Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Sun Valley Mayor Says It’s Time to Show Our Grit in Face of COVID
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Sue Rowland wore a face shield to a donor appreciation party cooked up by The Senior Connection.
   
Saturday, October 3, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

On Friday as the Rev. Jonah Kendall prepared for Sunday’s sermon, he noticed something that troubled him. It wasn’t the smoke lingering high in the atmosphere, blown in from the massive wildfires in northern California.

Rather, it was the fact that Blaine County had moved into a high-risk category for the coronavirus, according to the Harvard Global Health institute.

With input from Dr. Tom Archie and the church’s Senior Warden Rebecca Waycott, he decided to cancel his church’s Sunday outdoor service in Festival Meadows. St. Thomas Episcopal Church has held in-person services there ever since the county moved into the green low-risk category in early summer.

“While this is disappointing, it is the appropriate, responsible and safest decision for us to make,” he told his parishioners. “As is customary, a virtual service will be circulated on Sunday morning.”

The church isn’t the only organization taking steps to respond to the outbreak.

The Sun Valley City Council, which is using the Institute’s suppression metrics to guide its strategies,  voted to extend its facial covering order to Dec. 31, 2020, during its council meeting Thursday evening.

“While we have experienced encouraging numbers as far as metrics on cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates, we are not at the end of this virus in our valley,” said Sun Valley Mayor Peter Hendricks.

Hendricks added that the city has seen a good response to wearing masks, maintaining social distances and other practices design to protect one another and visitors. But, as the weather turns colder and people move indoors, he noted that health authorities say numbers will climb.

“This will put an even greater burden on us to do the right thing. It’s time to show our grit,” he said.

Both the state and Blaine County are spiraling out of control. On Friday alone, the state of Idaho reported 677 new cases for a total of 43,238 since the virus was first reported in mid-March. It added two more deaths for 474 deaths.

Blaine County added another four cases on Friday for 691 cases total. It added four more cases on Thursday for 77 new cases since Sept. 15. After being in green throughout the summer, the risk level increased to orange, or high, on Oct. 1. It went to red on Thursday.

 Health officials say the majority can be traced to people who have let down their guard at social gatherings and have spread the virus to family members.

Blaine County decided to implement a new COVID-19 Risk Level Plan and Dashboard based on the Harvard Global Health Institute’s recommendations to help guide policy making, planning and decisions by local government leaders, businesses and other organizations. It is more stringent than the South Central Public Health District’s COVID-19 Regional Risk Level plan, which the county had been using.

The county decided to create its own risk level plan to offer a suppression strategy that officials believe will be better adapted to a tourist destination with the highly transient population.

The Adaptive Planning Committee that pushed it said it provides more specific and conservative initiatives than others with the goal of protecting health and way of life more adequately. The committee is made up of representatives from Blaine County, St. Luke’s Wood River, Visit Sun Valley, Blaine County School District, Hunger Coalition and South Central Public Health District.

“It is important to keep in mind how quickly and dramatically our health and welfare were impacted in March,” they wrote. “This plan will help avoid a recurrence.”

The committee noted that one of the Wood River Valley’s biggest risk factors is its makeup.

“We are a tourist destination with a highly transient population,” they wrote. “Asymptomatic people account for about half of the transmission of COVID, and visitors may unknowingly be infectious or travel from areas of community spread. Given this, we believe a proactive and conservative approach is warranted for the Wood River Valley.”

The dashboard will be updated once a week on Thursday with Blaine County Medical Director Dr. Terry O’Connor assessing the risk level with input from medical partners in conjunction with South Central Public Health District. Suggestions will be made whether to reduce the number of people that can gather in one location or whether schools should go totally virtually based on the metrics.

Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said he was troubled by the spike: “With cases in Blaine County spiking, we need to re-message the necessity to stay vigilant and get a flu shot early to minimize the chance of influenza being confused with COVID symptoms.”

Greenberg noted that the county residents had done a good job stopping the spread in the early days of the pandemic when Blaine County was the nation’s hotspot.

“If we follow social distancing, wear masks and practice hygiene, we can make it through the winter,” he added. “I tell commissioners from other counties that we can’t treat this as a political issue. We’ve got to treat it as a public health issue and everything else falls in place.”

While hospitals in eastern Idaho have been pushed to the brink by COVID patients, St. Luke’s Wood River has not seen hospitalizations due to the recent outbreak.

“And we hope we don’t,” said the hospital’s public relations manager Joy Prudek. “We need to remember to keep it safe so our hospital doesn’t get filled to capacity. We know that the community is fatigued by the virus. But, while we may be done with virus, it’s not done with us.”

Greenberg, who co-chairs the APC said it is important for residents and visitors alike to feel safe and supported: “We are a unique community. COVID-19’s silver lining is that we can come together authentically, albeit from an appropriate distance, and show the world our strength and resiliency.”

 

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