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With COVID spike in Latino community, advocates urging Garfield and other counties to help protect vulnerable workers

As Garfield County Public Health officials try to get a handle on the recent spike in new coronavirus cases, especially within the county’s Latino population, advocates from that community have offered some rather forceful suggestions.

It’s no real surprise that Latinos are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, said Alex Sanchez, director of the nonprofit Voces Unidas de las Montañas.

Many Latinos work in construction and service and tourism industry jobs, where working from home is not an option, Sanchez said.

Oftentimes, the workplace itself — construction sites, restaurants, hotels, and the like — and even just getting to and from work, puts them at higher risk for contracting the virus, he said.

That’s why his group has been working to make sure the estimated 35,000 Latino residents who live from Parachute to Aspen have a voice when it comes to policy decisions and information being disseminated about COVID-19.

“We know that we have a role to play, as an organization, to do our part by reposting the critical information that comes from elected officials and government agencies,” Sanchez said. “But, at the end of the day, we can’t do government’s role.”

In Garfield County, Latinos now represent 60% of all COVID-19 cases, but make up about 30% of the population. That percentage has gone up rapidly in just the last six weeks, from less than 50% of the cumulative case total in late May, as businesses began reopening more fully.

In neighboring Pitkin County, Latinos represent 10% of the population, yet account for 20% of positive cases there, Sanchez said.

“We try to be a sounding board within the Latino community to help with some of the strategies,” he said.

That includes regular surveys to gauge Latino residents’ thoughts regarding public health concerns. The most recent of those surveys, conducted in late June and resulting in 185 responses, found that:

  • One in three Latinos did not know what to do if they got infected with the virus;
  • One in two Latino respondents do not know where to go to get medical care if they get infected;
  • The majority of Latino survey takers lacked confidence that their employers would protect Latino workers;
  • One-third of respondents did not have access to masks at work; and,
  • Three in five Latino respondents believe that their local governments and elected officials are not doing enough to protect Latinos from the virus.

To aid in that response, leaders of Voces Unidas on July 2 issued seven “demands” of county governments in the tri-county (Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle) area. Those are:

  1. Publicly release disaggregated data on the impact of COVID-19 by community group (ethnicity and race).
  2. Ensure that all official public information is linguistically and culturally effective, and that it is disseminated to all communities at the same time, via effective channels.
  3. Develop (and make public) a comprehensive plan on how the county is responding to and supporting community groups that are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  4. Ensure the safety of Latinos during the reopening phase, especially as Latino workers go back to essential and public-facing jobs. Employers must be required to provide personal protective equipment for their workers and encourage safe distancing practices.
  5. Ensure that all employers distribute culturally effective information in Spanish and English to all of their workers on what to do if an employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and their rights and protections as workers. 
  6. Ensure a proportionate Latino representation in all long-term planning processes to make sure that Latinos are not left behind in the recovery of COVID-19.
  7. Publish a detailed report on how each county supported each of the community groups, outlining strategies and how much tax-payer dollars were spent to support each community group.

“We can speak for ourselves and know what we need and want,” Sanchez said. “But a lot of decisions are being made about Latinos, without Latinos at the table. If you invite us, we will show up.”

Meanwhile, the number of new onset COVID-19 cases in Garfield County continues to go up at an alarming rate — and not exclusively within the Latino community.

Garfield County is now the hotbed among northwestern Colorado counties in terms of new coronavirus cases over the past two to three weeks, Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long reported to county commissioners on Monday.

The number of new cases jumped yet again from 408 at the time of her Monday report to 441 as of the end of the day Tuesday, according to county and state public health statistics.

The county also reported its fourth death from COVID-19 on Tuesday, involving a man in his late 60s who died at his home.

“We are a service-industry county, and that’s where we’re seeing a lot of that,” Long said of the recent surge in new cases. “Summer is our tourism business season here, and it’s when a lot of our businesses make their money.”

