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Public Health Order should curb visitation to Moab during pandemic

Posted at 9:09 PM, Mar 17, 2020

MOAB, Utah — Before a public health order was issued by the Southeast Utah Health Department on Tuesday at noon, the City of Moab was filled with tourists, seasonal visitors and those looking to 'quarantine' in southeastern Utah.

"It is an important time to stay home and save lives, and I do really agree with the key of that message," said Dr. Dylan Cole, Chief Medical Officer at Moab Regional Hospital. "Unfortunately this is not the time to take spring break and travel."

Typically, the City of Moab is a major destination during spring break and summer months for national park visitors and lovers of outdoor adventure.

However, the influx of visitors coming to an area that is already experiencing limited supplies for residents isn't sitting well with those who call the area 'home' or work to keep the community safe.

"Moab right now, rural, remote Moab is trying to get a grip on the services that we have for ourselves," said City of Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus. "We love being of service to others but right now we need to take care of ourselves."

Dr. Cole says that the 17-bed critical access facility is taking precautionary measures despite no known COVID-19 cases in the area.

"I do think that we have the opportunity to make a difference at this point and everyone can do their part," Dr. Cole said.

The hospital has a tent outside of the facility to screen for those concerned with the novel coronavirus. He says that currently the hospital is in short supply of protective equipment such as face masks.

"It's just not sufficient to meet the needs and the current guidance is that we continue to stretch those masks as far as we possibly can," he said.

Early Tuesday afternoon, Utah Senator Mitt Romney encouraged Utahns to take advantage of the outdoors and seek state and national parks.

"There is plenty of space in our national parks and in our state," Sen. Romney said during a press conference call. "We have the most beautiful state in the nation and we certainly hope that people in Utah are able to take advantage of the national parks, particularly at a time where we won't be getting as many visitors from out of town."

Meanwhile, the tone of 'going outside and enjoy the parks' is completely opposite the hope for those who live in Moab.

"I personally would like to see the directive to close the national parks," said Dr. Cole, citing a lack of emergency response resources during the event of an injury with so much focus on COVID-19 prevention. "I do believe it puts all of our park workers, our public employees at an increased risk right now seeing tourism volume."

Arches National Park has scaled back on operations despite a steady-stream of cars entering the park on Tuesday morning. According to the National Park Service, the visitor center, bookstore, ranger tours are all closed at Arches until further notice. "Arches National Park is focused on ensuring employees, their families, volunteers, and visitors are safe by following the most current guidance from the CDC, OPM, OEM, and other federal, state, and local health authorities."

The public health order was issued to help prevent the spread of the virus.

"Given the fact that areas within the area are prominent tourist destinations for domestic and international travelers," the order reads, "the SEUHD Health Officer has determined that the closure of a wide variety of venues and facilities ... is critical."

The order includes: Restaurants, bars and taverns in Carbon, Emery and Grand County required to close on Tuesday, March 17 at 10 p.m. Only curbside take-out or drive-thru food service is permitted. Movie theatres and concert venues are also closed along with overnight lodging (except for essential visitors and primary residents).

Read the full public health order for Carbon, Emery and Grand Counties here: Southeast Utah Health Department Public Health Order

Moab’s remote location and size, along with its tourism based economy has left us in a very precarious situation in preparing for the Coronavirus pandemic. To say we are concerned about this situation is an understatement. The recent order from the SEUHD is a drastic move that they must have felt was pertinent to the health of our community. The impacts of restricting overnight lodging, restaurants and shops will be devastating for this community. Our local businesses float through winter, anticipating and counting on our high traffic spring season. The order comes at a time when businesses were planning on a promising peak season to employ a full staff and offer wages that could put roofs over heads and food on the tables. These 30 day restrictions will have a lasting impact on our economy, but we hope at that time to be able to open the doors and serve all who love Moab as much as we do.
Laici Shumway, Executive Director of Moab Chamber of Commerce