Harris Sondak: Too many in parks and on trails are not being responsible

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Masks are required in many stores in Downtown Salt Lake City, Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

As the mayor of the town of Alta, I have struggled since the emergence of the novel coronavirus to maintain public safety in my town.

Resort towns were central to spreading the virus in both Europe and North America, but we have been lucky not to have any of our residents come down with COVID-19. Some guests have reported falling ill after they returned home, however, and certainly some visitors who came to ski tour after our ski area abruptly closed in spring or who are coming to hike this summer are infected.

The town has a small park that we have set up in previous summers with a volleyball court and bleachers, a pavilion for shade, a water fountain, a grill, picnic tables and portable toilets. I decided not to erect the park this summer because of the pandemic so as to avoid creating a gathering place.

But people are bringing their own net and playing volleyball and assembling as if nothing is going on. To my dismay, dozens of people have been hanging out without masks and not social distancing while others play volleyball. It probably is my duty to encourage people to keep themselves and others safe, but it is exhausting to keep doing so and risk confrontation. Last weekend, I saw a volleyball game in progress and I fantasized yelling at the people in the park like the Italian mayors did in the video that went viral a few months ago.

A lot of anger and hate mail has been directed my way, and toward other public officials who only are trying to protect people. So, I decided just to go in another direction rather than pass by the park. As I hike on the trails in Alta and the rest of Little Cottonwood Canyon, I am surprised by people’s lack of consideration that we are in the midst of a pandemic. Most people I encounter do not wear or carry masks and many don’t make any effort to move over and keep their distance when passing others. Federal and state authorities have declined to take the lead but they have also created barriers to local authorities doing more. A reliance on personal responsibility by individuals is apparently ineffective, though I really wish it weren’t.

I ask that residents and visitors to my town realize that the only way through this pandemic – at least for now – is for all of us to do the right thing.

Harris Sondak

Harris Sondak is the mayor of the town of Alta.