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Eviction hearings on hold in 9th District, but some organizations call for full moratorium during public health emergency

A new month means the rent or mortgage payment comes due for most Garfield County and Roaring Fork Valley residents. 

But, as many people are experiencing reduced work hours or outright joblessness prompted by emergency business shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some are forced to make a decision between paying their landlord or the bank on time or keeping food on the table.

Janeth Niebla, who works with area families in need of assistance through the Carbondale-based Manaus organization, said she’s advising people to indeed prioritize food over rent, if it comes to that.

“Many people find themselves in a very unique situation, where the families affected most by this are either on front lines, in the grocery stores or health services, while others are living paycheck to paycheck, and now they don’t have that,” Niebla said in a video interview Tuesday along with other leaders of the Mountain Voices Project, a program of Manaus.

“The heart behind the work we do is thinking about the safety of the community, and wanting to support these families,” she said.

While some may be able to ride it out for a month, the situation grows more dire with each passing week that the economy is stalled, increasing the looming threat of an eviction notice or foreclosure action.

Pressure is being applied at multiple levels, from the Office of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to the Ninth Judicial District Bar Association and the Mountain Voices Project, requesting a full moratorium on eviction and foreclosure proceedings.  

Ninth District Chief Judge James Boyd this week amended a previous order regarding judicial proceedings during the public health emergency, in which eviction cases are addressed.

While new filings for both eviction actions and foreclosures will continue to be accepted, they will not be heard until at least June 1.

“This order does not change any existing settings, nor does it limit the authority of the judge presiding over a case of these types with existing settings to reschedule proceedings on the court’s own motion to a future date,” Boyd wrote in the March 30 amended order.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario also clarified that the order means no evictions, pending or otherwise, will be carried out until June 1, “unless there’s a health or safety hazard issue,” such as an unsafe premise. 

In fact, the judge’s order specifically does not preclude motions requesting an earlier action “necessary to prevent a substantial risk of imminent financial hardship or imminent risk to the health, safety or welfare of any individual or the community at large.”

Mountain Voices Project is an affiliate of the national community organizing group Industrial Areas Foundation, operating under Manaus.

Lead Mountain Voices Project organizer Alice Steindler said her group is still looking for some clarity, not just from Boyd but from other civic leaders, about the financial ramifications.

“What we’re hearing loud and clear right now is that folks who should be paying their rent in the next few days are not only very concerned about this month but are thinking ahead a month or two, and what that will bring,” Steindler said.

The attorney general and the governor have made “some good, thoughtful recommendations,” she said, but renters and landlords alike could use some assurance that they’re part of the equation.

“We’re not looking to put all of this responsibility on landlords,” Steindler said. “We understand that people being able to have that rental income is important, but we need some decisions sooner than later.”

Father Bert Chilson of St. Stephen Catholic Parish in Glenwood Springs also works with MVP as a community organizer. He said he has already heard of at least one instance where a property manager in Garfield County issued formal notice to tenants advising that rent will be expected to be paid on time this month.

“This is a time of great fear,” he said. “The stress is real for everyone, and for our immigrant population, it’s that stress level times 10.

“Right now, we have an order to stay at home, but if we start to see threats to remove people from their homes, how are we going to keep people safe?”

Garfield County Commission Chairman John Martin said the county has taken steps to provide financial assistance, including a $500,000 emergency fund for the Department of Human Services to help people with needs such as rental assistance.

But evictions are a judicial matter, he said.

“We don’t get involved with those proceedings, but we have asked the departments we oversee to use patience and forego any actions until after this crisis,” Martin said.

The county has also worked to assemble a team to help get the local economy back on track once the crisis is passed. That will help point individuals and businesses to various resources, including the federal funds that are to be available, to help reboot the economy, he said.

Keeping people in their homes during this time is crucial, if the only reason they would be asked to leave is financial, say Steindler and others.

Mountain Voices Project, in a letter to Boyd last week, called for Garfield and Pitkin counties to join others, including Denver, Mesa, Weld and Boulder counties, in explicitly declaring a moratorium on eviction filings, not just proceedings.  

The Ninth Judicial and Pitkin County Bar Associations also penned a joint letter to Boyd seeking the same.

“We believe that a clear order from you will quell much anxiety that is circulating throughout our community — especially in light of the fact that the fact that … many have been forced out of their jobs because of public safety measures,” their letter reads. “… We urge you to recognize the imminent need to pause entry of residential eviction orders for failure to pay rent during this emergency … nobody should be without a home as Colorado grapples with this pandemic.”

Jennifer Wherry of Alpine Legal Services, which provides free and low-cost legal advice and representation on civil matters in the region, said her organization stands at the ready to help people who are facing eviction. 