As that relates to workers, regardless of ethnicity, county health is working to provide as much information as possible about workplace safety, in both English and Spanish, and encourages employers to do the same, she said.

Long said she also suggests employers provide extra incentives to keep workers from sharing transportation to or from work, or to do so safely, as some of the recent cases can be attributed to carpooling.

“That’s something we should maybe be discouraging right now, and say that maybe this is not the time to do that,” she said in her report to the commissioners.

Though the number of new onset cases continues to increase, and while there have been some recent new hospitalizations (three new since late last week), hospital capacity locally is not a concern at this point.

“We continue to have COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization, and at this time our ability to care for these patients and other non-COVID patients is strong.” Dr. Brian Murphy, CEO of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said in the hospital’s twice-weekly COVID-19 report.

Murphy added, “It is important that we each do our part — wear a mask, practice physical distancing and frequently wash our hands — to slow the transmission of this virus. Together, we can support our community’s well-being and the reopening of businesses and our economy.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

Garfield County stats

Cumulative cases as of 7/14 (all testing sources) — 441

New cases reported since 7/9 — 89

Rolling two-week onset of new cases: June 30-July 12 — 69; June 16-29 — 89

Test positivity rate — 5.5%

Deaths — 4

Source: Garfield County Public Health

Valley View COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/14/2020

Specimens collected through Valley View — 4,293 (513 new since 7/9)

Positive results — 245 (50 new since 7/9)

Pending results — 24

Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 35 (1 new since 7/9)

Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 27

Grand River COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/14/2020

Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 1,996 (103 new since 7/9)

Positive results — 100 (13 new since 7/9)

Pending results — 25

Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 5 (2 new hospitalization since 7/9, one still admitted as of Tuesday)

Patients discharged — 2

Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly

Obituary: CURT STRAND

CURT STRAND

November 13, 1920 – July 11, 2020 Curt Strand, retired chairman and CEO of Hilton International, passed away peacefully in his home July 11, 2020. Mr. Strand was one of the most successful and influential CEO’s in lodging in modern history. He was a graduate of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, class of 1943. Mr. Strand served in the United States Army Military Intelligence from 1943-1946 during World War II. In 1947 he was named Superintendent of Service for New York’s famed Plaza Hotel. In 1953 he served as Hilton International’s Vice President of Planning. From 1958-1960 he was the General Manager of the Berlin Hilton, and he eventually became President and Chairman of Hilton International, and Director of Trans World Airlines. Under Mr. Strand’s leadership, Hilton International grew from one hotel in 1949, to encompass more than 100 hotels in 60countries with 35,000 employees, at his retirement in 1987. Subsequently, Mr. Strand became a senior consultant for American Express, SAS Hotels, Tishman-Speyer, Pierre Hotel and Sherry Netherlands Hotel in New York City. He lectured at Cornell University, Cornell Essec (France), New York University, Y.P.O. and University of Houston. Some of the most important practices in the structuring of brand management for hotels were created by Mr. Strand. In a January 25, 1981 interview with The New York Times, he explained that Hilton International was essesntailly in the business of hotel management. He stated, “We are no longer basically a real estate company, but we control the standard of operation. We not only manage them but design the hotels carrying our name”. In the New York Times interview, Mr. Strand, then age 60, revealed that he logged 300,000 miles a year, flying around the world to open new hotels, oversee construction and operations, and look into new opportunities. He shared, “I get off the plane with no jet lag, my stomach eager to enjoy all the varieties of food, and my mind eager to experience the local culture. I don’t know what jet lag feels like. I only need four or five hours of sleep. I knew I wanted a hotel career since I was 12 years old.” Mr. Strand was respected throughout the world, universally considered a singular important contributor to the lodging industry. In a letter dated May 14, 2009, J. Willard Marriott, Jr. wrote, “You must feel very good about the entire industry chasing management contracts- a philosophy that you created.” Mr. Strand was born November 13, 1920 in Vienna, Austria. He moved to the United States when he was 17. At age 25, Mr. Strand met 17 year old Fleur Lillian Emanuel at a dinner, and the two were engaged three weeks later. He remarked that she was the most intelligent, beautiful and sophisticated young woman he had ever met, and he knew he needed to move quickly, as Fleur was in New York only briefly en route from South Africa to Edinborough to enter medical school. The two were married June 14, 1946 in New York. His wife went on to become a physiologist and pioneer of the “neuropeptide” concept, and held the title of Caroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Biology and Professor of Neural Science at New York University, and President of The New York Academy of Science. They were happily married for 65 years until Mrs. Strand died in 2011. They were part-time residents of Snowmass Village since 1968, and full-time residents since 2004. They had one daughter, Karen, who died in 2006. Curt is survived by his brother-in-law, Frank Emanuel, and his two nieces, Gigi and Nicole. An avid skier well into his nineties, Mr. Strand actively participated in many affairs in the community he and Mrs. Strand loved. Mr. Strand served on boards of The Aspen Foundation, the Snowmass Resort Association (as chair from 1989 to 1997), Aspen Council of the Arts and the Executive Service Corps (ESC). He was a Fellow of The Aspen Institute, a member of the National Council of The Aspen Music Festival and School, and of Aspen Public Radio. He will be remembered, honored, appreciated and missed by countless friends in the valley and throughout the world.

