Best of the West Special Edition: Pandemic’s effect on outdoor recreation; distiller’s successful pivot to produce hand sanitizer; preventing the spread of COVID in nursing homes

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 June 8, 2020. Photo courtesy of Route Fifty/AP.

Outdoor Recreation: Outdoor recreation businesses, like many other sectors of the economy, are struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Denver Post, 88% of such operations reported laying off or furloughing employees, with 95% of respondents experiencing a drop in revenue. As states continue to re-open national parks, fishing, and recreation areas, however, there are early signs that some of that business may be returning. In May, Colorado state parks logged a total of 1.9 million visits, up from 1.6 million in May 2019. Learn more about the pandemic’s effects on the recreation industry and how it plans to bounce back.

Wildfires: As fire season approaches, officials in Montana are gearing up for a worse-than-usual summer, further complicated by the advent of COVID-19. Despite a wet February, the long-term forecast for the region calls for increasingly dry, hot conditions, reports The Billings Gazette. “Our goal is to carry out our critical work, but make sure we are protecting our workers from COVID transmission,” said Michael DeGrosky, Fire Protection Bureau chief for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “We plan for the worst and hope for the best.” Read more about how protocols are changing in light of recent developments.

Nursing Homes: In order to stop the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, Oregon has adopted a plan to test all residents and staff on a regular basis, according to Route Fifty.  “Expanding testing is an essential first step that will allow us to examine how visitation policies can be safely and incrementally eased,” Gov. Kate Brown said. Across the country, much focus has been devoted to protecting assisted living facilities, where residents are especially vulnerable to the virus. In Oregon, as of June 3, there have been at least 178 cases and 22 deaths linked to senior living communities. Here’s what health officials are doing to keep those numbers down.

Hand Sanitizer: The Backwards Distilling Company in Wyoming has pivoted to producing hand sanitizer, a commodity in short supply the past few months, in order to keep the business afloat. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, Backwards started small, supplying product first to local medical facilities and first responders. As demand grew, however, the company partnered with Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Business Council to scale up production. “We’re really proud to be able to, one, keep our business open, two, help other businesses stay open and be open and be able to do it safely,” said Backwards co-owner Amber Pollock. Discover how the company was uniquely positioned to make the transition.

Agriculture: In order to address supply-chain issues driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association have created the Packer/Processor Task Force, reports KOSU. The task force, formed in early May, “is exploring possibilities of increasing cattle packing and processing capacity in the state by way of building more slaughter plants and meat packing plants or adding onto already-existing plants.” Additionally, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue recently announced $545 million in aid for farmers who have been affected by COVID-19, which includes payments to more than 7,000 Oklahoma residents. Find out more.

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