Council member, health department looking for business input on ongoing COVID-19 response
As Moab considers the timeline and process for reopening businesses and — possibly — opening the doors to visitors, the prospect of “business as usual” amid or in the immediate shadow of an ongoing pandemic might seem to many impossible or, at the very least, untenable.
Perhaps most impactful to business in Moab — besides the virus itself — is the lodging restriction handed down by the Southeast Utah Health Department in March. The order is due to expire Wednesday April 15, but Brittney Garff, a spokesperson for the department, said that it likely won’t mean a flood of business reopenings.
“[Businesses] would likely need to be phased back in to some degree in order to prevent a rebound effect,” Garff said. “I am hoping that lodging facilities can help prepare a plan that would be equitable to all.”
During a meeting on Tuesday, April 8, Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells addressed the issue, as well, saying that there was “not any movement” to lift the order “right now,” and that planning must be in place on how lodging business will move forward in Moab “maybe not necessarily when that (the order) is lifted but how that is going to continue to be amended.”
Wells emphasized that the amount of information available to county leaders and health officials on the best approach to lifting or amending the orders was still somewhat unknown.
“My position and what I’ve told people is that we’re still in information gathering mode,” Wells said.
Wells went on to say that Moab would reach a point that it had “passed the peak” and was on the downward path of new COVID-19 cases, and when that happens, re-engaging the area’s tourism economy with consumers would “breathe some oxygen into the local economy” as a long-term solution to the recent economic concerns of locals.
“I think one of the things that I want to be clear about is: Those subsidies and stimulus money are not a solution,” Wells said. “It doesn’t hurt matters, by any means, but the bread and butter — the name of the game in this town, right wrong or indifferent — is providing beds and campsites and accommodations for visitors, and all the other businesses feed off of that.”
He went on to ask rhetorically what the right timing and method for opening businesses while still adhering to CDC guidelines would be.
Finding a consensus from lodging owners might not be an easy task. While some campsite, hotel and lodging owners told The Times-Independent this week that the process for reopening should be to open doors “with no restrictions,” as Carla Gregory with Lalo’s & Mary’s Way Overnight Rentals put it, others like Shon Walter, owner of Moab Condos 4 Rent and Moab Tourism Center, said that some interventions would be needed.
“Our most important thing is to try and protect the employees in the front lines,” Walter said. “I think our next issue will be staff getting sick and trying to work out the labor issues when employees can’t come in. If we can’t staff our businesses, that will stop our economy as well.”
Liz Rad, owner of Sorrel River Ranch, said that her business was prepared to reopen quickly once restrictions change or are lifted, but she expected that regardless of what is decided, “guests will naturally be very slow to return” and business will be slow to pick back up.
“We are assuming all overseas visitors will not return for 2020,” Rad said. “We are also assuming the rest of our occupancy will be cut at least in half for the balance of 2020 if we are lucky.”