Recreation-based counties are seeing higher rates of COVID-19 than other rural counties, according to an analysis from the Daily Yonder, a non-profit publication that focuses on rural issues.
The Daily Yonder used county designations assigned by the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. The publication found about 98 cases per million people in recreation-based counties which is almost three times higher than in mining, farming or manufacturing-based counties.
Christine Porter, the Wyoming excellence chair in community and public health at the University of Wyoming, said this finding needs to be taken with a grain of salt. She said the availability of testing is so limited, it's impossible to know each county's exact positive cases.
On the other hand, Porter said it does track that tourist-heavy areas would see higher-rates of the virus.
"These communities simply started earlier because tourists brought in the virus sooner than in other rural areas without recreational draws," she said. "All of us are headed in that direction to the same deadly destination unless we institute not only social distancing, but also shelter in place."
Porter said outdoor recreation is still possible right now with some precautions.
"Locals can take advantage of these while still being socially distant. It's human-built facilities and services like bathrooms, shops, and hotels where the virus spreads, not outdoor recreation itself," she said.
Ray Rasker with Headwaters Economics, a non-profit research group, said recreation-based counties are also particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of COVID-19.
"Recreation works through volume. We need to get lots of people in there, spending money and we need to see each other face to face, right? We need to come into your store and your coffee shop, into your restaurant," Rasker said, adding that's mostly impossible right now.
Both agreed availability of health care in smaller, recreational communities should be a consideration. Rasker uses Moab, Utah as an example.
"It doesn't have the critical care that it needs to deal with, in addition to... middle aged people are injuring themselves, in addition to that, now to have to deal with COVID 19. It would overwhelm their system," he said.
Porter said, for that reason, this is not the time for people to test their personal limits in recreational sports.
A number of national parks have closed their gates due to the pandemic including Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and Yellowstone. Zion National Park in Utah is closing its campgrounds as well as part of one trail.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at email@example.com.