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Google data says that Summit County is staying home amid coronavirus pandemic

Google is publishing information about the number of people going to various locations in a community. They are comparing that to their baseline levels before the coronavirus. The good news from a health perspective is that Summit County appears to be way down in visits to locations. That indicates that people are taking things seriously here and staying home.

The bad news is that most businesses in Summit County make money by people visiting there. So, the economy is obviously devastated.

The one glaring omission related to our particular lifestyle is that Google doesn’t seem to track trails. So what we know is that people aren’t going to businesses. What we don’t know is if they are replacing visits to the Alaskan Fur shop on Main Street with overcrowding our trails.

The numbers below as of 4/2/2020 show the decrease from baseline in Summit County, according to Google Mobile Phone information.

Utah as a whole is down 41%

Utah as whole is -14%

Utah as a whole is Up 26%

Utah as a whole is down 44%

Utah as a whole is down 40%

There’s a lesson for all of us in Basin Rec’s threat to shut down all trails

First they came for the restaurants, and I did not speak out
… because I don’t own a restaurant

Then they came for non-essential businesses, and I did not speak out
… because I don’t work at a non-essential business

Then they came for the dog parks, and I did not speak out
… because I had other trails to walk on

Then they came for the trails — and there was nowhere else to go.

I was in the liquor store a week ago and commented to the employee working there about how civilized the store was. She said, “I think people understand that they don’t want this taken away.” That comment didn’t really resonate until I read KPCW’s article, Basin Dog Parks Closed – Trails Could Be Next.

Basin Recreation District Director Brian Hanton commented on KPCW, “Our trails are still open. We’ve limited a lot of our facilities but we’re inviting people out on the trails we are having some issues at the trailheads. Those will probably be the next [to be shut down] if people can’t abide by the regulations that are in place…”

Imagine the greater Park City area where you can’t go to work, you can’t play pickleball, you can’t go to the gym, you can’t go to any store but a grocer, you can’t go to the dog park, and now you can’t go on any trails. That’s completely miserable, and that’s what’s at stake.

How did we get here? I’m really not sure, but there are lessons to be learned by everyone in our city and county.

So, here’s my list of what we all should have learned by now.

Residents: Stay at home and only venture out if you absolutely need to. Don’t be a jerk.

Medical Professionals: Stay safe by being as careful as you can.

People on our trails: Don’t be a god-damn idiot and get in close proximity to one another. I know you think you won’t get sick and you probably won’t. But your asymptomatic case could kill someone’s loved one. It could also lead to schools being closed next fall. If that happens, damn you all. The best case is you give Brian Hanton a reason to close down our trails. Don’t be selfish. Go be alone and read some Ralph Waldo Emerson.

People in supermarkets: I know you have admired the Seinfeld close-talker episode for years. You want to gather in aisles and spit on each other as you talk… but please stop. Once they close trails, they’ll come for you. They’ll limit supermarkets to one at a time. Don’t be the reason.

Construction Workers: I still don’t see how you can still go to work when most people can’t. But I guess your work is essential to Summit County. Just please don’t take my ventilator when I need it.

Sheriff’s Department: Please don’t post any additional messages saying that “We’re your best friend bro. You can go to work anywhere and don’t really worry about anything ’cause we ain’t going to enforce shit.” People then take the law as a suggestion. That then leads to Basin Rec closing down our trails. I get the caring sentiment and the previous response to people posting incorrect ideas on social media, but now is the time we need enforcement.

County Council: You manage Basin Rec. Don’t let Basin Rec close down the trails. We will be in a world of hurt for so many reasons. People depend on the trails. Many people won’t follow the rules and will still go. People who do follow rules will get belligerent with those who don’t and that will be ugly. The only legal place to walk your dog will be down Main Street. No one wants to walk there these days.

Basin Rec: Don’t close the trails. It’s a terrible outcome for our community. If you are worried about dumbasses congregating, then ask for the County Council’s help. Ask them to put in place an ordinance that gives people three days of warnings. Then, after that, those people congregating WILL BE CHARGED with a misdemeanor that equates with a $100 fine. Then ask the Sheriff to add popular trailheads to the deputy’s normal routes and THEN FINE THOSE PEOPLE violating the law.