Obituary: Keith Wilson

Keith Wilson

March 31, 1968 – July 6, 2020 Keith Edward Wilson was born March 31,1968 in Rochester, N.Y. the son of Thomas “Scotty” and Mary Jane Wilson. He passed away tragically in an auto accident on Monday, July 6,2020 in Silt,Co. Keith has lived in The Valley for the past 20 years where he made many close friends who became his family. He was a devoted father with a heart of gold who enjoyed music, racing and spending time with his boys. Keith is survived by his sons Dakota Thomas Wilson of Ray, North Dakota and River Dennis Wilson of Silt,Co; brothers Scott Wilson, Brian Wilson and sister Tracy Thrall of Raleigh, N.C. He is predeceased by his parents. Donations can be made to Dakota and River Wilson GoFundMe @ https://gf.me/u/yfuwhn.

Case against Glenwood Springs man in 2018 vagrant murder case continued again

A June 2018 murder case involving an alleged drunken confrontation between two men in West Glenwood is still making its way through the Ninth Judicial District court system.

Trevor Torreyson, 43, is accused of beating Keith Wayne to death in a small private park situated off Storm King Road during a night of drinking on June 20, 2018.

Torreyson is now represented by Glenwood Spring attorney Courtney Petre after having a falling-out with his original public defender last September.

He was back in court Tuesday afternoon for the first time in months before Chief District Judge James Boyd — via WebEx video from the Garfield County Jail where’s been held on $1 million bond since his arrest the day after the incident.

Petre requested another lengthy extension, and a plea has yet to be entered by Torreyson in the case. The arraignment hearing was continued yet again until the afternoon of Sept. 8.

“This does not substantially change what’s happening with the case, thus far,” Petre informed the judge. The District Attorney’s Office did not object to the continuance.

Both Torreyson and Wayne were experiencing homelessness at the time of the incident, and were well-known within the fairly close-knit community of people who often camp on the outskirts of Glenwood Springs.

Wayne, who was 56, was found dead near several car dealerships in West Glenwood off of Storm King Road the night of June 20, 2018, with wounds on his left temple consistent with blunt force trauma.

The first officers on the scene found boot tracks, apparently made on concrete from dried blood, heading west from the scene.

When cops arrested Torreyson later that day, he was discovered in his campsite with blood on his boots, pants, shirt and arms, which has been introduced as evidence in the case.

Police identified Torreyson as a suspect because of a bandana officers found at the scene under Wayne’s body, which officers recognized from previous contacts with Torreyson.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Riparian setbacks, Bill Rippy development could dominate Glenwood Springs council discussion Thursday

Glenwood City Council is slated to consider the revised Bell Rippy apartment project site plan and rezoning proposal as well as a riparian setback amendment during their regular meeting Thursday.