“We are working on setting up a hotline in partnership with private bar associations to increase capacity for free legal aid during this time of substantial need,” Wherry said. Economic stress can also be the underlying cause of many of the domestic violence cases Alpine Legal Services deals with, she added.

“Whatever we can all do to help people feel safe in their homes right now will increase the health and safety of us all,” she said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Meals on Wheels gets a boost with $40,000 Garfield County contribution, as demand increases amid health crisis

A $40,000 grant approved by the Garfield County commissioners on Friday will allow the Grand River Meals on Wheels to sustain its home delivery meal services to homebound clients in western Garfield County.

The vote came as the need for social distancing measures around COVID-19 has driven participation in the program up 20% since early March, according to a county press release.

“Most of our clients are in their 80s and 90s. Every request seems like a heart-wrencher,” GRMoW Director Kaaren Peck said in the release. “In addition to the recent growth in demand for food delivery, our programs largest annual fundraiser, Empty Bowls, was postponed due to COVID, just 10 days before our event.”

Based out of Grand River Health in Rifle, the program provides over 20,000 nutritious meals, and daily contact to homebound seniors, the disabled, and hospice clients from New Castle to Parachute/Battlement Mesa each year.

“This program has been running for 44 years,” Peck said. “We are more than just a meal, we definitely are.”

Given the current public health concerns, precautions due to COVID-19 have forced meal-delivery volunteers to practice social distancing, limiting the contact with clients. According to Peck, the program has had to make adjustments to keep volunteers and clients safe.

“We can’t do the chat at the door that normally happens, so we are setting up phone connections now so that our clients don’t feel the isolation even more. These personal relationships keep our drivers coming back. We say that our clients are our peeps, and we take care of our peeps.”

The program also provides birthday bags with handmade items for clients during their birthday months, and blizzard bags with emergency food and supplies for the winter.

“We even have a 4-H student who makes festive cookies for special holidays,” Peck said. “Our people are well cared for and loved by this community.”

Glenwood professional service providers adapting to new work-from-home requirements

Glenwood Springs-area professional service providers were just two days into adapting workplace environments to cut in-office staff by half when the “stay-at-home” order came from the state health officials last week.

Delivering client services through it all has been a challenge, as businesses such as real estate agencies, business accounting and payroll, and law firms have been adjusting day-to-day with the ever-changing state public health orders to try to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The latest directive, issued late in the day March 25, asked “non-essential” businesses — including many professional services not related to banking and finance — to close physical workplaces and have employees work from home as much as possible.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for accountants and tax preparers, who were in the middle of tax season when the pandemic hit Colorado and the notion of “social distancing” was introduced as a way to control it.

Federal and state income tax filing deadlines have been extended until July 15 — instead of the usual April 15 deadline. 

Still, clients have a lot of questions, and perhaps even more so with the financial uncertainty, said Chris West, CEO of Dalby, Wendland and Co. CPAs, which has offices in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Aspen.

The firm normally has 28 employees working out of its Glenwood office, and 40 at the main offices in Grand Junction. Staff is now working at home, but maintaining client contacts remotely, he said.

“We do still have some critical functions that have to be done in-office, so we have some people in and out,” West said, noting that accounting and payroll services are considered “critical” services under the state order.

“Everyone has the ability to work from home, and we have policies for any circumstances where someone would need to be in the office,” he said. “We did have a little bit of foresight before the latest government announcements, and had a plan.” 

It did mean getting the technology in place for people to communicate with clients and coworkers from home. Again, much of that was already in the works as the professional service industry is always improving technology, he said.

“The main thing we want to do is make sure our business is in a position to be able to help clients, many of whom are in bad need of some advice right now,” West said.

Integrated Mountain Properties, which provides real estate sales and property management services out of its downtown Glenwood Springs office, has made similar adjustments.

Under normal circumstances, there can be between 15-20 people in and out of the office in a day.

Given the nature of the real estate business, though, it’s a rather mobile work environment, and a lot of the staff is able to work from home even in normal times, Bob Johnson, founder and executive vice president for Integrated, said.

Even before the new orders came down from the state, “We encouraged the team to work remotely whenever possible,” he said.

On the property and homeowner association management side, “We created remote meeting guidelines that have been effective and supported by the communities we manage.”

At the Balcomb and Green Law Offices in Glenwood Springs, where there are usually 16 in-office staff, plans were made before last week to move to a complete remote office environment if need be, law firm partner Chris Geiger said.

“Like most businesses, we have been closely monitoring the federal and state guidelines and making sure we are taking the proper steps for the safety of our clients and employees,” he said. “We’ve also been keeping an eye out for any new developments in the law, and how that might affect our clients in how they operate their businesses.