If you park one minute over the time limit, the meter maid has no problem giving you a $60 ticket. Shouldn’t our collective health be worth more?

When I first read Brian Hanton’s quote in KPCW, it seemed passive-aggressive. However, maybe that is the only tool Basin Rec has. That said, closing down the trail system isn’t the answer. People doing the right thing is. That requires people to look beyond themself.

Unfortunately, experience shows that many Parkites don’t have the ability to do that.

This mess is going to get worse before it gets better. The only question I have is whether things will get back to normal in the Fall.

It’s time for the Park Record to evolve

I was reading Saturday’s Park Record Editorial that details the Coronavirus’ impact on Park City’s newspaper. Advertising revenue has dwindled, two reporters have been furloughed, and employees have taken a 20% pay cut. They are asking for donations to help make it through. It’s tough times for the newspaper.

I feel bad for the people working there. Getting furloughed or taking a pay cut isn’t easy. However, for the company as a whole, the newspaper business has been a terrible business for over a decade.

Given the Park Record’s editorial, and the recent pandemic, it’s made me think about where I get the majority of my local news. Those sources are undoubtedly the Salt Lake Tribune for Utah-based information and KPCW for local information.

The coverage of the coronavirus’s impact on Utah is up to date, chock-full of information, and wide-spread. In other times, their coverage of the legislature and Utah-wide stories is exemplary. They act as a public watchdog.

KPCW covers issues in many different ways. Their website is up to date with local information. As important, the Local News Hour with Leslie Thatcher has interviews with local leaders that are extremely informative. The level of depth found there is compelling.

I compare that to what I get with the Park Record, and it just isn’t quite the same. The Park Record feels structured for a different, slower time. While articles can appear throughout the week, they are based on a Wednesday and Saturday schedule. By the time I see the article in the Park Record, I usually conclude that I have already read or heard that elsewhere. There isn’t enough information, in a timely fashion, to compel me to HAVE to read the Park Record. It’s usually worth a skim — at least for me.

However, please don’t mistake this for an indictment of our local paper. The Park Record is important for the community. They sponsor the Spelling Bee. They cover local sports as well as anyone in Park City. They have good writers. I like the addition of Alexander Cramer covering the Basin. Bubba Brown has done a good job taking over for Nan Chalat Noaker as Editor.

It just feels like they need to evolve. This became clear to me when thinking about why I enjoy KPCW.

Some may think of KPCW as a radio station, but IT’S NOT. It’s something entirely different. They’ve found a way to take their on-air stories and provide them in a written fashion as well. Whether you want to listen to Rick Brough or read the story Rick Brough created, you can. Do you want to listen to the Local News Hour at 8 AM each morning but can’t? It’s posted online within hours. Do you want to know what happened at last night’s City or County Council meeting but can’t attend? There will be an interview the next morning with important facts.

KPCW is not a radio station. It’s a news service.

If the Park Record wants to compete it needs to be faster, or more in-depth, or more interesting, or more engaging, or more something. For instance, if we put timeliness aside and just go with the sheer volume of stories, they are behind KPCW. During the past week (Mar 21-28), here are the number of stories I counted by each journalist at the publications (in no particular order and forgive me if I spell a name wrong):

David Boyle: 18
Emily Means: 13
Carolyn Murray: 7
Leslie Thatcher: 3-4 interviews per day
Rick Brough: 9
Renai Bodley Miller: 12

Park Record:
Alexander Cramer: 13
James Hoyt: 1
Bubba Brown: 2
Jay Hamburger: 10
Ryan Kostecka: 6
Scott Iwaski: 9

Of course, the number of stories published doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. However, KPCW’s quality doesn’t seem to be suffering. These numbers could be off by a few stories, but they generally confirm what I have often thought. KPCW seems to produce more content. It’s also often more timely.

So, how could the Park Record change? If there was a sure-fire answer to that question, newspapers wouldn’t be dying across the country. Yet, I think our small, tight-knit community does offer opportunities. There’s a place for an online community in lieu of Next Door or Facebook that is more useful and privacy-focused. The Park Record could be the home page for our community. They could be the place where people come to talk, listen, and learn. It could be the place where each of us starts our mornings.

