Masking Mashup

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CDC guidelines, multiple mandates and a lawsuit stir confusion, controversy

By Eric Valentine

Mask mandates across the valley have been getting rescinded, but establishments still have the right to require masks. Photo credit: Wood River Weekly.

If you’re in Ketchum indoors, mask up, unless you’re in your car headed to Hailey. There you can take your mask off anywhere, except when you’re in certain retail establishments—that’s up to each and every private owner—and the airport because, you know, “out of towners.” Then, when you go past Bellevue toward Picabo or Fairfield … well, just do whatever you want; folks are busy making and watching TikTok videos.

We kid.

But ever since the CDC told Americans that anyone who is fully vaccinated for COVID-19 is fully safe to go maskless indoors and outdoors, that simple statement has become a complex mashup of the masked and the maskless, the vaccinated and the vulnerable. Confusing matters even more—for some, at least—is the litigation brought against the City of Hailey and its mayor, Martha Burke.

On Friday, the newly organized Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc., filed suit against Burke and the city in federal court. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of five adult Valley residents and the minor children of four of those individuals, contends that the use of face coverings by the general population is “experimental” and that Hailey’s mask mandate “is a forced human experiment.” The lawsuit goes on to claim that physical, mental and emotional harm has been suffered by the plaintiffs. The parties are asking the court to:

Enter a declaratory judgment that the mask mandate violates due process rights.

Issue an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the mask mandate.

Order the city and Burke to cover plaintiff legal fees.

Order further relief, as the court deems just.

 

By Friday afternoon, Burke rescinded the mask mandate, citing the new CDC guidelines and data from the South Central Public Health District regarding the relatively high number of people in the Valley who have been fully vaccinated and the relatively low number of new cases here. Also by Friday afternoon, at least one founding member of the Health Freedom Defense Fund sent out an email claiming in the subject line “Victory!”

In her email, the self-described vaccine safety advocate wrote: “Burke could have done nothing or simply repealed the mandate for the vaccinated but she repealed the mandate in its entirety even though President Biden tweeted just yesterday that unvaccinated people will have to continue wearing masks. She felt our pressure and jumped on the first chance to get rid of Hailey’s unlawful mandate. We are grateful Mayor Burke chose to do the right thing for the citizens of Hailey and the Wood River Valley. We hope the city council will confirm on Monday, and expect that they will, given the lawsuit filed against them. Should the other cities of the valley not follow suit, we may sue them too.”

Biden’s tweet: “The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do. The choice is yours.”

To be clear, Biden’s tweet was not a statement regarding the rule of law, but more like an off-the-cuff “rule of thumb.” It was made—advisably or not—on Thursday in response to the new CDC guidelines, which also prompted mask removals mid-meeting inside the Oval Office.

As for Burke, she’s being very clear her action has nothing to do with the lawsuit.

“What this shows is that I’m doing my best to follow science,” Burke said, adding that the Wood River Weekly’s phone message asking for comment on the lawsuit was the first she had heard about it.

“After I speak with you, I’m calling the city attorney,” Burke said.

Burke made the following points:

If the data starts to indicate an uptick in COVID-19 cases locally, she’ll be reinstating the mandate.

She will continue personally to wear a mask indoors and is encouraging others to do the same, vaccinated or not.

Anecdotally, during her Saturday trip to Albertsons and her Sunday trip to Atkinsons’, she saw all staff and patrons still wearing masks.

Since the summer of 2020, Blaine County and four of its cities—Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley—have had mask mandates. What follows is a rundown of where things stand as of press deadline Tuesday.

Sun Valley

On Monday afternoon, the City of Sun Valley rescinded its mask mandate.

Ketchum

On Monday afternoon, the City of Ketchum rescinded its mask mandate.

Hailey

On Friday afternoon, mayor Martha Burke rescinded the mask mandate and the city council ratified the action on Monday night.

Bellevue

According to mayor Ned Burns, changes to the mask mandate will be on the May 24 city council meeting agenda.

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