Jackson Hole, Wyo. is in the midst of a precarious balancing act between maintaining their tourism-based economy and slowing a worsening public health crisis. As the portal to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, Jackson Hole sees approximately 40,000 out of town visitors per day. Typically, local businesses would welcome flocks of tourists with open arms as tourism comprises a significant portion of their economy. However this year, the mood is a bit different…
At the beginning of the pandemic and amidst the closures of non-essential businesses, most Jackson Hole locals were skeptical that they would even be able to reopen for the summer. And, if businesses were able to reopen, there was still doubt regarding the number of tourists that would come to visit Jackson Hole in the first place. Between March 24 and May 18, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks were closed to the public. As a result, the town of Jackson Hole experienced a dichotomy of success and foreboding failure. The success came in the form of low numbers of coronavirus cases. Conversely, many small business owners were under financial duress due to the potentiality of being unable to open for the summer.
Businesses have since reopened, however things have certainly not returned to ‘business as usual’. Jackson Hole is statistically seeing approximately the same amount of visitors that remains steady with numbers from previous years; although a few days in July topped records from 2019. While tourism numbers have stayed consistent with previous years, coronavirus cases have risen heavily. Earlier this month, the number of coronavirus cases tripled over the course of a single week.
The influx of COVID-19 cases forces the town to reconcile with a tough dilemma- how can they keep people safe and allow businesses to remain open? On July 3, Jackson Town Council implemented a city-wide mask ordinance and on July 20, the entire county followed suit. While masks will certainly help reduce the spread of the virus, Jackson Hole still must deal with the rapid increase in cases from earlier this month. Furthermore, despite the mask ordinance, many tourists are openly disregarding the mandate, which in turn is leading to high tensions with the local community.
Ultimately, Jackson Hole must make act and must act fast to quell to the virus. Unfortunately, there is no silver-bullet solution to solve this pervasive issue. Regardless of how the town opts to respond, there will be challenging tradeoffs that will likely spark controversy in the community. Additionally, Jackson Hole’s dilemma illuminates other questions, such as how they will adapt this upcoming winter when people are forced indoors. This is a problem that many other mountain towns will have to examine as well if they wish to remain open and healthy.
This is a saga with no clear end in sight, only time will tell how effectively Jackson Hole handles this crisis. Until then, they must continue a delicate balance while on the precipice of economic closure and a public health catastrophe.