Dear Members of the Alta Community,
Almost another two weeks have gone by since I first proclaimed a local emergency in the Town of Alta related to COVID-19. Events continue to move fast. I meet almost every day with staff to talk about how best to serve our community and to consider alternative courses of action. I want to thank all the staff for their incredible dedication and hard work during this difficult time. I am writing now to explain my recent emergency orders.
My third emergency proclamation, issued on March 31, followed Governor Herbert’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Directive and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s similar Public Health Order requiring people to isolate at home to the extent possible. Given the context of Alta, I was concerned with the effects of our town being a popular destination for uphill skiing. My order prohibits people who are not in the same household from driving into Alta together, from gathering at trailheads and in the backcountry, from harming our watershed, and continues my previous closures of businesses, lodges, and short-term rentals.
Unfortunately for us and our main industry, ski resorts have been a prominent location for the spread of COVID-19. Aspen and other Colorado ski towns were early hotspots, and Sun Valley has had the highest concentration of cases in the US. Alta has been lucky but like the rest of the US, we are not out of the woods. Some of our community members may be infected but not symptomatic. We are vulnerable to the arrival of people from other places. My concern that people will leave their homes in an effort to escape the pandemic and come to Alta led me to issue my fourth emergency proclamation on April 1. This order requires anyone coming to Alta from outside Utah to self-quarantine. The Governor and the County Mayor have discouraged or prohibited non-essential travel and my order is consistent with theirs but goes further.
Some have said that this order discriminates against property owners; I disagree. The order mentions second-home owners specifically to let them know that they, too, are subject to its requirements, but it applies to everyone coming to stay in Alta, whether they are coming to their vacation home, renting a condo or a vacation house, or are a resident or employee returning to town. Some have suggested that saying that this order applies to those who are coming from outside of Utah doesn’t adequately protect us. After long discussion with the Town’s staff and legal counsel, we decided that the scope of this order had to be the State of Utah given the legal context of the State and County orders and the demographic context of Salt Lake County having more than 1.1 million residents. It is neither legal nor practical to attempt to seal off Alta from the outside entirely.
Alta Ski Lifts continues to allow uphill skiing on its Special Use Permitted resort and on its private land in Grizzly Gulch. I have not advocated closing all the ski area parking lots or the uphill access to ASL so far for several reasons. First, doing so would not stop people from coming to ski in and around Alta. Second, with a small Marshal’s force, and the need to keep our Marshals safe, creating a context in which confrontations are likely to occur is unwise. Third, the State and County health orders explicitly allow people to leave home for recreation outside.
The ski area has been maintaining toilets at both base areas as a public service; the Governor’s directive orders that safe procedures for doing so be followed. I am very grateful for the service of those who are doing the continuing work of the ski area – maintaining the facilities, providing avalanche protection, and serving as first responders to emergencies.
While uphill skiing continues to attract many day visitors to Alta, they have largely been behaving consistently with health orders. Residents can avoid interacting with visitors, as they should. On my request, the US Forest Service and ASL recently closed the Grizzly Gulch parking area to spread visitors out and to have them park away from residents and near the toilets. I directed our staff to develop safe protocols in our post office. Our Town Council will meet remotely tonight and we will stream the meeting. The staff and I continue to monitor the situation closely and reassess our strategy.
Remember to abide diligently by the CDC advice for protecting yourself and others: clean your hands often, don’t touch your face, avoid close contact with others, cover coughs and sneezes, disinfect surfaces, and definitely stay home if you’re sick. And, generally, stay safe by staying home and not having visitors. When you do go out, keep your distance and wear cloth face coverings when keeping distance is difficult.
The holiday of Passover begins tonight and Easter is this weekend. Let us hope and work together for deliverance from the current plague and the renewal of our spirit.