It could be more audio and video-based while retaining the written-side. It could use those new mediums to highlight the artists, film-makers, and other people that make our community great. They could dig deeper into interviews with local politicians. They could be more investigative.

The Park Record has the chance to make our community more interesting and engaging by bringing us together and making it easier to hear, read, watch, and talk about what’s happening. Create must-see content. Don’t be a paper. Be a community.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m under no illusion that this would be easy. It may require a different skill set than currently is demonstrated at the Park Record; however, they have it in them. They can transform. They have in the past.

If you need any further proof about the state of the newspaper in Park City, look no further than the Salt Lake Tribune. Their Utah Jazz sportswriter, who doesn’t have much to do, has written the most detailed, interesting, and stats-filled newspaper story about Summit County and the Coronavirus to-date. Yes, an out of work sportswriter from Salt Lake has written the best article on Park City and the Coronavirus. It shouldn’t be that way. Go read Andy Larsen’s story now at the tribune, if you haven’t. Brilliant.

Yes, I do realize that the Park Rag is just a blog. And what do I know about running a “real” paper? That’s true. I don’t have answers; I really only know what would make it more compelling for me as a consumer. For that matter, The Park Record may be happy being who it is. Or maybe they don’t have the money to invest in being different. There are always constraints. It just seems it could be so much more.

The Park Record has been around for 140 years and needs some help. So, if you like what they are doing, click here to donate to them via their web page. They can use every penny.

That said, if they want to go on, I believe they need to change. There will always be economic downturns and advertising dollars will decrease. Yet, if the Park Record can reinvent itself with a slightly different approach, it will have a better chance to increase subscriptions, broaden subscription revenue, and enhance advertising dollars.

The one truth is that the traditional newspaper business ain’t what she used to be. It’s no different for our local paper.

Visualizing the coronavirus impact on Park City buses

I’m a fan of Park City’s bus system. When I am going skiing or coming downtown, I tend to take mass-transit. While sometimes the bus is full (4th of July, Miner’s Day, early ski mornings), often-times I am riding with few others.

Given the recent pandemic, I wondered what the impact was on Park City buses.

It turns out the impact is large.

During the winter, Park City Transit has about 30 buses on the road at any given time. During the period of February 15 until March 15, 2020, there was an average of 8.7 riders per bus, according to publicly available Park City Transit data. That’s fairly normal.

Since then there is an average of 2.2 riders per bus. If you look at this week’s data there is an average of 1.1 riders per bus. Ridership is plummeting. Due to this, the Park City Transit system has implemented spring schedules and then further cut back hours.

In the graph above, the blue area is the number of buses running each hour. The green line is the average number of riders per bus each hour. The Y-axis is the number and the X-axis is the date from 2/15 until 3/25. Click here for a larger graph. You can see that about 30 buses were on the road until March 18, when the system abruptly went to a spring schedule. You can also see the drop-off in riders per bus on March 17, once the resorts (and restaurants) closed.

It’s frankly not surprising. Park City Mayor Andy Beerman noted in December that the bus system was “mostly for tourists.” There aren’t many of those folks left.

What’s left are likely the people whose jobs remain and need the bus. It’s not many, but it is important to those that depend on it. Also, keep in mind from an environmental standpoint that the rule of thumb is that you need about 9 people on a diesel bus to make it environmentally break-even.

So, it’s likely some hard decisions need to be made. If the tourists are going to be away for the next 6 months, do we need another approach for those who need to get to work? Can we use the Kimball Junction Circulator? Can we use the special needs buses for point to point travel? Are there other options?

If that’s too much to contemplate during these trying times, I would suggest you take the bus if you can. There will likely be only two people on the bus — you and the driver. It shouldn’t be hard to get six feet apart.

Governor’s plan indicates when Park City’s schools and businesses can reopen

On Tuesday, Governor Herbert’s office released a plan called, Utah Leads Together. This fourteen-page coronavirus plan attempts to identify where we are as a state both from a health and economic perspective. It also details the stages that the state will move through as we escape the pandemic and the measures that will guide the state government to ease restrictions.

The plan highlights the path to recovery using three phases.

Right now we are in the Urgent Phase. It started on March 16 and includes measures like social distancing, limiting group sizes, closing schools, closing restaurants, economic stimulus, and limiting travel. The goal of Utah is for this phase to last from 8-12 weeks. If we meet that goal, it would mean some restrictions would be lifted around May 11 to June 8.

