Blaine County's social distancing rules that go beyond the state's stay-at-home order were set to expire on Sunday. The restrictions say residents can’t travel outside the county to purchase items they could find in the county, hotels and short-term rentals can’t house visitors, and the construction industry is nonessential. So far, the county, Ketchum and Hailey extended these rules to the end of this week.
None of these decisions were unanimous. City and county leaders went back and forth on whether to begin opening up the economy amid an optimistic, but uncertain picture of where the community stands on the coronavirus curve.
The main source of debate was around the construction industry, which is considered essential everywhere else in the state.
After the county banned construction late last month, unemployment claims shot up. That week and the following one, around 400 people who work in the county’s construction industry filed initial claims for unemployment insurance.
At meetings in the past couple weeks, some local leaders have said they’re open to letting construction workers return to work if they follow a set of social distancing protocols. These include having hand-washing stations at each job site, not sharing tools and wearing some sort of face covering.
“Allowing construction to resume under very strict standards is a calculated balancing act,” said Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw during a special meeting on Saturday. “It’s a first step in returning people back to work so they can support their families.”
Ketchum voted 3-2 on Saturday to allow construction to continue again next Monday, April 20, but set a meeting for this Friday to look over health data once more. Hailey and the county haven’t set start dates for construction yet.
Some local elected officials were not on board with construction sites opening back up because of what they’d been hearing from the medical community.
“We’ve been saying we’re going to listen to the advice of the medical professionals and what they’re telling us is that they want to see two weeks of declining numbers and negligible daily increases in positive cases,” Bellevue Mayor Ned Burns commented during Blaine County’s emergency meeting on Saturday.
Another factor, he said, is that construction crews who work in Blaine Country travel to work from all over southern Idaho. That could mean they’d be potentially infecting their families and communities.
Ketchum Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton had a similar view.
“Based on everything I heard from the medical professionals, we need to continue with isolating people who are not in essential services,” she said during Ketchum’s Saturday meeting.
Ketchum Mayor Bradshaw said there are other factors to consider, though, including the community’s mental health and economic health.
“I would caution us on waiting for the ‘it’s fine to go back to normal’ from the medical industry because they’re always going to be erring on the side of caution, which is understandable,” said Bradshaw.
Councilmembers and commissioners will re-evaluate these ordinances later this week.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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