Unmasked on Main Street? Park City worries about people not wearing face coverings.
The novel coronavirus continues to spread in Utah.
And as a weekly pedestrian zone debuted last Sunday on Main Street, the shopping, dining and entertainment strip drew some of the largest crowds since the coronavirus-forced early end to the ski season.
But to the overwhelming majority of the crowd on Main Street on Sunday, wearing masks was oh-so-April.
Masks have frequently been seen in public life and workplaces across Park City since the spring, as the spread of the illness widened and the community became the location of one of the first concentrations of cases in the state. As midsummer nears, though, there has seemed to be less willingness to wear masks in public places or some large businesses.
Park City leaders approved the Sunday pedestrian zone on Main Street for the summer and into September as a way to boost business, but also with the hopes that the vehicle-less extra space for pedestrians would help combat the spread of the coronavirus. There was space to move about to avoid close contact with others on Main Street on Sunday, but there is also worry the small number of people wearing masks in the pedestrian zone could lead to further coronavirus cases.
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The Park Record conducted three walk-throughs on Sunday covering the length of the pedestrian zone at different times of the day, finding approximately one out of every five people, or just more than 20% of the attendees, wore masks while they were on Main Street itself or on the sidewalk. Mask wearing appeared to be more widespread inside businesses, but, outside, someone could walk for several blocks at many points and see only a scattering of masked people.
Health experts since the start of the spread of the disease have urged people to wear masks as one of the key protective steps. But masks have been politicized as the nation wearies of protective measures and longs for a return of some sort of normalcy. In Park City, meanwhile, leaders are urging people to continue to wear masks. They say the spread of the coronavirus remains a threat even as the community and the state reopen after the shutdowns in the spring and early summer.
The coronavirus worries and the economic convulsions caused by the sickness struck hardest to this point in the spring and early summer, normally a slow stretch in Park City’s tourism-dependent economy. Summer business in Park City is expected to drop sharply as a result of traveler concerns about the coronavirus and the cancellations of a string of special events. The Main Street pedestrian zone that debuted on Sunday is one of the steps designed to boost business in the summer and early fall.
Park City leaders and tourism officials are also worried about the ski season, far more lucrative than the summer. They want to guard against further spread of the sickness locally in the months before the traditional November start to the ski season in a bid to ensure winter tourism is not further jeopardized.
It would be difficult to correlate the mask-wearing numbers at the Main Street pedestrian zone on the first day to any sort of tourism trend, but Park City’s elected officials quickly became concerned with what was seen on Sunday.
Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council on Thursday briefly addressed the Main Street pedestrian zone, focusing their comments on mask wearing, but they were not scheduled to hold a detailed discussion or make decisions. It was a quick response to concerns about the scene at the pedestrian zone and more talks could be held later. Park City Manager Matt Dias said City Hall staffers this Sunday will distribute masks to those without them and will post additional signs, and larger ones, regarding protective measures.
Becca Gerber, a city councilor, spoke extensively about the Main Street pedestrian zone on Thursday, indicating there was discomfort expressed with the small number of people wearing masks while she was there on Sunday. Gerber claimed most of the people without masks were not from the Park City area.
“I did notice that most of our workforce … I’ll just say all the workforce, all the locals that I ran into on the street, were wearing masks, and none of the visitors were,” Gerber said.
Gerber also said some Park City visitors have been “treating our workforce poorly when they are wearing masks” and there has been conflict.
“We’re going out of our way to protect each other and to protect others, and I don’t feel like the people that are coming to our community are trying to protect us. And I think that it is causing some fear and making people uncomfortable, making our locals uncomfortable,” Gerber said.
Other elected officials also expressed concern. City Councilor Tim Henney said he saw Park City people without masks on Main Street on Sunday while Max Doilney, another city councilor, said he has seen many without masks at various other places in the Park City area, including businesses. He said he is “fearful for our future considering the behavior of people who are visiting.”
“We paid a heavy price and now everybody wants to come here, and I’m happy to have them. But if there were anything we could do as a government to force people to wear masks, I would be in favor of it at this point because, quite frankly, people aren’t doing it out of the kindness of their heart,” Doilney said.
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