Official: ‘In the long run, nobody’ benefits from visiting Moab amid COVID-19 pandemic
After The Salt Lake Tribune published a story headlined “With coronavirus travel limits, Utah’s national parks may be your best — and safest — bet for a getaway,” Moab officials said that locals are at risk as visitors flooded the county — against presidential guidelines to avoid “nonessential travel” — seeking social distancing in the great outdoors at Arches and Canyonlands, only to return to hotels, restaurants, bars and shops serviced by the local workforce.
Note: Soon after the publication of this story, the Southeast Utah Health Department announced that all Moab lodging businesses must stop accepting new reservations from people who do not work in Grand, Emery or Carbon in an effort to preempt any overwhelming of the local healthcare system.
Grand County Administrator Chris Baird did not mince words on what he thought travelers needed to do amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which is spreading a novel coronavirus disease across the United States and world.
“Everyone should stay home all across the U.S.,” Baird said. “No exceptions.”
When asked who benefits from people visiting Moab, Arches and Canyonlands amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Baird said, “In the long run, nobody.” When asked who was hurt or potentially hurt, Baird said “Many people who live in Grand County, and who visit here are at extreme risk.”
Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff shared a similar sentiment and said the negative economic impact to Moab of decreased visitation was inevitable, given the spread of and danger posed by the viral disease.
“We believe the economy will come to a halt regardless of taking action now versus later,” Sadoff said. “We hope that by making the action now, it will flatten the curve and save lives, and hopefully lead to an economic recovery sooner. Our hearts are with all people around the globe faced with no-win decisions during this difficult time.”
In a March 16 letter to Gov. Gary Herbert regarding the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital’s leadership team had a straightforward message: “Please. Do. More. Now.”
“We applaud the measures taken thus far in limiting mass gatherings to no more than 100 people and in closing schools,” the letter from the hospital reads. “Most projections place the United States roughly two weeks behind Italy in terms of projected surge. To avoid the same fate of the number of patients exceeding the capacity of healthcare, we need to do more NOW.”
The Times-Independent asked Elaine Gizler, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council, whether people should visit Moab amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gizler declined to answer the question and said that the travel council was providing guidance to people calling in with questions about visiting Moab.
Gizler said that she was informing people they needed to follow federal, state and local guidelines, including by avoiding “discretionary travel,” and groups of 10 or more people.
The Salt Lake Tribune featured Springdale Mayor Stan Smith in its March 13 report about visiting Utah’s national parks. Smith said to The Tribune the day after President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel to the United States from many European nations, “I’m telling everybody: ‘Don’t panic.’” Smith also said that Sprindagle hotels’ occupancy rates had increased in the time after the president’s Wednesday night address regarding COVID-19.
The Times-Independent asked Smith whether public health and economic data suggested that Springdale should be asking people to stay away or inviting them to spend their vacation there. Smith declined to answer the question and said that visitors should “seek the expert advice” of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and southwest Utah’s health department.
The advice from both of those agencies is to follow presidential guidelines by avoiding “nonessential travel.”
“Moab’s situation is different than Springdale’s because of the infrastructure in the different counties,” Smith said. “[Moab’s] local health department would be best to guide [the city] with [its] decisions.”
The recommendation from the Southeast Utah Health Department, which oversees public health in Moab and across the southeastern part of the state, is also to stay home and avoid nonessential travel, according to a statement from the department released Monday, March 16.