

Caution fatigue is something those at South Central Public Health District are very concerned about, said Brianna Bodily, the district’s public information officer.

“We don’t want people to live in fear—that isn’t necessary, and it can be damaging. However, it is still crucial to continue to take precautions. Essentially, we ask that our residents respect this disease and the risks it presents,” she said.

That said, the SCPHD epidemiology team has reported instances where people being monitored have resisted the precautions they’ve been asked to take.

“These are people who have been directly exposed to the disease and have the most reason to be careful. So, if they are resisting our guidance, you can imagine plenty of our residents who haven’t been exposed are also resisting,” Bodily said. “Everyone where at the health district understands this—even as it worries us. We are exhausted, too. Everyone wants life to go back to normal, but that can’t happen until we make our communities safe for our most vulnerable.”

As the state relaxed coronavirus restrictions, health officials expected they would see more cases, said Niki Forbing-Orr, public information manager for Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. But they became worried as the number of new cases climbed to 20 a day, then beyond.

Several Boise restaurants, including Bardenay Restaurant and the popular Boise Fry Company, have temporarily closed their doors after workers tested positive. A few, including Highlands Hollow Brewhouse, have temporarily closed due to the uptick of cases in the restaurant business, even though no cases have been reported at their restaurants.

“We continue to remind people that the only way to slow the spread is to keep following the recommended guidelines—wear a face covering in public, stay home if you’re sick, keep six feet between you and others in public and wash your hands often,” said Forbing-Orr. “And, if you can, try to avoid situations where lots of people might be gathering who may not be following the guidelines. The virus is with us and will remain with us until there is a vaccine or a proven medical therapy, and we all need to be aware of that as we make decisions about how we spend our time.”

Bodily also suggests the people pay attention to the latest COVID-19 updates provided by the state. If you’re planning a trip, check the numbers for that area before your go. And if they are experiencing an increase in numbers, find a new place to visit.

“We each have the most power to protect our own health,” she said. “Simply avoiding areas that are unsafe—for instance, if you can't social distance don't go--can go a long way in protecting your health.”

 Shannon Nichols development director for The Advocates, says she and others only recently returned to work on site. They’re being very cautious about wearing masks and physical distancing to keep clients safe and healthy.

“Of course, if I’m out in nature I don’t wear a mask,” she said. “But I do everywhere else. It’s doable and it’s worth it. It’s second nature now.”


Are you struggling to find motivation to protect yourself and others against COVID-19? Brianna Bodily, a spokesperson for South Central Public District Health, says these rituals have helped her:

Take basic steps to protect your mental health. This means getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, avoiding excess sweets or alcohol, staying socially connected while observing social distancing, and finding ways to relieve stress.

 “Many of us deal with stress on a daily basis and have encountered an overwhelming amount of stress before COVID-19,” she notes. “What did you do then to find relief? Gratitude journals, meditation, and even silly videos to help you laugh and release all of that compressed emotion can help.”

 Find a new routine you can stick with. Many of us rely on our routines. Knowing what our day will hold in the morning, and seeing what we've accomplished at the end of the day can bring a much-needed sense of stability and control to our lives.

 This can be even more important when dealing with something that we don't have as much control over, like a world-wide pandemic. COVID-19 interrupted many people's routines, but we can find and build new ones that incorporate protective actions without interrupting a much-needed sense of control over our own lives.

 Make service a habit. Blaine County is full of givers. We have so many generous people working to help the community. Social distancing, frequent hand washing, staying home when you are sick: these are also services. When you keep yourself safe, you help keep your community a little bit safer.

 Fewer cases mean less chance of spread. Less spread of COVID-19 means less burden on our local hospitals and health care facilities. These are all important parts of making sure our communities can meet the disease demand and even save lives.

 “These are just a few of the tips I have seen that have helped me as I combat my own caution fatigue,” said Bodily. “I know there are still a lot of questions we face, but every day we learn a little more about this disease. We have to stay vigilant now so that one day we can wake up with the wonderful realization that things feel normal once again.”



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