The Stabilization Phase includes social distancing but it is more targeted at specific groups. High-risk populations stay at home and telecommuting is still in place for some. In-restaurant dining rules would be reviewed at that point and short-term layoffs would continue. Interestingly it says, “hourly workers would find new opportunities.” That piece doesn’t sound encouraging. This phase is expected to last 10-12 weeks. If we are able to exit the Urgent Phase in early June, we would exit this phase in early September.

Then comes the Recovery Phase. Most limitations would be lifted, hourly and seasonal workers would return to normal work, and the tourism industry is supposed to recover. The goal for this final phase is conveniently timed for November.

The question I had is how do we know when we are able to move from Urgency to Stabilization. In other words, when do schools open back up and some of Summit County’s workers get back to work? Believe it or not, the Governor has an answer for that, and it is enlightening.

Once the Covid-19 transmission rate is below 1.0 for one week, the state will likely move out of the Urgency Phase. The transmission rate, or what the scientists call R naught (R0), basically means for each person infected, how many more people does that individual infect. The World Health Organization places the R0 for Covid-19 at 2 to 2.5 across the globe.

The method for determining R0 levels is beyond me to calculate. However, the Governor’s report says that if the total number of Utah infections are less then 800-1,000 by April 30, then it’s possible to have an R0 less than 1. Likewise, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget will be setting up a dashboard to track this. Once, that is running, the Park Rag will track official numbers.

So, the good news is that there now is a metric to guide us. Whenever the average, infected patient infects less than one more person, and that stat holds for a week, things will start to normalize. Some businesses will be able to reopen, and if it’s not summer, schools too. There will be a dashboard to tell us what the number is — so we can start to plan our future a little better.

It also tells us that the state government has set a magical date of April 30 to focus on. Don’t expect changes before then. Hopefully, if we can keep the number of infections down statewide (especially with the increased number of tests), we will get to R0 sooner rather than later.

That said, it appears we are in this for the long-haul. Even under the best-case scenario, this summer is going to be hard for local employees and families with children.

Good luck out there.

The coming fight over social distancing in Park City could be a battlefield

I never thought I would hear President Trump agree with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Both are worried about the economic effects of shutting down the country. In the words of both, “the cure can’t be worse than the virus.” They have a point.

Then you have Governor Herbert who, today, shut down Utah schools until May 1. That is the opposite signal. While some parents are fortunate to be able to work while their kids stay home, that’s not the case for many of us. If our kids are home-schooled for over a month, our jobs are impacted — if we can keep them.

Yet, unless the Washington winds shift direction, it is likely that within a week that the Federal Government will direct people to get back to work — damn the social distancing. That could be good for much of Park City’s economics. Vail would open back up. Alterra could ramp up work on Snow Park Lodge renovations. Restaurants would reopen. Non-essential services would come back online. People could get back to work.

Yet, at what costs? The economics would change for the better, at least in the short-term. Would health impacts get worse? I think most health professionals would say yes.

That sets up an interesting argument. Should Utah schools reopen early if Washington declares the country is open for business? Probably. Many of us can’t get back to business as usual if we are playing Laura Ingles Wilder.

Yet, if decisions to reopen are based on economics, and not health, is that in the best interest of our children and teachers? Probably Not.

A friend and I had been debating before the Corona Virus whether Park City is too big to fail at this point. His point was that while we may have crashed a few times in the past, it couldn’t happen again.

He’s probably right, but I would point out that Vail has a lot of debt. Alterra is a VC company, which aren’t typically completely stable. Two-thirds of Park City (proper) homes and one-third of Basin homes are second homes. Second homes get liquidated first.

Depressions do funny things.

If the White House says “get back to work,” does the Governor agree? If the Guv says “go back to school and work”, does the Park City School Board and Superintendent stand up and say “no”? Or do they agree with him that the economics are more important? What about the teachers’ union?

What does the Summit County Health Department do? Do they keep restaurants closed for safety or do they defer to a higher power? Do they enable businesses to be cranked up or play it cautiously?

I have no idea how this will play out, but regardless of your opinion on the subject, it will tell us a lot about those who lead us. What do they value? It should be really interesting to watch.