Bell Rippy

Dating as far back as 2017, developers have proposed building multi-family housing in a vacant lot on the south end of Glenwood Springs.

Early site proposals drew ire from residents living nearby, largely because of the development’s potential impact on traffic in the surrounding area, which is primarily single-family homes.

“I’ve heard this developer has made some significant changes to their site plan and how it will interface with current traffic patterns,” Mayor Jonathan Godes said. “If (Thursday’s conversation) is anything like our previous conversations, it could center on the impact to Palmer and Blake avenues.”

The development proposal includes six three-story buildings with 38 one-bedroom units and 62 two-bedroom units adjacent to Palmer Avenue between 26th Street and Blake Avenue.

During a June 8 digital conference with members of the public, city staff and Bell Rippy developers, Triumph Development West, LLC, residents applauded some of the site plan change proposals, especially in regard to “Option C.” 

Option C repurposes a portion of Palmer Avenue between 26th Street and Blake Avenue as a bicycle and pedestrian path, with access for emergency vehicles only.

City Council could review Option C, which city staff is recommending with conditions, on Thursday as well as rezoning the proposed development area from Residential High-Density to Residential Transitional.

Riparian setback

Two years in the making, the first reading of a proposal to amend municipal code for riparian setbacks has garnered rebuke from some local property owners.

Unanimously recommended by the Glenwood Springs River Commission, the amendment is intended to prevent the loss or removal of riparian vegetation and improve water quality by eliminating the application of hazardous chemicals in the proposed 35-foot setback zone.

“For a community that bases a lot of our identity on water … (the commission) is saying we should have the healthiest, most pristine waterways possible,” Godes said, explaining the amendment was originally suggested by the commission in 2018. Council’s goal Thursday goal is to listen to the commission and the Roaring Fork Conservancy (RFC), who helped inform the commission’s recommendation, present their ideas for the setback as well as hear the affected land owner’s input before making a decision, Godes said.

Gary Vick, a river-front property owner and spokesperson for a group of landowners dubbed Friends of the Roaring Fork River, said he plans to speak against the amendment.

“(Glenwood Springs Municipal Code) does not currently restrict what we can and can’t do with plant life,” Vick said, explaining the amendment as written could prevent land owners from planting grass or trimming vegetation within the setback. “At the very least, we would like to ask the council for some clarity on the amendment.”

Additionally, Vick said he was concerned the regulation could significantly decrease home values without any measurable benefit to the city.

“The (setback) proponents have not quantified any gains that would be made as a result of this amendment,” Vick said. “Before the city takes property rights from homeowners, they need to show a benefit that far exceeds the cost of lost property value.”

Roaring Fork Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro said the amendment would ensure the river’s health for decades to come without affecting current property owners.

“We work with all the counties and municipalities within our Roaring Fork Valley watershed area, which is about 1,500 square miles,” Lofaro said. “Many jurisdictions and municipalities in the watershed have adopted riparian setback protections.”

Setback protections provide a buffer zone between developed areas and the river habitat, he explained.

“The messy vitality along the river is a healthy component of it,” Lofaro said. “Everything you love about the river goes away if all the riparian is removed.”

The amendment is a good move for the city, residents and the river, he said.

“We’re trying to make this a positive thing going into the future,” Lofaro said, “and not compromise, penalize, challenge or even get involved with private property.” 

ifredregill@postindependent.com

Garfield County records fourth COVID-19 death

Garfield County reported a fourth death from COVID-19 on Tuesday.

A man in his late 60s, according to a news release from Garfield County, is the latest death. He died at home, the release said.

Garfield County reported its third death from COVID-19 on July 2.

“We regret having to report yet another life lost to COVID. As a community, we must all take individual actions to slow the spread, otherwise our numbers will continue to climb. Each life lost is one too many,” Public Health Director Yvonne Long said in a news release.

