When Jeffrey Jones learned he’d be out of work for a while, the news didn’t come as a surprise.
A bartender at Enoteca in Ketchum and a self-described “news freak,” Jones, 60, had been following the spread of coronavirus for weeks before it hit Blaine County. In the early weeks of March, days before Enoteca and dozens of other restaurants in the Wood River Valley closed their doors to the public, he made the decision to self-isolate, fearing for his own health and the health of others.
“I was getting nervous, watching how it was just going rampant in Washington state and New York,” he recalled. “I was feeling the pressure from people coming in, people sitting at the bar.”
Things started to rapidly change at work, as the restaurant quickly implemented precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus. And then Jones got the news he’d been waiting for: Enoteca would be closing its dine-in services, switching to takeout only, and Jones would be out of a job.
“It felt like something was going to be happening really quickly, and it did,” he said.
Jones is one of more than 77,430 Idahoans who filed for unemployment insurance benefits between March 15 and April 4, including more than 2,000 workers in Blaine County. Local claims peaked the week of March 21-28, when 828 people in Blaine County filed for benefits. For comparison, 29 people filed claims the same week in 2019—a 2,755 percent increase.
Food service workers, hotel employees and construction workers have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic's economic fallout, data shows, with workers in those industries making up roughly half of the claims filed in Blaine County over those three weeks. Retail workers account for about 10 percent of the local claims.
The Wood River Valley was the first region in Idaho to close all businesses considered “nonessential,” after the state implemented a shelter-in-place order for Blaine County on March 20. On March 25, Gov. Brad Little issued a similar order for the entire state.
The state order, which closed bars and required that restaurants shift to a takeout-and-delivery-only model, will expire Wednesday night unless extended by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Local measures passed by Blaine County and the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey and Bellevue added stricter local restrictions to the statewide order, including a ban on construction of housing and commercial projects.
One hundred and fifty-four construction workers in Blaine County filed for unemployment insurance between March 29 and April 4, the week the local ordinances went into effect. The previous week, 244 construction workers in Blaine County filed unemployment claims; there were 83 construction claims filed the week before that.
Some local construction workers may be returning to work as soon as this week: The city of Sun Valley this past weekend allowed its local ordinance banning construction work to expire. Construction resumed in the city on Monday.
Blaine County and the cities of Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue each extended their ordinances through April 19, keeping a ban on nonessential construction until at least the end of this week.
“I think we’re in an extremely difficult situation here, balancing the health crisis as well as an economic crisis,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said in a commission meeting Saturday.
County commissioners and city leaders will consider further extending the local construction bans at the end of this week.