Business has exploded in Ketchum during the holiday season as restaurants, hotels and retail outlets have seen larger crowds than they have ever seen in the past two years, while the number of New cases of COVID-19 in Blaine County continue to climb into a pandemic-high. More than 200 new cases were recorded in the county during the week of Dec.26 to Jan.1, according to the South Central Public Health District.
Earlier this week, Brianna Bodily, head of public information at SCPH, said in a meeting with The Express that much of the recent increase in the number of cases in Blaine County can be attributed to increased traffic at businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry. The county’s seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 population reached 163.8 on Monday, from 8.7 on Dec. 16. However, many business owners in the city are reporting that their staff have yet to be affected by the seemingly inevitable wave of COVID.
“We haven’t had any personnel issues with COVID,” Meghan Miller told Java on Fourth. She added that they had been “slammed” during the holidays, especially compared to last year when they were unable to open indoors.
Keith Perry, owner of Perry’s, expressed similar thoughts on the crowd this year and added that staff shortages are a big concern regardless of the coronavirus situation. “We’re up 30% from the same time last year, which is huge, but we could do more business if we had more help. Everyone is short, ”he said.
Sturtevant’s was the only company in 13 surveyed to report staff breakdowns due to COVID. “Business was strong last week, but we had a small staff due to close contact and concerns about potential cases, which was difficult for us,” said Crisane Cook.
One potential remedy to ensure that the few staff that local businesses have available remain healthy is in practice at the Limelight Hotel. Proof of vaccination is required for guests and staff, one of the few places in town that does require it. Tim Johnson, sales manager at Limelight, said the requirement has been positively met by staff and guests; both local and out of town. “What we didn’t want it to be was a great political play, because it isn’t. It’s more about the protection and safety of our employees and guests. And, you know, honestly, [The Limelight] has been lucky enough so far – there haven’t been a ton of cases.
The vaccination requirement may work for The Limelight, but no such mandate will be put in place by the city. Mayor Neil Bradshaw has said he prefers to take “individual responsibility”.
This winter is off to a good start in terms of snowfall, tourism and business. If this is to continue, local businesses may want to consider new COVID-19 protection measures to ensure they have the staff they need to stay open for the rest of the season.