Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Decision To Mask Or Not Leads to Questions
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Students like Isabelle Thompson continue to wear face masks at Sun Valley Community School where strict COVID protocol are in place.
   
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

GRAPH BY PAUL RIES

The City of Hailey might have dropped its mandate requiring face coverings indoors, but you wouldn’t have known it had you been in KB’s Sunday afternoon.

Inside, Rodolfo Serva and his staff wore masks as they busied themselves serving up burritos and salads. And those in the line leading to the order counter were masked and socially distanced, save for a couple who realized they had forgotten their masks in their car.

 
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Idaho reported 275 new cases of coronavirus on Monday and no new deaths, its death toll staying at 2,069. Blaine County reported no new cases over the weekend, its total since the pandemic started remaining at 2,377.
 

“I’m fully vaccinated and I’m still wearing a mask as a precaution because I don’t know who’s had a vaccine and who hasn’t,” noted one young man.

The City of Hailey, which was one of the first cities in Idaho to mandate face coverings a year ago as the Centers for Disease Control began recommending their use, dropped its mask requirement Friday after CDC officials said that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance except when riding planes and buses and visiting a hospital.

“It is important that government officials respond to guidance based on data in order to hold the public’s trust,” said Mayor Martha Burke, whose order was set to be reviewed by the City Council Monday night.

The City of Sun Valley rescinded its Public Health Order requiring masks on Monday, noting that the city shows a vaccination rate of more than 116 percent and that the 14-day health data posted by South Central Public Health District shows Blaine County at minimal risk for COVID spread.

But many are hesitant to throw their face masks in the trash just yet since only 37 percent of American have been fully vaccinated

Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary sent emails to the mayors and council members of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Hailey Monday telling them that now is not the time to lift indoor mask  mandates. And she urged others to do the same.

The news that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks inside is good news about the effectiveness of vaccine, but it should not change indoor masking policies at this stage of the pandemic when the overall vaccination rate is still low, she said.

Blaine County is far ahead of Idaho’s other 44 counties in its vaccination rate. But, McCleary pointed out, the county and its cities are far from being fully vaccinated.

As of last week, 116 percent of Sun Valley’s 1,290 population is vaccinated, the excess number above 100 percent being due to second home owners. And 152.1 percent of Ketchum’s 3,262 population is vaccinated.

But only 63.5 percent of Hailey’s 9,452 residents are vaccinated; 47.7 percent of Bellevue’s 3,361 residents are vaccinated and 35.6 percent of Carey’s 870 residents are vaccinated.

Only 36 percent of Idaho residents have had one shot and only 30.9 percent are fully vaccinated, making Idaho the fifth lowest state in the nation when it comes to vaccinations.

McCleary referenced a May 15 New York Times survey of 723 epidemiologists who said the pandemic won’t end until at least 70 percent of Americans, including children, are vaccinated. Full reopening without high vaccination rates may be associated with continuing outbreaks, they added.

The more people refuse vaccinations, the longer COVID will hang around, said one.

“We should not make a hasty and irresponsible decision,” said McCleary. “Nor should we turn our backs on our most vulnerable populations, our overworked residents or our children and families who have yet to be vaccinated or can’t get vaccinated.”

Allowing time to vaccinate children is key to controlling the pandemic, she added.

“There can be light at the end of the tunnel but we must be patient and responsible,” she said. “There are anti-vaccinators who won’t get vaccinated and these individuals will not wear a mask without a mandate. This makes indoor mask mandates even more important. There are no disadvantages to indoor masks mandates, only serious risk.”

A survey of women at a birthday party Monday afternoon in Sun Valley indicated that, while they were perfectly happy to go maskless among their vaccinated friends that afternoon, they still planned to have a mask handy for trips into stores where others who might not be vaccinated might be going maskless.

And the Rev. Jonah Kendall announced that, while restrictions had been removed, St. Thomas Episcopal Church would continue to livestream its 9:30 a.m. service for those who preferred that option. He added that the church would provide seating options for those who wish to maintain social distancing.

Kendall recommended that those who are not vaccinated continue to wear a mask and maintain social distancing, as should those living with non-vaccinated members in their household. Ditto for those who are immunocompromised or living with someone who is immunocompromised, he added.

The mishmash of local reactions to the waiving of masks for the vaccinated mirrored what’s happening on a national scale. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf lifted both the indoor and outdoor mask mandates but allowed room for individual businesses to impose mask mandates if they wish.

But California announced it would keep its indoor mask mandate in place for another month while the state continues to vaccinate residents. And New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy eliminated the outdoor mask mandate on Monday but kept the indoor mandate in place.

National retailers like Costco, Target, Walmart, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s announced they will no longer require masks, provided masks aren’t mandated inside by the city or state they’re in. There were some exceptions, though: Costco is still requiring facemasks in its pharmacy, optical and hearing aid areas.

Home Depot and Kroger are among the chains still asking for masks to protect their employees from unvaccinated shoppers.

One emergency physician told the New York Times that allowing anyone to go mask-free indoors without proof of vaccination may jeopardize others.

“We’re now making life much less safe for people who are unvaccinated, for immunocompromised individuals and for young children who cannot yet be vaccinated,” said Dr. Leana Wen.


 

 

 

 

 

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