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Small Idaho mountain towns see influx of visitors, want tourists to stay home amid coronavirus fears

Health and city officials are urging the public to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously and stay home during spring break.
Credit: Sky7
An aerial view of McCall from our drone Sky7.

BOISE, Idaho — Small Idaho communities are urging visitors to stay home and stay healthy in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak across the nation.

Valley County commissioners, health officials and city leaders in McCall, Cascade and Donnelly sent out a travel advisory over the weekend.

They say it is imperative that the community follow CDC guidelines of social distancing, self-isolation in homes and avoid unnecessary travel.

This week is spring break for many school districts in Idaho and around the region, and normally resort communities are bustling with tourists. However, because of the COVID-19 viral pandemic, officials say now is not the time to come for a visit.

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Resources in these small communities cannot support an influx of travelers. In an open letter to the Valley County community, Dr. Gregory Irvine, MD, chief of staff at St. Luke's McCall Medical Center, urges prospective visitors to stay home. "We are small, rural, critical-access hospitals and have limited resources, especially as it pertains to intensive care," Irvine said. "While our hospitals are prepared to care for the citizens of Valley County and surrounding areas, an influx of people from elsewhere risks overwhelming the limited resources at our hospitals."

"People are arriving in rural towns, in large numbers, from all over the state and country to take 'virus vacations,'" Irvine said. "I can think of little that is more inappropriate and dangerous than this mindset."

Many businesses in Valley County have already shut their doors and will be closed for several weeks. Most restaurants have closed in-house dining and are offering only carryout.

Recreational opportunities are limited, Brundage Mountain Resort, Tamarack Resort, the Little Ski Hill, the Activity Barn and the Cascade Aquatic and Recreation Center are currently closed.

LaNette McDermott works in McCall and emailed KTVB that she saw tourists walking around on every street over the weekend. Some in groups of more than 10 with strollers and children running around.

She says she got upset when she saw streams of cars pouring in from each direction with license plates from Boise, Nampa, Lewiston and across Idaho, as well as cars from Washington, Oregon, Utah and California.

She added that McCall doesn’t have a magic bubble that keeps the virus out and these visitors are putting their public health and safety in jeopardy. Her message echoed the one put out by community leaders - please don’t visit and stay home until we have all come through this safely and healthy.

We are hearing similar messages from other mountain town destinations in Idaho.

Sherrie Allen sent us an email urging KTVB to say something to people traveling to Garden Valley. She says tourists are coming up in droves. They have been coming into their little market and buying up all the food, leaving them with bare shelves. She says residents are trying to stay calm but it’s hard to sit back and watch selfish people invade us.

We also got a phone call from Angela Hellwege who lives in Lowman. She’s upset with people coming there and not heeding the warning to stay home. She says the small town does not have a mayor or government official that can order people to stay away.

Anke Hutton sent us a photo of the crowded parking lot at Kirkham Hot Springs in Lowman. On Saturday, there were 49 cars, according to Hutton. Photos of the hot springs showed a lot of visitors and trash left behind. "Sad disregard of social distancing and outdoor etiquette to 'leave no trace,'" the email read.

The latest Tweets from Stanley Idaho (@StanleyIdahome). Elevation 6260'. Population 63. Gateway to the Sawtooth Wilderness. Headwaters of the Salmon River. We have it all. Come visit

A Stanley resident posted on Twitter that they would like people to show how they LOVE Stanley by staying home.  In one post, someone said the amount of folks up there on Saturday was a bit shocking. And honestly, they can’t think of a quicker way to wipe out small town that doesn’t have a hospital. There are about 65 full-time residents in Stanley.

RELATED: Live Idaho coronavirus updates: 63 Idaho cases, Blaine County visitors told to shelter in place

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