Writing this as the mayors of two closely related tourist towns in Teton Valley, asking people not to come visit our communities, shows things have to be bad. In fact, Governor Little has declared a Stay Home Order for the state of Idaho, community spread has been confirmed in Jackson Hole just 25 miles away, and the medical professionals of our valley have affirmed their belief that community spread is also present in Teton Valley.
Teton Valley and the cities of Victor and Driggs love their visitors. Tourists are the mainstay of the valley’s economy. Their presence creates jobs, and supports businesses and local government, but right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, tourists threaten to overwhelm the limited services available in Teton County to keep its citizens healthy and safe. Right now, we are asking visitors to stay home. Simply put, we do not have the resources to effectively care for additional people visiting our valley at this time.
The county has roughly 13,000 residents. Obviously if this virus hits the area with the ferocity it has hit other communities, the region could be in a dire situation where people will not be able to access the healthcare they require. People could die. That sounds blunt and harsh, but it’s true. Teton Valley cannot handle an influx of sick people. The community does not have the resources or facilities it needs to take care of hundreds if not thousands of people with the virus. For that reason, if you love Teton Valley and the Tetons and are here on vacation, you need to go home and stay home until the country has gained control over the virus.
Rural communities across the country have made this same plea, yet their cries have not been heeded. Visitors are inundating towns like Moab, Utah, Twenty-Nine Palms, California, and, closer to home, Stanley and McCall, Idaho for what has become known as “virus vacations.” The reason for the crowding is understandable: People want to escape the fear and anxiety generated by the coronavirus pandemic, and recreating in the outdoors seems like a wonderful way to accomplish that while still social distancing. Those of us who live in the Teton region understand that desire. That’s why we choose to live here. But now is not the time to travel to escape outdoors in a resort town in rural America, instead it is the time to find outdoor opportunities in your own home town. Your virus vacation should be a staycation, because one cannot guarantee they are not going to get sick when they travel, nor can they ensure that they will not get injured recreating in the backcountry. No one knows for sure they will not be a burden on the doctors, nurses, first responders and healthcare providers in the small towns where they choose to recreate. The sacrifice the nation is asking of its citizens is simple: think about the consequences of your actions and err on the safe side. If your vacation has the potential to be the tipping point that overwhelms a rural hospital’s ability to respond to a healthcare emergency, you should not take that vacation.
There are thousands of people who have given up their dreams this spring. People have lost jobs and small businesses face devastating financial losses due to the pandemic. Students will not be able to walk for their graduation ceremonies, people studying and traveling abroad have been forced to come home while those anticipating trips have abandoned their plans. The list of events that have been canceled or postponed is endless and includes everything from weddings and reunions, to sporting events, festivals, conferences, concerts, and so on. The sacrifices and challenges faced by people across the country as a result of the global pandemic are real and lasting. The sacrifice of giving up your vacation to help minimize the potentially devastating effects of the virus overwhelming local communities is small compared to what is being asked of so many of our fellow citizens.
So please stay or go home until the clouds part. Visit us again when we are at our best and ready to welcome you. We look forward to that good day, just as much as you do.
Mayor Will Frohlich and Mayor Hyrum Johnson