It’s been more than a week since we heard about the orders out of Gunnison and we are still wondering what to make of them. Early in April, the county of our neighbor to the north issued a public health directive that states that “all nonresidents, including nonresident homeowners,” are prohibited from remaining in Gunnison County for the duration of the pandemic. It continued:
“The public health director finds that nonresidents, visitors and nonresident homeowners from lower altitudes are at a greater risk for complications from COVID-19 infection than residents, who are acclimatized to the high-altitude environment of Gunnison County. The public Health director also finds that nonresidents, regardless of whether they own a residence in Gunnison County, are imposing unnecessary burdens on health care, public services, first responders, food supplies and other essential services.” They must “return to their out-of-Gunnison County place(s) of residence immediately.”
Cities, towns and counties are taking similar steps as the virus spreads. There is a growing fear of outsiders, which has posed problems in the Intermountain West because it is the same outsiders, as tourists, recreationists and homeowners, who have contributed mightily to the economies of cities such as Gunnison, as well as Moab, Utah, which also has asked nonresidents to leave, and Silverton. The idea must be that we will welcome them back in better times and beseech them to return, but it leaves a bitter taste.
This is not new for Gunnison. In the flu pandemic of 1918, the county erected barricades on the main highways near its lines and travelers were told to either traverse the county without stopping or be sent to quarantine. The flu killed about 8,000 people in Colorado. Gunnison was mostly spared.
After Gunnison ordered the expulsion of nonresidents now, the Texas attorney general sent a letter to Gunnison County saying “its patent discrimination against nonresident homeowners – including Texans who own homes in Gunnison County – runs afoul of the United States Constitution.”
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, in an April 10 statement published under the heading “Don’t Mess with Colorado,” said Gunnison County’s order “applies equally to Colorado and non-Colorado residents who own second homes or are visiting in the community and seeks to address the needs of the community to respond to this pandemic. Any suggestion that (the) order violates the U.S. Constitution is misguided.”
Gunnison did not say the flatlanders were Texans or that they had to go back to Texas, although Texas was not wrong to hear it. The county, which has been hit hard by COVID-19 cases, should be able to take even seemingly extreme measures, like Moab’s and Silverton’s, to try to keep itself safe – but it is also hard to imagine that many Texans after this will be as interested in buying property or spending money there.
Mostly it has not come to that for communities such as ours in Southwest Colorado and we are glad, as we are already in the position of wrecking our own economies to keep ourselves healthier. We welcome and mostly tolerate all those people with Texas and California plates because we have something they do not, which makes us feel good about ourselves even as the goods and services they buy and the taxes they pay help us to keep these places as oases, away from the problems of the Lone Star and Golden states.
In Florida, the Keys have effectively been closed to outsiders. The Washington Post recently quoted a Keys resident, Anna Kovach, who supported the closure but observed, “These are things you see in the movies, but I guess we’re living through it.”
Yes, Anna, we are – and now we are hoping we can live to forget it.