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Unmasked: Part 3 – Tourism and Events

The Tryon Daily Bulletin is featuring a seven-part series on the impact of Covid-19 and government restrictions in the Foothills. This series of articles will focus greatly on the opinions of small business owners, local families, churches, health care facilities, schools, etc., and whether they believe government restrictions had a harsher impact than the pandemic itself due to unintended consequences. Its intent is to allow readers to determine if the measures taken to reduce the spread of Covid-19 has taken a greater toll on our community than the virus itself.

In 2020, all cities in South Carolina were ordered to close their doors or restrict hours of operations per Executive Order from SC Governor Henry McMaster. Rather than naming some businesses essential and others not, Mayor of Landrum Bob Briggs says, “I think it would have had a bigger impact on the containment of the virus if you gave everyone a time to gather supplies and then to completely shut down everything for a period of time. I think there would have been less initial spread [of the virus].”

Landrum, like many small towns in the Foothills, relies on tourism to support businesses, and Briggs says that having a vibrant and healthy downtown stabilizes local economy. With a 2% hospitality tax on food and beverage which is used to promote tourism, and the City’s job, Briggs claims, is to attract tourists to Landrum through advertising, which local businesses use to benefit from their product or service.

Briggs says of the restaurant shutdown, “Because of the adaptation of creative ideas, Landrum’s hospitality tax revenues did not suffer as much as we expected. Landrum is diversified in its revenue streams and therefore remained fairly stable, although this past year has been difficult for several smaller businesses due to the overall decreased tourist traffic due to Covid-19.”

The NCDHHS website states that community organizations and events whose members may include high-risk populations to become infected with the Covid-19 virus should plan for the possibility of a Covid-19 outbreak in that local community. The website also says that gatherings should be no larger than 10 people indoors and 50 people outdoors.

Between March 2020 and March 2021, NC and SC have had to cancel Coon Dog Day in Saluda twice, Summer Sizzle and Hog Back Day in Landrum, Fun Fourth, St. Patrick Day events, music festivals at Harmon Field and many more events.  

During the holiday season in Polk County, while under strict guidelines from the government to help reduce the spread of the virus, gatherings still took place in December which increased cases of Covid-19.

On December 19, 2020, there were 19 reported positive cases in Polk County. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there were no reported cases, though the following day on the 26, there was a spike of 32 reported cases of Covid-19 in Polk County.

On January 2, 2021, there were 55 reported cases in Polk County. Between July 2020 and March 2021, the lowest 7-day average spread of Covid-19 in Polk County was on September 16-24.  

While these statistics stand as proof that Covid-19 spread quicker during gatherings, it also represents evidence that people did, in fact, gather despite the risk of spreading the virus. 0 Covid-19 deaths were reported at that time, raising the question of whether events needed to be canceled at all.

North Carolina is the sixth most-visited state in the US, generating more than $26 billion each year, according to Visit North Carolina. The NC tourism industry lost $10 billion in 2020, impacting The Gorge Zipline in Saluda, which is a huge tourist attraction for the Foothills area.

The Gorge reported having to shut down for two months during the pandemic. On an average day, about 150 people would zip through the canopy tour. Now, due to restrictions and preventative measures, that number has been cut in half.

Overall, the NC tourism industry lost billions of dollars due to the pandemic.

Beau Menetre, co-founder and organizer of the annual Tryon International Film Festival (TRIFF) says that as organizers of the event, he and his team took the pandemic very seriously, following the guidance of the scientific community out of respect for the town’s welfare.

 

“It was not possible for us to hold a live, in-person event because our primary screening venues, including the Tryon Theatre and the Tryon Fine Arts Center, were closed,” Menetre says. He states had it not been for the advances in videography and other software technology such as Zoom Video Communications, the event likely would have been canceled even online.

“We will continue to employ our new streaming assets for years to come, even when the world returns to normal,” he says.

Answering the concerning question of whether the measures taken to prevent the spread of virus took a greater toll on the community than the virus itself, Menetre says, “The financial impact of Covid-19 on our local economy was awful.”  

He goes on to say, “There is no way of knowing just how bad the health crisis could have been had it not been for the safety measures put in place.”

However, as of March 24, 2021, Menetre states that there were 899,164 positive cases of the virus reported in NC, with 956 people in the hospital with Covid-19.  

“So, the financial impact on our local community pales in comparison to illness and the loss of human life,” he says.

Overall, co-founder of TRIFF Beau Menetre believes that while the precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 were harsh, financial sufferings do not compare to the virus’s repercussions on peoples’ health.  

In addition, Mayor of Landrum Bob Briggs concludes that the City of Landrum lost a lot of tourism and money, saying that if all businesses had shut down completely after been given enough time to collect supplies, the spread of the virus would have been minimal.  

Statistics highlight that gatherings in 2020 did, in fact, spread the virus, but also proves that the guidelines were undermined by those who did gather together. These statistics have led organizations that permit gatherings to wonder if the Covid-19 restrictions were necessary, especially with North Carolina having lost billions of dollars due to the lack of tourism.

The following 4 articles in the Covid-19 Unmasked series will continue to share the subjective opinions of individuals in the community. In the April 18 edition of the Bulletin, we will feature the various perspectives and statistics of Covid-19 from sports coaches and participants in local schools.

By Macy Cochran