The resort community of McCall's economic sustainability depends on opening its collective arms to visitors. But COVID-19 has changed everything. In fact, out-of-area license plates are now met with shaming in store parking lots.
"The people who are normally welcomed and embraced, are now being humiliated and degraded for visiting our town," said McCall Star-News Publisher Tom Grote. "It's quite the interesting change of events."
Grote spoke with Morning Edition host George Prentice about what he calls McCall's current "surreal" environment, and some high tension at the local airport when three McCall police vehicles "greeted" an out-of-state airplane.
“April just will not exist. So many events have been canceled, schools will not happen, sports will not happen. We'll look back on April 2020 as the month that did not exist.”
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. COVID-19 continues to define all of our lives. Idaho has been hit hard, perhaps hardest in its resort communities and so this morning we turn our focus to McCall. Tom Grote is here. He is the publisher of the McCall Star News. He joins us via Skype, live this morning. Tom, good morning.
TOM GROTE: Good morning, George.
PRENTICE: Paint me a word picture of McCall. I think most of us have an image of a bustling town when the weather is nice and on a good weekend, but paint me a word picture of McCall this morning.
GROTE: Well George, as you know, this is normally a kind of a slower time of year. Normally, students are on spring break or just coming back, the ski season and the snowmobiling season are winding down and the people are beginning to think about moving forward into the spring and which spring up here means maybe May 15th. We still have lots of snow on the ground and there's lots of winter scenery, but the problem is there's no people. There's normally a lack of people who are here because of the spring break, but at least we have snowmobilers, skiers, cross country skiers, second-home owners who come up just to get away from the city, people milling around, shopping, doing all the normal things that we do in a resort town.
None of that is happening now, just like it is in so many places around the world and around the nation. But it's particularly startling because in a resort town, that's what we're supposed to be doing here. We're supposed to be hosting people, we're supposed to be welcoming them, we're supposed to be helping them get away from their troubles. And yet now, we're not allowed to do that. And it's quite a bit of dissonance in this town right now, that we're not able to do our jobs.
PRENTICE: In fact, that is your economy. So how depressing is it?
It's very depressing. Our unemployment figures went from 10 per week at the job service to 220 in one week. All the major employers are shut down. Shore Lodge, who's our largest resort, of course, and our largest attractor, Brundage Mountain, Tamarack Resort. Between only those three, we're talking 500 jobs, both seasonal and full-time, so right there that's a hit. And then you add in all of the service providers, the short-term rental people who is an important part of that, we have the restaurants, of which we have many in a resort town like this, the retailers, all are closed down and it is quite the strange scene.
PRENTICE: Is there a sense of large numbers of out of area license plates rolling through town?
GROTE: Well, that's kind of the anomaly here. We've spent so much time building up our reputation as a resort town that there's a natural inclination, despite all of the publicity, for people still to come up here. Fortunately, we're getting what we wished for and the parking lots of the supermarkets do have many out-of-state plates, which is okay. But the interesting byproduct of all this is now, there's so much paranoia and fear regarding the COVID-19 virus, that people are actually shaming our visitors. The people who are normally welcomed and embraced, are now being humiliated and degraded for visiting our town. So it is quite the interesting change of events.
PRENTICE: And what's the take from law enforcement? Is there anything they can do or even want to do?
GROTE: We have declared an emergency, just like so many other towns. I've found it interesting, the broad powers that state law allows municipal governments to invoke these emergency powers. Many people don't know that they can extend five miles outside the city limits, which was quite a revelation to me. Besides that, the law enforcement is pretty frustrated. They're not going to go house to house, to the short-term rentals and ask people where they live and show them their driver's license. They don't want to do that, but at the same time, they have to enforce the rules where they can.
We had something in our paper today. Last week an airplane flew into the McCall Airport from Seattle, which of course, is a hotbed of the COVID-19 infections. The flight plan was filed, they knew he was coming, and of course, part of our emergency order is only essential traffic into the airports, such as air ambulances and things like that. But the fellow ignored it, the order, and decided he was an essential service, so they flew in.
We had three police cars go out to the McCall Airport to greet the plane. He got out of the plane, and they spoke to the chief of police or to the officer. And he said, "Well, I was just here to visit with my construction crew, who was building my home here. And I thought that it would just be a quick in, quick out and I wouldn't even be in contact with anyone." Well, they said that doesn't qualify as an essential service. Told him to get back into the airplane and go back to Seattle, and that's what he did. And that's what we have going on here right now, George. We're turning people away at the gate.
PRENTICE: Give us a sense of the hospital in town. It's my understanding that they have basically brought their services outside, to the parking lot.
GROTE: Correct. I'm not sure if this is happening elsewhere, but it is another interesting phenomenon here. We now have curb service for the sick. If you have the sniffles, if you have just a common illness, a seasonal flu or whatever normal aches and pains, normally you would call up the clinic, you would make an appointment, you'd go in, see a doc, get some antibiotics or whatever you need and then head on out. Now, because they want to limit exposure, when you pull into the parking lot, you're asked questions whether you have COVID-19, then you're directed to a parking space. It's kind of like Sonic. Somebody comes out and they get your order, they ask what you have and what you need, and then rather than bringing out a cheeseburger and fries, they bring out a physician's assistant or an MD, and they swab your nose and check your heartbeat, all while you sit in your car, leaning out the window.
I know this because I did this myself, last Thursday. I had a sinus infection and I experienced this, and it is quite surreal to have medical care given in your car, with people fully clad, in freezing cold, by the way. We've had temperatures in the 20s and the teens here, trying to do their jobs. It's been a very challenging situation for all, and certainly, we feel for the providers doing this. But in order to separate the sick from the well, that's the measures they're taking.
PRENTICE: Think about our kids and our kids' kids, telling them about 2020 and what happened. “Surreal” is just the tip of the iceberg.
GROTE: No kidding. I remarked in the paper today that the way things are going, April just will not exist. So many events have been canceled, schools will not happen, sports will not happen. We'll look back on April 2020 as the month that did not exist.
PRENTICE: Tom Grote is publisher of the McCall Star News. Tom, best of luck.
GROTE: Thank you
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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