Please don’t come here.
That’s the message in an open letter sent Thursday by the mayors of Victor and Driggs, two of the three towns that make up Teton Valley, Idaho.
Victor Mayor Will Frohlich and Driggs Mayor Hyrum Johnson are asking people to stay wherever they live until the coronavirus outbreak is over.
“Tourists are the mainstay of the valley’s economy,” the mayors wrote. “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.”
Like other rural communities with small hospitals, Teton Valley faces the risk that, should the outbreak continue to spread, its health care system could be overwhelmed. With roughly 13,000 residents and one small hospital in the county, the towns may not be equipped to handle sick tourists along with residents.
The letter points to other tourism-dependent communities that people have descended on for what the mayors call “virus vacations.” With many people either out of work or working remotely, packing up the car for a backcountry skiing trip or a desert adventure might seem like a good way to practice social distancing. But the mayors don’t want to end up like Moab, Utah, or McCall, Idaho, which have seen upticks in tourism despite widespread social distancing guidelines and even a shelter-in-place order in Idaho.
“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,” the letter says.
The appeal came the same day the Idaho Department of Health reported Idaho’s first deaths related to COVID-19: two men in central Idaho’s Blaine County, one 60 years old, the other 80; and a 70-year-old man in Canyon County in the western part of the state.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued the shelter-in-place order Wednesday, telling Idahoans to remain in their houses — except for essential services, work and exercise — and to practice social distancing.
Frohlich and Johnson told tourists that if residents can’t leave their homes, visitors shouldn’t come at all.
“Visit us again when we are at our best and ready to welcome you,” the mayors wrote. “We look forward to that good day, just as much as you do.”