The City of Ketchum was one of the first Idaho communities to issue a mandate to wear a face covering in public places, in its effort to curb a rising tide of COVID-19 cases. Public Health Order 20-03 was the result of a robust debate by Ketchum officials. In the weeks that followed, a number of other cities, counties and public health districts have had their own debates regarding face masks.
Ketchum City Council President Amanda Breen, an early advocate of a face mask mandate, visits with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk how her community is faring in the shadow of the pandemic, plus another of her efforts: to have a community conversation on police protocols.
“I am stopped by business owners repeatedly as they walk around our small town, thanking the city council for passing the mandate.”
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. When the Ketchum city council considered a mandate of face coverings in early July, the face mask debate was one of the first in Idaho. A debate that is now being played out in communities across the region. We're going to talk a bit about that and more with Amanda Breen. She's the precedent of the Ketchum city council, and she joins us live via zoom this morning. Ms. Breen, good morning.
AMANDA BREEN: Good morning, George.
PRENTICE: I'm curious on your take on the conversations that are happening in communities around your community, where a number of cities, counties, and/or health districts are saying, "We're not too comfortable with the mandate." To them, you would say what?
BREEN: I would say we have to be proactive here. Blaine County was hit so hard in March and April, and we were fortunate enough to be able to send our critically ill patients to the other healthcare facilities in Twin Falls and in Boise, and with the spikes now happening in those areas, I believe that those communities now need to be thinking of those same concerns. What happens when the hospital in the Magic Valley fills up, or the other small healthcare providers and hospitals around our region?
Because we had our initial spike early in the pandemic here in Blaine County, we've seen the problems that can cause, and I believe that in the rest of the region there needs to be serious consideration by the county commissions, cities and health districts to be prepared for what we already went through once.
PRENTICE: How is your mandate working?
BREEN: So far, it's working really well. We already have pretty high compliance here in Ketchum, just with the recommendations we had. And now with the mandate, it's almost complete. Everywhere I go, particularly inside, people are wearing their masks. And I am stopped by business owners repeatedly as they walk around our small town, thanking the city council for passing the mandate because it's giving them the authority they need to tell people when they're coming into their businesses that a mask is required. And so we haven't ... As far as I know, no citations have been issued. This isn't something where we're sending the mask police around to ticket people. It's very much an educational approach, but with that mandate in place, it just has become standard that people are wearing their face coverings when they go inside public places.
The police are empowered to talk to people who may not be wearing masks and to educate them, perhaps they didn't even know. And unless it's a repeat offender, which we haven't seen yet, they have not been ticketing people. That's not the point. It's really, the basis is for the business owners and to protect their employees and to protect their businesses. It's not for the police to be running around citing everybody.
PRENTICE: While I have you here, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your recent request for the council to host a presentation and community conversation on policing, but then correct me if I'm wrong, the Blaine County sheriff refused to come? What's going on there?
BREEN: That's correct. During the height of the demonstrations around the country, and the large demonstrations we had locally here in Blaine County, I thought it was important to have a public conversation with our law enforcement providers, which in Ketchum is the Blaine County sheriff, to talk about policing protocols, police training, and for the police to be able to come to us and say, "Look, maybe there's some things we deal with that could be dealt with better by other providers, such as social workers." And so I thought it was important to have that public conversation.
And unfortunately, the sheriff has so far only offered a private meeting with council members. So I and my fellow council member Courtney Hamilton will be meeting with the sheriff on July 30th privately to discuss these issues. But I still am going to encourage the sheriff to come and speak about it publicly, because this is a valuable conversation that the entire public needs to have right now.
PRENTICE: The only thing I know about Sheriff Harkins is that during his campaign, he talked about transparency in his office. Can I assume that you were a bit surprised at this?
BREEN: I was a little surprised and disappointed, but I'm looking forward to the conversation that I'm going to have with him, because I think maybe we can talk through some of these issues and hopefully bring it to a more public forum soon.
PRENTICE: So what is on your agenda in the coming weeks? Where do you go from here? How does Ketchum move forward with a face mask mandate and a public health order?
BREEN: Well, we are in the midst of our high summer season here in our tourist town. And we are, I think, very surprised across the board in our community at how busy Ketchum and Sun Valley are right now. We thought that this would be a very quiet summer since most of our events have been canceled, but instead we are experiencing very large numbers of people here. I think there are a lot of people road tripping this year. What we need to manage is that influx of people from out of town, whether they’re from other parts of Idaho or other States, and to again, educate them on the key protocols. We need to keep everybody safe. We're a service economy and our service workers are right on the front lines, with people coming from all sorts of places that may or may not have mask mandates or as strict of social distancing. So we just have to stay in front of it. The last thing anyone wants to do is shut businesses down again. And so if we keep the mask mandate at the front of people's minds and the social distancing, I'm hopeful, we can manage it.
PRENTICE: Correct me if I'm wrong. There's a sign as visitors enter the town. Yes?
BREEN: There is, yes. It says, "Masks and distancing required." And then also there are flyers up in all the businesses' windows and throughout the city, in a very friendly way, reminding people of distancing and masks.
PRENTICE: She is Amanda Breen, an attorney and Ketchum and president of the Ketchum city council. Stay well, stay safe.
BREEN: Thank you, George.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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