Park City’s liquor stores are now so civilized

There are many things about Covid-19 that aren’t so pleasant — sickness, death, and quarantine come to mind. However, one positive that may outweigh them all is the experience you’ll now get when buying a bottle of wine at a Utah State liquor store.

My experience in Kimball Junction tells me that:

You’ll be greeted by a DABC concierge that will ensure your experience is equitable. You’ll be asked to line up outside the store, with six feet of separation between each human or dog. The concierge will make sure that no more than 9 other people are in the store with you at any time. Exclusiveness. Once it is your turn, you’ll be allowed into Camelot.

You’ll then enter the store and witness that every wine is well stocked. If Utah purchases it, it will be there. No one will pressure you and no one will get within six feet of you. It’s a blessed pleasure, indeed.

When you have filled your cart, you simply go to one side of the store and wait in line — again with proper separation from others. It’s sort of like first class. You’ll quickly move ahead with no stress until your cart is called.

Then a nice DABC employee will scan your items, ask you to pay, and then squirt hand sanitizer on your hands upon exit.

Outside the store, the DBAC concierge will take your cart and thank you for coming.

It’s pure bliss and so unusual.

Long after the Coronavirus has passed, I think I’ll miss this part of these days.

It’s time to start planning for Park City Schools to be “dismissed” for the rest of the year

On March 13, the Governor announced that all Utah schools would be “dismissed” for two weeks. That meant kids would stay at home and teachers would teach from within the schools — with parents’ help. Today the Park City School District announced that teachers would be teaching from home. Jeremy Ranch students were told to come to school and get another packet of work — and this time take laptops home.

It’s the slow beat of the drum — telling us that things aren’ getting back to normal any time soon. It’s time to consider what that will look like over the long-haul.

I am not implying that any decisions have formally been made. In fact, no one knows what course the pandemic will take. However, most experts hope the virus will peak in six to eight weeks. Utah state epidemiologist Angela Dunn says, “We know that we are at the very beginning of this epidemic. Outbreaks like this can be expected to last several months.” California Governor Gavin Newsome projected that 56% of the state’s population (which 25.5 million people) will be infected within eight weeks.

With those projections, it is unlikely any Park City student is stepping a foot back into a classroom on March 27 — the end of the two-week dismissal. In Park City, that’s a week before spring break, so the conventional wisdom will be to wait two more weeks. That gets us to April 13 which is a little over three weeks from now. By that time, it is likely the virus is just ramping up. Let’s say the virus does peak six weeks from now around May 4. That means it is at its height of damage — the top of that curve we’ve all been reading about flattening. How long does it take to get sufficiently down the other side? Two weeks? Three weeks? I can’t imagine an all-clear would come before a month after the peak.

And there we are on June 4. Schools out for Summer, unless of course, they decide to roll on through the Summer… but that’s something to opine on another day.

So, I believe now is the time to start thinking ahead. A couple of weeks of home-schooling is one thing. A couple of months is another. Do you need to change your work schedule? Can you and your partner juggle teaching the kids? Do you need to find someone to help care for your kids? Will the Family Leave Act be modified to account for these types of issues?

Now is the time to start planning.

Again, who knows. Utah never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps the state will decide that we need to drop social distancing and aim for herd immunity. Perhaps the state will decide that economics are more important than people. Perhaps Chloroquine is a miracle cure. Could happen.

However, it’s not too early to start considering a logical outcome. Planning ahead may help reduce the stress that I know many of us are feeling. Things are likely to get tougher before they get better.

Note: Before I get the hate mail on using the word “dismissed,” that is actually what our school district is calling these two weeks. That terminology likely came from the state.

A teacher’s response to our article on PCSD teachers staying home during the current crisis

A few days ago, we wrote a story called Free the Park City Teachers. We advocated that teachers could use some time off. A Park City teacher tried to provide a comment but couldn’t. So, he or she emailed their thoughts. I appreciate the time taken to write this. It educated me and is very informative.

I am a teacher at Park City High School.  Before I respond to the post, I want to make clear: our priority at this point is the safety of our students.  It was a weird few days in our schools in PCSD, with lots of uncertainty in a situation that was constantly – and still is – evolving.  Moving forward, I know the safety of our students and community is of paramount concern to our teachers, administrators, para professionals, classified staff, and everyone else who works with students.  

