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Tourism up and COVID counts down several weeks after Jack tours resume

According to numbers provided by both Jack Daniel’s and the Tennessee Department of Health, tourism number are up in Moore County since the Visitor’s Center resumed public tours while active COVID cases are trending down. {Photo Courtesy of Jack Daniel’s Distillery}

LOCAL NEWS — Maybe it’s too soon to tell, but the re-opening of Jack Daniel’s Distillery to public tours doesn’t appear to be causing a local spike in COVID-19 numbers.

In early August, the distillery quietly resumed public tours at the Visitor’s Center and re-opened both the Hardware and General Store on the square and Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant, though all three modified things a bit. Masks are required. Hand sanitizer is at the ready, and in order to encourage social distancing, the number of folks allowed in all three at one times has been greatly reduced.

So we wondered, what effect (if any) is this having on both local COVID numbers and the many local business that cater to tourism in Lynchburg.

Weekly COVID numbers trend down in Lynchburg

Despite the fact that Jack Daniel’s draws tourist from not only around the state but around the world, the weekly numbers reported by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) seem to be trending down. Just prior to the reopening, Moore County gained 17 new COVID cases for the week ending August 7. Since then, that number has been trending down. For the week ending August 14, there were 13 new cases, 11 new cases the following week, and just eight new case the final week in August.

As of Wednesday’s 2 p.m. COVID numbers provided by the TDH, there were just 36 active cases in Moore County — a decrease from the previous week.

Small businesses get bump but still struggle

We spoke to three historic district small businesses recently and all three reported seeing a small increase in foot traffic but numbers that were no where near 2019.

“Last year on this day, I was $500,000 in sales above my sales today,” one small business owner said. “The COVID situation has really impacted our businesses.”

Another local business manager said she’d noticed a slight difference but no major increase in foot traffic since tours resumed. In part, she attributed this to the fact that the Visitor’s Center stopped utilizing buses on tours as a COVID 19 precaution. This means the distillery is not currently dropping off tourists on the Lynchburg Square as the last part of its public tour.

“We’ve seen a slight increase,” she said. “But it hasn’t been huge.”

Another business owner estimated that her business was up by about 25 percent since tours resumed.

“We would love for things to be back to ‘normal’, but we are optimistic that things will get better,” she said.

Situation that’s constantly evolving and monitored

Distillery officials say the active case counts and trends are something they are monitoring weekly.

“In terms of the COVID numbers, we evaluate these on a weekly basis as well as being informed anytime there is a new case,” Jack Daniel’s senior leadership told us. “Our HR team is responsible for tracking and contact tracing. This team includes our onsite nurse who serves as point for this work. We have a Homeplace review every Friday and this is one of the factors considered. Ultimately, senior leadership will make the decision if we adjust any operations in response.”

Jack Daniel’s say they would not hesitate to shutdown public tours again if that’s what the data suggested was in the best interest of both the distillery and the community but at the moment the numbers seem to be trending down. When we asked them what impact (if any) resumption of tours had had on local COVID numbers, they responded with a confident, “none.”

“In terms of resumption of tours impacting COVID cases in Moore County, we are confident it is none,” distillery officials told us. “The daily cases have dropped considerably.”

Distillery officials say they believe the summer spike was completely driven by the summer vacation season.

This graphs provided by Jack Daniel’s Distillery shows that there has been no real spike in new COVID-19 cases in Moore County since the Visitor’s Center re-opened to public (if modified) public tours in early August. {Graphics Provided}

“Daily guest count continues to climb as COVID cases have dropped back to near zero as vacation season wrapped up.”

Officials say the next trend they’ll monitor will be the impact of return to school.” •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently owned and operated newspaper that publishes new stories every morning. Covering Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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