Southeast Utah Health Department. officials made several firm decisions this week to slow the spread of novel coronavirus in Moab, a region that sees heavy use from visitors around the world.
“As of now, there are to be no new check-ins,” said Orion Rodgers, Southeastern Utah’s Environmental Health Director. Currently, the only people allowed to stay in Moab’s hotels and campgrounds are primary residents and ‘essential visitors’ – those who are in the region for work.
“Essential visitors are people that are coming here and need a place to stay and they are providing a service to our community by doing some form of work here,” Rodgers said.
In addition to a 30-day restriction on recreational visitation, Moab’s dine-in restaurants are also ordered to shut their doors, leaving curbside and take-out options for now.
“I mean, it’s a really hard time, and everyone can agree. And this is like the worst timing ever. Coming out of winter, being stoked about just hiring and getting staff in place,” said Natalie Zollinger, who manages popular Moab eatery 98 Center.
In the past few days, the restaurant took decisive action to halt their table service. But they now face a full closure.
“And it’s a really hard move because that means we’re officially closing the doors and there’s no money coming in and all of our bills are due. So it’s hard. It’s very emotional right now. Like a hundred percent,” Zollinger said.
Local business owners wrestled with an impossible dilemma the last few weeks – how do you keep food on the table for your employees while keeping them safe from a global pandemic? Lisa Boose is the resort manager at Moab Springs Ranch.
“My quandary was being a citizen here and wanting to protect our town and our resources from the influx yet managing a resort where our livelihood and our entire business is at stake,” Boose said.
But Southeastern Utah health officials eventually answered that tough question. As they drew up orders to shutter the region to most outsiders, they were staring down the barrel of a busy spring season. Tourists continued to pour into Moab’s hotels, restaurants, and natural playgrounds. That made Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff very nervous.
“This is a time for all of us – not just Moab to work at social distancing – but for all of us,” Sadoff said.
Sadoff and her top hospital staff say flatly that Moab’s rural infrastructure absolutely cannot handle a large outbreak of COVID-19. She’s desperate to avoid the fate of countries like Italy where right now the number of patients exceed the capacity of healthcare services.
“Just like there’s not enough rolls of toilet paper right now because everybody went running for toilet paper, if everybody comes running for healthcare services there’s just no way to ramp those up to meet the need,” Sadoff said.
Health officials hope to avoid that situation by taking these precautionary measures. As the signs popping up all over downtown businesses say, Moab is closed…for now.
Thanks to Molly Marcello from KZMU in Moab for covering this story. Visit kzmu.org for more of her coverage.