With all that stated, I want to offer some insight to this post because I don’t think the post grasps what is actually happening in schools and why taking a few weeks off is, in fact, a huge concern for teachers and requires a monumental amount of work.  While we appreciate the sentiment of care, of taking the time off, I want to elaborate on why that is problematic in practice, in theory, and by professional standards. I cannot personally speak for the elementary teachers, although I know extra prep time and collaboration time is important for them, and without students they will still be looking for ways to improve their practice.  I can, however, speak for many at the secondary level, including everyone in my own department and other departments across the school.

For all teachers, our students learning is most important, coming second only to their safety.  At the secondary level (6th – 12th grades) this means we are still teaching and learning the next two weeks through Canvas in an online format.  Logistically, this is a nightmare.  I have three different courses I teach; some teachers have four or more.  This requires I move all of my teaching and all my students learning and assessment online.  I generally have my courses planned in detail one to two weeks ahead of each class day, and more broadly outlined a month or so beyond the class day.  For most teachers, we cannot have a year of content planned because the lessons change depending on our kids needs, their strengths and weaknesses, and how each group of students responds to new material.  That varies from quarter to quarter, even week to week.  The lessons I have planned, however, cannot just be “moved online” because they are planned with student interaction, opportunities to ask questions, classroom activities in groups, and immediate feedback on student work.  I have to construct entirely new lessons for each day, lessons that are often less effective than what they would’ve been in person.  For example, many of my students were supposed to complete one-on-one writing conferences with me next week.  Instead of meeting in person and working through their essays together, I will be video conferencing with them, which requires scanning every hand written essay into the computer (it is an AP course that requires handwritten work), sending that copy to students, and then sorting times each day for them to login to Canvas to video conference with me, a less effective method than if we could meet in person.  That is the logistical problem for one class.  What about chemistry courses with physical labs that must be completed?  Or 3D art where kids need a wheel to throw pots?  Or language teachers who need to talk with their students in Spanish, French, or Mandarin?  What about P.E.?  Teachers are scrambling to determine how they will move their courses online. 

More importantly, we have diverse learners in PCSD. We have students who are emergent bilinguals receiving English as a Second Language services.  Scaffolding for students in an online format will not serve their needs adequately, as the individual attention they need is difficult to deliver via a screen.  We have students who are in special education who benefit from differentiated assignments and one-on-one support.  We also have AP testing the first two weeks of May.  Students have been working seven months to prepare for those exams, hoping for strong scores for college credit.  Two weeks off in March is incredibly difficult, the time of the year when teachers and students are pushing through content before the review begins in April.  

The point here is teachers are professionals who want their students to succeed.  The reason we will be there this week and next week is because it will take hours to restructure those lessons and offer online feedback.  Our students safety is critically important to us; but we also want them to be successful learners, so we are putting in the hours these next two weeks to ensure the best from a difficult situation for our students and our community.  

We don’t want to take the time off; it is too important for our kids that they can continue learning and progressing at this critical point in the semester.

Obviously there are times of the year when kids and teachers and parents need breaks.  We all do.  And clearly it is crucial for student safety that we are not in school right now; getting through course material does not supersede students’ health.  But it is important for the community to know why it matters to us to be there, and why even though we won’t have students we are still getting paid.  

Beyond these concerns, I want the readers of the Park Rag to know teachers are worried about our students beyond the learning in the classroom.  Many of our kids have parents who work in the restaurants and resorts.  Suddenly, parents are not getting paid as the resorts close and tourists and locals stop going out to dinner.  How are families going to pay rent?  How will everyone’s needs be met?  For parents who are lucky enough to still work, what about child care?  These are massive concerns that teachers are grappling with through email and text.  

As I said in the beginning: I appreciate the sentiment that teachers should just get time off, that it would be “good” for us.  But I think the context of the school year, the challenges we face, and our commitment as professionals must be understood to show why we need to be working this coming week.  I would be a better teacher with consistent time with my students and they would succeed more as learners with consistent feedback from me.  Given the current crisis, online is the best we can do – and should do – to protect our students and provide for their education.