Garfield County has reported 423 coronavirus cases as of midday Tuesday.

“The county has averaged over 49 cases a week for the past three weeks,” the news release states. “This is a marked increase from May when the county was experiencing approximately eight cases per week.”

Former Basalt teacher pleads guilty to 1 count of sexual assault on a child after relationship with student

Former Basalt schools music teacher Brittany von Stein on Tuesday pleaded guilty to having a sexual relationship with a student who was a minor and potentially faces a lengthy prison sentence.

Brittany von Stein
Garfield County Jail

In return for the guilty plea to sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, four similar charges were dismissed in the plea disposition, attorneys told Garfield County District Judge James Boyd.

“I want to take responsibility for my actions and spare everyone the damage of a trial,” von Stein said Tuesday in court.

Judge Boyd asked her a series of questions about her understanding of the offenses and the potential penalties. Von Stein, who was able to call into the hearing because of new procedures during the coronavirus, sounded composed during the questioning and her voice never wavered.

Zac Parsons, an assistant attorney with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said von Stein developed a relationship with a male high school student who was a minor at the time of the encounter.

“While being a music student she began to give some lessons to one student in particular who was under the age of 18,” Parsons said. “They developed a relationship. Ultimately Ms. von Stein invited him over to her house where they engaged in sexual intercourse on multiple occasions in the January to June timeframe in 2019.”

Sentencing is set for Sept. 16. The charge von Stein pleaded guilty to is a Class IV felony.

“There are no sentencing concessions,” Parsons said.

Boyd informed von Stein that if she is sentenced to prison, she could be sentenced for two to 12 years on the low end.

“The maximum amount of time in prison would be the rest of your life,” he said.

He ordered pre-sentence evaluations and investigations prior to the sentencing.

Humerickhouse wins wind-swept Glenwood Open golf tournament

Eagle’s Keith Humerickhouse navigated the gusty winds that blew in Sunday evening to win the championship flight of the Glenwood Open golf tournament on “The Hill.”

The wind storm blew in just in time to make the 18th and final hole of the day a trickier-than-usual par 4. The top flight is made up of amateur golfers with the lowest handicaps. 

Trailing by one shot on the last tee box, Humerickhouse kept his drive in the fairway, while others in his group faltered. He recorded a par on the windswept closing hole to finish the two-day tournament with scores of 72-71, taking the tournament title with 143 strokes.

“I used a 3-wood off the tee box, and getting that birdie putt close from the fringe in the end is what saved me,” Humerickhouse said after the win.

The annual 36-hole Glenwood Open event took place Saturday and Sunday, July 11-12 at the Glenwood Springs Golf Course, and featured a formidable collection of talent in all six flights.

“This year, we had 106 golfers take part, and this is the strongest field we have had in a long time,” GSGC General Manager Jerry Butler said. “We had quite a few younger players also, and that’s good for the game.”

Second place in the marquee flight produced a three-way tie between Denton Walker, Michael Smith and Richard Brandsby, who all finished with two-day totals of 145.

Glenwood Golf Course Assistant Superintendent Kirk Blaszyk found his way around familiar territory in winning the first flight. Blaszyk’s stellar final day saw 17 pars and one birdie for the tournament’s only sub-par round of 69. A 76-69 total of 145 is what turned the winning trick for Blaszyk. Carson Kerr, a senior-to-be at Grand Junction High School, finished second at 147, and Cody Nelson’s 152 was good enough for third place.

In the second flight, Glenwood’s Chris Hoffmeister used a timely chip-in to save par on the back nine holes and stay steady with identical rounds of 77-77 for a 154 total.

“When I made that shot, I thought I had a chance to win. It was a big confidence boost,” Hoffmeister said. Mark Smith of Glenwood took second place with a 157 total. Doug Jones and Mark Barlau tied for third place at 158 each.

