How wilderness road trips and rural getaways put small-town communities at risk

By Monica Parpal Stockbridge

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken us all by surprise. It has forced us to cancel plans, prevented us from connecting with family, and generally disrupted our daily lives as we try to slow the spread of this dangerous virus.

We get that you might be stir-crazy. Cooped up in the house at a time when you should be celebrating spring break or planning spring travel can be incredibly difficult. You may be thinking that road tripping to a small town or mountain community in the wilderness to wait this thing out is just as good, if not better, than waiting it out at home.

But if you’re thinking about packing the car and heading out for a few days away, think again.

The problem with traveling to a small town right now

People might be tempted to think that getting away to the countryside and out of larger cities is the key to avoiding the illness. But that thinking doesn’t hold true. According to an article in CityLabs, small towns and rural areas simply don’t have the infrastructure to handle potential outbreaks. That’s because many rural areas are farther from healthcare facilities, as well as the fact that rural populations are generally older than urban ones, meaning they are more at risk of getting sick. The resources that do exist don’t count on serving additional people or populations, especially when they’re already taxed with a health crisis.

CityLabs goes on to say that the CDC recommendation of social distancing is “just as doable in a downtown apartment as a countryside manor.”

An outdoors influencer calls himself out

Outdoors influencer Wyn Wiley (also known as Pattie Gonia), his drag queen Instagram alter ego) recently wrote about the dangers of traveling to small communities. He recently traveled to Utah, thinking to himself, “you can self quarantine there … you won’t be around that many people … you’ll probably even be around LESS people,” per a recent @pattiegonia Instagram post.

But with grocery runs and friend visits, he drove through Moab multiple times in the span of just a few days. Wiley learned after the fact that his actions could have jeopardized a community with minimal resources to deal with additional risk.

On his Instagram page, Wyn writes: “being in a small town/mountain resort/native land/island puts the local community at MAJOR risk if i was to be a silent passer of COVID-19. their grocery stores and hospitals simply do not have the capacity, AT ALL, if an outbreak was to occur. for example, the moab hospital only has *THREE* ventilators for a whole community.”

Even if we think we’re isolated, those small actions that used to seem so innocuous — stopping for gas, swinging by a grocery store — can potentially have major repercussions.

The importance of staying home

At home, you probably already have a community whose resources you rely on. Especially in a big city, like Denver or Colorado Springs, we have access to multiple grocery stores, gas stations and hospitals, should our health take a turn. Limiting the spread of disease by staying home truly does mean staying home — reducing our errands to only the essentials, keeping six feet of distance between ourselves and other people, and avoiding contact altogether if we are feeling sick or at-risk of infection.

While it’s no fun to put plans on hold, and while your own home can start to feel a bit mundane after a while, these are the small sacrifices we must make right now to ensure that we’re not contributing to the spread of coronavirus.

For more tips on preventing the spread of COVID-19, follow these guidelines from the CDC.

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