While the remainder of Utah was declared to be at “Low Risk” by Gov. Gary Herbert on May 16, Grand County was among a handful of counties and cities to remain with higher restrictions in place.
A recently signed law places local public health orders under state jurisdiction, allowing strict local ordinances to be overturned. In this case, the state decided to allow the restrictions in place to stand in Grand, Summit and Wasatch counties as well as municipalities Salt Lake City and West Jordan.
“We are grateful that the State is aware of the local situation and are willing to have a dialogue about how the phased guidelines apply to our area,” said Southeast Utah Health Department Director Bradon Bradford.
“We will continue to have an open dialogue with them moving forward as Grand County moves closer toward a full reopening.”
The SEUHD order expires on May 29, which is also when the area’s National Parks are set to reopen with limited visitor services. Currently, the order restricts the capacity of local hotels, motels and campsites and prohibits non-resident dispersed camping.
“We're grateful to the Governor for allowing local health departments flexibility to decide what's best for communities,” said Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus in a call with the Moab Sun News.
Some local businesses have chafed under these restrictions, feeling that the higher risk designation is discouraging tourists from returning to Moab.
Niehaus says that while she sees that Moab businesses are hurting, she doesn’t think the designation is the largest factor in attracting travelers.
“I'm not sure that this change in designation makes much of a difference,” said Niehaus.
“The reality for Moab is that when we move to ‘yellow,’” she said, referring to the color code that marks “low risk” as yellow and “medium risk” as orange, “it’s true that restrictions on lodging will be lifted. But it’s also true that we haven't seen enough travelers to hit capacity even with our current restrictions.”
“It's easy to say that it's because Arches isn't open or we're still considered medium risk. But I think it's because visitors still don't have confidence, don't feel safe for traveling,” Niehaus said, emphasizing that she believed increased mask-wearing and other public health measures could instill greater trust in travelers.
“We want to be open and we want to stay open,” she said, “and that means we need to make visitors feel safe and welcome.”
SUB: Mask initiative rolled out in Moab
Niehaus said that her focus on increasing Moab’s reputation as a safe travel destination led her to reach out to professional friends and colleagues, including at major outdoor retailers.
“I said that Moab businesses need more face coverings and sanitizer and our visitors need access to masks, especially along Main Street,” she said.
“While social distancing is easy in the backcountry, we needed to take a step toward making these measures more available for our visitors,” she said.
DPS Skis, a Salt Lake City-based ski design company, has been collaborating with other outdoor groups to manufacture personal protective gear for the Utah Department of Health since April.
“Almost all of us in the outdoor industry are friends of Moab – we often come down here to bike and hike and visit. So we decided we wanted to help,” Mike Cannon, a manager at DPS Skis said.
Cannon traveled to Moab to deliver protective equipment including face shields, buffs, hand sanitizer and masks to the City of Moab on May 18. Other companies contributing to the effort included Goal Zero, Teton Sports, Petzel and Gregory Mountain Products.
“Our residents live here, but we also share Moab's beauty with others,” said Niehaus.
“Especially on the Wasatch Front, people love Moab as a place to relax and retreat. They want to give back,” she said to the Moab Sun News. She said that she hoped this was the start of a larger program to get more masks in the area.
The donated items were distributed to local businesses, city officials noted.
“We are so, so grateful to have this supply of PPE, especially as we head into Memorial Day weekend,” commented Niehaus.
The State of Utah is offering one-time free kits containing a week’s supply of protective equipment to the state’s local businesses. The “PPE Push Pack” program was launched on May 5 to help businesses with less than 50 employees transition to lower risk protocols.
“The ability for businesses to obtain and utilize personal protective equipment for their employees is critical in helping Utahns get back to work and stay at work,” Gov. Gary R. Herbert said when he unveiled the program.
While some Moab businesses have taken advantage of the program, Niehaus said that those supplies weren’t enough for Moab’s economy.
“It’s not enough for our tourism-based businesses, especially on a weekend as busy as Memorial Day, where we may have 20 visitors for every resident in town,” Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus said in a statement. She’s hopeful that with more freely accessible masks, tourist and traveler trust will return as well.
"We’re moving into some kind of new normal," Niehaus said. "Having masks available for the employees required to wear them and the visitors wanting to wear them is critical.”