Eric Lundin of Glenwood won the honors in the tourney’s third flight with scores of 78-73 (151). Nik Rocco finished at 158 for second place and Brian Thompson recorded a 159 for third.

Cody Wright of Glenwood was the king of the fourth flight at 81-78 (159). David Jeffers, also of Glenwood, recorded a score of 163 for second place. Jim Otto and John Lee tied for third at 165.

The fifth flight, which is based on the players’s final net score (actual score minus handicap), saw Glenwood’s Rob Rightmire post a 128 total for the win. Steve Williams was at 135 for second place and his brother Tom Williams and Ron Nadon tied for third at 138.

In Friday’s opening event of the tournament, the “Low Amateur,” the four-person team of Blaszyk, course Superintendent Jim Richmond, Glenwood Middle School PE teacher Blake Risner and Steve Williams, took top honors with a 124-stroke total.

Jim Richmond lines up a putt in Friday’s Low Amateur event.
Courtesy Jerry Butler

Dalrymple column: Community banks might save us from next meltdown

Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) are securities backed by loans to corporations. Increasingly, banking industry pundits are positing that these instruments could trigger a new wave of defaults and failures, just like 2008.

Back then, the culprit was Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs). These instruments were backed by mortgages; same concept, different debt.

Problem was, in 2008, the mortgages were bad loans that borrowers couldn’t repay. Problem now is a big number of the CLOs are backed by credit to large corporations that were in serious trouble before the pandemic, as in over a trillion dollars’ worth of questionable paper. Now those companies are lined up at your neighborhood bankruptcy court, filing for Chapter 11 protection. And they’re being joined by businesses that weren’t on the brink on New Year’s Eve, 2020, like Hertz, but are now.

Big banks, the TBTFs (Too Big to Fails), have invested in CLOs in a big way, but they’ll tell you they’re gold-plated assets because the bank’s position is protected. To make a long story less confusing, these securities are sold in tiers called tranches. The lowest tier is for gamblers who want to make a bet at big odds. However, banks buy positions in the highest tranche, which means all of the lower tiers pretty much need to go bad before the institutions are in harm’s way. But that could never happen, could it?

Some savvy observers of financial markets are now saying, “yes, it could.” In moving money, there’s a saying, “Sewage runs downhill.” … Well, a shorter word is generally employed, but you get the idea. Meaning that a bad loan always, eventually, ends up with the originator of the credit. In this instance, the drain is clogged and the sewage is backing up, maybe to the point where the big banks will be neck deep in the muck, chanting, “Don’t make a wave.” How many times, when financial bad news hits, have we heard the comment that begins, “Nobody thought that …” You’d think we’d learn that what nobody thought could happen, usually does, sooner or later.

So there seems to be concern that we might be on the cusp of a new banking meltdown, because a big portion of that trillion, maybe close to all of it, could default. Which got me to thinking: There’s a backstop in the banking system that people a lot smarter than I seem to forget about: community banks, the small institutions under $1 billion in assets.

These banks shy away from complex investment instruments for a variety of reasons, and one very good one is that they don’t understand them. Which doesn’t mean they’re dumb; in fact just the opposite. In making sophisticated investment decisions — and it doesn’t get more esoteric than buying a position in CLOs — the big banks rely on the rating services, Moody’s, Standard and Poor, and Fitch. It’s kind of, “We go all the way with triple AAA.” On the other hand, the little lender makes direct loans to borrowers that they know, or come to know, through documentation and analysis; doesn’t mean they don’t make a bad loan, but they strive, with remarkable success, not to make a loan badly.

Any bank contemplating buying slices of CLOs would be required by regulators to have competent people to run the operation, and these new hires come with high six figure, low seven, salaries. Our favorite institution in this column (fictitious), Second National Bank of Downriver, Montana, wouldn’t think about doing such a crazy thing, especially when they’re doing just fine doing what they’re doing. And people who make a million a year never say, “I think we’d better close this whole thing down, because it looks like all these assets are going in the tank.”

