How best should La Paz County Park handle the expected crowds for Memorial Day with the orders during the coronavirus pandemic? That was the subject of discussion at the County Supervisors’ meeting held May 3. The meeting also included a discussion of the status of the virus in the county, as well as pleas from two officials from the Colorado River Indian Tribes for a unified response to the virus.
County Parks Director Dave Prefling said the park gets at least four times the number of visitors on holiday weekends as it does on normal weekends.
“I feel uneasy about trying to manage that many people under these circumstances,” he said.
Prefling suggested prohibiting tent camping for the Memorial Day weekend. He said most of their visitors on holiday weekends are tent campers, but not permitting tent camping could be one way to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We could have 1,000 people on the beach alone, all in close proximity,” Prefling said. “The bathrooms get about 10 times their normal use.”
With that much use, Prefling said he doubted the staff could keep the bathrooms adequately cleaned and sanitized.
District 1 Supervisor D.L. Wilson said they have a responsibility to protect the public. He said he didn’t know if they could do that with tent camping.
Prefling and Greg Bachman of the County Health Department both said it was important to remind park visitors and others of the social distancing guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control. They said this could be done through the media and notices on the park’s website.
“Social distancing is not something we can enforce,” Prefling said. “We have to trust people to do the right thing.”
Bachman said Prefling was right about the park. He added the coronavirus numbers are still rising in Arizona, despite efforts to contain the virus.
“A virus is going to do what a virus is going to do,” he said.
Bachman said there have been 140 people tested in La Paz County, including some who were tested in Blythe, Calif. He said they don’t have the resources to do more testing locally, and they probably have more cases in the county than they know of.
District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor said the county will not likely hit its peak until they do more testing. When they do more testing, they’ll find more cases.
Minor said he felt rural Arizona was being left behind by the state. He noted the “testing blitz” that occurred over the weekend took place in only seven of the state’s 15 counties.
While tests for the virus are good, Minor said what he really wants to see are tests for the antibodies for the virus. These will let people know if they had the virus in the past. He said his mother was ill with symptoms like those of the coronavirus, but she has since recovered.
County Health Director Marion Shontz agreed. She said doctors have told her of cases with coronavirus-like symptoms from November, December and January. She said the virus was likely here and spreading long before it officially appeared.
CRIT Tribal Council Member Tommy Drennan and Attorney General Rebecca Loudbear spoke in Call to the Public and later joined in the discussion of the parks. They reminded everyone of the Tribal Council’s “stay-at-home” resolution, and added that a joint effort is needed from the Town of Parker, CRIT and La Paz County to protect the community.
Drennan noted how quickly a pandemic can spread in a small community. He said they now have their first confirmed case involving a Tribal member, and added that Indian Health Services will be conducting more tests.
The Tribal Council’s resolution, which was recently extended to May 31, involved closing access to the Colorado River from the CRIT reservation and limits on gatherings and recreational activities.
Wilson thanked Drennan and Loudbear for their input, but said the county needed visitors to come here.
“We can’t afford for people to stay home,” he said. “We must try to keep people as safe as possible.”
Drennan replied the county had the right to deter threats to the community, and those threats could be found in visitors from the outside. The county should encourage people to stay in their homes to celebrate Memorial Day. He also urged Minor to retract statements he said that sounded like Minor was welcoming people to the area.
Minor replied that what he said was the river was open and the county couldn’t stop people from coming. He added that he has always told people the CDC guidelines. He said people need to protect themselves.
“People ask me, what are you doing to protect the county,” he said. “I tell them that, if they follow the CDC guidelines, they’re protecting themselves.”
The Supervisors said the issue of County Park and Memorial Day will be an action on the agenda for the next Supervisors’ meeting, which is scheduled for May 17.