Best of the West Special Edition: Changes in travel patterns across the region; reopening libraries in Oregon; Microsoft President Brad Smith calls for broadband funding

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest COVID-19 related news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting May 25, 2020. Photo courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Traveling During a Pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult on the tourism economy, with states such as Hawaii experiencing as much as a 96% decline in year-over-year weekly travel spending. Route Fifty reports this decrease in demand has led to approximately $157 billion in losses for the industry since the beginning of March, as Americans increasingly alter their travel behavior in light of the virus’s spread. In states like California, where stay-at-home orders remain in effect, researchers expect travel to be moderate at best for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, rural states without stay-at-home orders, such as Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota, are expected to see an increase in visitation. Learn more about the changing landscape of tourism in the West.

Testing Vulnerable Populations: As virus testing efforts ramp up across the region, much of public health experts’ focus is on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. In Colorado, officials are preparing to test staff members at every one of the state’s nursing facilities weekly for the next eight weeks, according to Colorado Public Radio, in an effort to catch outbreaks before they can start. “How the dynamics of transmission occur in a facility over time is really important because people need to understand how to make practice decisions, management decisions and operation decisions about how to isolate [patients],” said Dr. Nicole Ehrhart, director of Colorado State University’s healthy aging center. Here’s how health officials hope the testing push will help them learn more about the virus.  

Reopening Libraries: Although libraries in Oregon have been closed as part of Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order, local librarians are working hard to provide their communities with online services. But not everyone is ready to go digital just yet, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports. “As much as people are enjoying the digital, there’s a lot of hunger for print books, and as a print book reader myself I understand,” said Lisa Tattersall, manager for the Washington County Cooperative Library Services. “So much of this is going to come down to logistics, staffing — ultimately the main driver is [the] governor’s orders and what our county public health officials recommend.” Like other businesses in the state, Oregon’s libraries will undergo a phased re-opening in accordance with Gov. Brown’s plan. Find out when residents of the Beaver State can expect services to resume.

Returning to School: Education officials in Montana recently announced the formation of two task forces aimed at helping the state’s schools safely reopen next fall, according to Montana Public Radio. The MT Learn 2020 Task Force, which will consist of at least one student as well as parents, teachers, administers and state legislators, is focused on “identifying the resources schools and students will need to be effective under distance- or mixed-education models.” The MT Flex 2020 Task Force, which includes state education officials, district administrators and the heads of school associations, is tasked with “reviewing state and federal laws that may need to be modified or waived in order to provide districts with flexibility.” Read more.

Broadband Funding: Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, has called on Congress to include provisions addressing broadband funding for rural communities in future coronavirus relief packages, Governing Magazine reports. “The COVID-19 virus has created a national crisis,’’ Smith wrote on the company’s blog. “But it has also created an important opportunity. It’s time to galvanize the nation and recognize the obvious. Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century.” Smith went on to advocate for increased funding for the Federal Communications Commission, new broadband mapping legislation that will more accurately track the lack of connectivity, and targeted funding to address problem areas with as little bureaucracy as possible. Here’s what else Smith had to say.

The Latest on the Western Governors’ COVID-19 Response

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