We should be very scared when anybody says an investment asset is almost as safe as cash. Remember that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock in 2007 was given the same value as cash on the balance sheets of banks and thrifts (S&Ls) by bank regulators. We all know what happened to Freddie and Fannie stockholders in 2008.

Default chaos at the top of the banking food chain would be painful to many and traumatic to some, but community banks would be happy to assure you that, when the dust settled, they could very efficiently replace what they believe is the redundancy of big bank branches on every street corner.

Maybe, for the peace of mind, not to mention the pocketbooks of us all, it’s time that big banking institutions adopt a new business model: banking.

Pat Dalrymple is a western Colorado native and has spent more than 50 years in mortgage lending and banking in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’ll be happy to answer your questions or hear your comments. His e-mail is pdalrymple59@gmail.com.

As commission candidate urges countywide mask order, commissioner highlights opposition to the idea in western Garfield County

A candidate for Garfield County commissioner says the current commissioners are putting politics over public health by not requiring people to wear face coverings while in public.

Leslie Robinson of Rifle is running for the District 3 Board of County Commissioners seat as a Democrat in November against incumbent Republican Mike Samson.

She said during comments via video conference before the county commissioners on Monday that Garfield County should follow the lead of neighboring resort counties in requiring masks be worn in public places.

Leslie Robinson, candidate for Garfield County commissioner.

“Don’t let the politics of a few dictate COVID health and safety decisions that will protect the many,” Robinson said.

Garfield County should enact a temporary order requiring face coverings while in places of business and where social distancing is not possible, same as the municipalities of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, she said.

Face coverings should not be a political issue, Robinson said, adding “it’s time to believe in the medical science behind the use of masks to slow down contagion.”

Reached on Tuesday, Samson said the vast majority of constituents who have contacted him are opposed to a mask requirement, though people on the eastern end of the county are more supportive, he said.

“If you look at the stats, the majority of Covid cases appear to be in the eastern end of the county,” Samson said. That includes Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, which do require masks within their city limits, and New Castle, which does not. Combined, those communities account for 65% of the county’s cases since the outbreak began in early March.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.
Alex Zorn / Citizen Telegram

Personally, Samson said he does wear a mask when entering businesses, especially busier ones such as City Market or Walmart.

“One of the major reasons why I do it is because a lot of people know who I am, and it’s good for me to set an example for others,” Samson said. “People need to use good judgment and common sense, and if you’re going to be in a situation where you’re close to other people, it’s a way to protect them and yourself.”

Robinson’s comments also elicited a response during the Monday meeting from District 1 Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who is not up for reelection this year.

He also said the constituent comments he’s heard, especially in the Rifle area, are “three-to-one against” requiring masks.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“Rifle, Parachute, Silt … none of those city councils have come to us asking for (a mask requirement), and any of them could have done it on their own,” Jankovsky said.

Jankovsky acknowledged public health suggestions that face masks could reduce the virus spread by 5% to 10%. But hospital capacity in the county and statewide is a better benchmark to make decisions, rather than the number of new cases, he said.

“Our hospitals are not at capacity,” he said, adding later in direct response to Robinson, “the individuals you’re trying to represent are opposed to face masks.”

Although county commissioners represent certain districts within the county, they are elected countywide by voters from Carbondale to Parachute.

Robinson also noted that a disproportionate number of those who have contracted COVID-19 in Garfield County, 60%, are Latino. That percentage has increased from 49% in early June.

“I wonder what more can the county be doing to reach out to that community to educate and stop this contagion among our most vulnerable populations,” she said.

Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long acknowledged in her regular report to the county commissioners Monday that the recent surge in cases among Latinos is a concern. That likely can be attributed to virus spread in workplaces, especially within the tourism and service industries, as well as construction job sites and even the practice of carpooling to work.

While carpooling is a good thing to do during normal times, Long said, “this is maybe not the time to do that.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original version with comments from Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.