KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — A combination of extra free-time and fear-prompted coronavirus concerns likely contributed to a sharp spike in customers at Kootenai County's dumps, the county's solid waste director said.
Between Friday and Monday, the amount of customers visiting the county's transfer stations spiked 43% compared to the same time period last year, according to Kootenai County Solid Waste Director Cathy Mayer. On Monday alone, 1,500 vehicles visited the Ramsey transfer station, resulting in long lines and piles of garbage.
"It's difficult for our employees and our facilities to handle that much waste and public at a time," Mayer said.
Spokane County spokesperson Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said on Wednesday that several waste transfer stations in the county are also slammed right now.
She asked people who do not have to immediately throw things away, such as those who have items in their garage or basement, to hold off for now.
Mayer said that people working from home, in addition to social distancing efforts, resulted in North Idaho homeowners getting an early start on spring cleaning.
"They're doing yard projects, doing construction, cleaning up," she said.
Panic may have also played a role in the run on the dump.
"I think a lot of the public fears that we're going to close down," Mayer added.
That won't be happening, though.
According to Mayer, the Department of Homeland Security classifies local dumps as critical services that are allowed to keep operating during emergencies.
While the crowds created headaches for waste department staff, Mayer also questioned if the amount of people visiting the dump was wise while public officials emphasize social distancing.
"This isn't social distancing," said Mayer in regards to Monday's crowds. "When you get 1,500 vehicles a day through one site, and they're all piled on top of each other, that's not keeping apart very well."
Additionally, some customers became frustrated and "challenging" to work with, according to Mayer.
"[Employees] are under a lot of stress. They can't work from home like a lot of people can," she said.
Mayer issued a plea to solid waste customers to spread out their trips to the dump and emphasized that the county's transfer stations had no plans to close.
Amid heightened concerns due to COVID-19, Meyer said that solid waste staff have been implementing new cleaning protocols and changes to the way workers handle and separate some waste. Notably, staff aren't removing visible pieces of cardboard from loads in an effort to remain sanitary. Employees aren't assisting customers unload their trash as much either for the same reasons.