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COVID-19 exodus fills vacation towns with new medical pressures

By Markian Hawryluk and Katheryn Houghton and Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

As the wily coronavirus works its way into all corners of America, though, patients may find that not all regions have the same capacity to deal with COVID-19 or even other complex medical problems.

Visitors to the sole clinic in nearby West Yellowstone, a gateway to the namesake national park, expect to be able to get COVID-19 tests even if they have no symptoms or a known connection to a case, said Community Health Partners spokesperson Buck Taylor.

"There seems to be a frustration that a rural Montana clinic doesn't have the resources they expect at home," Taylor said. "That's nothing new. People come to Montana all the time and say, 'But where can I get any good Thai food?'"

The year has been such an outlier for hospitals that it's difficult for them to predict and plan for what will happen next. On Long Island, many locals typically leave the Hamptons for Florida during the winter. But it's unclear whether those snowbirds will stay or go this year, given the high levels of COVID-19 in Florida now, said Robert Chaloner, CEO of Stony Brook Southampton. That could also change the demand for who needs medical care.

One indication that some visitors may be staying put? The jump in new students. The Big Sky school district expects a 20% increase in enrollment this fall. Leadville schools have at least 40 new students. Vail Mountain School's waiting list is its longest ever.

Many have speculated that the pandemic lockdown might fundamentally change the way companies operate, allowing more people to work from distant locations for the foreseeable future.

"Every indicator that I see is pointing to the fact that this is a shift," said Romer in Vail. "It has the potential to be permanent."

 

Taylor Rose, Big Sky Medical Center's director of operations and clinical services, said that, if that happens, the hospital will have to rebalance its services.

"I'd probably give it a year or two before I make any major changes," Rose said. "People are going to start deciding, 'This really isn't for me. I'm not going to stay here and deal with 6 feet of snow in the winter.'"

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(Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

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