“We are somewhat fortunate in that we work in an information business, and we regularly communicate electronically with clients and among staff, so our ability to represent clients is not impaired,” Geiger added.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Roaring Fork Schools providing grab-and-go meals for all children during school closure

The Roaring Fork Schools will join Garfield Re-2 in providing free meals to all children during the ongoing school closure, beginning Monday, March 30 through the current mandated schools closure of April 17.

According to a Roaring Fork School District news release, all children 18 years of age and under will receive one breakfast and one lunch per day, regardless of where the child attends school.

“This program is not just for low-income households. it is for all children — no qualifications are required,” according to the release. 

“In recent weeks we have seen the shelves of our grocery stores empty. We know the need for food is great,” RFSD Food Services Director Michelle Hammond said in the release. “The Nutrition Service team is anxious to meet this basic need for the children of our community.”

Children do not have to be present to receive a meal; parents and guardians can pick up meals for their children.

Meals will be provided at 10 a.m. on weekdays in designated locations in each community, including specific school sites — Glenwood Springs Elementary School, Crystal River Elementary in Carbondale and Basalt Elementary — and at certain school bus route stops on a rolling schedule.

The locations and times are listed on the district website here. The meal delivery schedule may change in response to program participation and need, and any changes will be communicated immediately, according to the release.

“After each day, we are hoping to learn how we can continue to make this program better,” Jeff Gatlin, Chief Operating Officer for the district, said. “Whether it is the quantity of meals or the locations identified, our goal is to adjust as needed to ensure we are meeting the needs of our families and communities.”

Garfield Re-2 Schools began distributing pre-packaged meals on March 16, the first day of the state-ordered school closures. Any child 18 and under can get a free breakfast from 8 – 8:30 a.m. at any one of the following locations:

Rifle — Davidson Park, Cottonwood Park, Joyce Park, Centennial Park; Silt — Heron’s Nest RV Park; New Castle — Burning Mountain Park or Apple Tree Park. Lunches are available at the same locations from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.

The programs were made possible because the Colorado Department of Education received a waiver from the USDA that allows schools to offer an emergency feeding program that does not require meals to be provided in a group setting during the unanticipated school closure due to COVID-19. 

“Nutrition Service staff have been identified as essential employees and they have generously accepted this responsibility,” Hammond said. “I am sincerely grateful to each staff member for their selfless commitment ensuring meals will be provided.”


Las escuelas Roaring Fork ofrecen servicio de comida para llevar a todos los niños durante el cierre escolar. 

Las escuelas Roaring Fork proporcionarán comidas gratuitas y nutritivas a todos los niños durante el próximo cierre escolar que comenzará el lunes 30 de marzo hasta el viernes 17 de abril.

Todos los niños menores de 18 años recibirán un desayuno y un almuerzo por día, independientemente de donde el niño asista a la escuela. Este programa no es sólo para los hogares de bajos ingresos: es para todos los niños – No es necesario calificar para este servicio. 

“En las últimas semanas hemos visto vacías las estanterías de nuestras tiendas de comestibles. Sabemos que la necesidad de comida es grande”, dijo la Directora de Servicios de Alimentos Michelle Hammond. “El equipo del Servicio de Nutrición está ansioso por satisfacer esta necesidad básica para los niños de nuestra comunidad.”

Los niños no tienen que estar presentes para recibir su comida; los padres y guardianes pueden recoger las comidas para sus hijos. Las comidas se proporcionarán de lunes a viernes en lugares designados en cada comunidad, incluyendo escuelas específicas y paradas en las rutas de autobús. Los lugares y las horas están detallados en la página web del distrito aquí. Este horario de entrega de comidas puede cambiar en respuesta a la participación y necesidad del programa. Cualquier cambio será comunicado inmediatamente. 

“Después de cada día, esperamos aprender cómo podemos seguir mejorando este programa,” dijo el director de operaciones Jeff Gatlin. “Ya sea que se trate de la cantidad de comidas o de los lugares identificados, nuestro objetivo es ajustar según sea necesario para asegurarnos de que estamos satisfaciendo las necesidades de nuestras familias y comunidades”.

Este programa es posible gracias a que el Departamento de Educación de Colorado recibió una exención del USDA que permite a las escuelas ofrecer un programa de alimentación de emergencia que no requiere que las comidas se proporcionen en un entorno de grupo durante el cierre imprevisto de la escuela debido a COVID-19. 

“El personal del Servicio de Nutrición ha sido identificado como empleados esenciales y han aceptado generosamente esta responsabilidad”, dijo Hammond. “Estoy sinceramente agradecido a cada miembro del personal por su generoso compromiso de asegurar que las comidas sean distribuidas.”

Doctor’s Tip: An immune-boosting grocery shopping list

This is another column in a series about your body’s five defense mechanisms: immune system; angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels); regeneration (stem cells); microbiome; and DNA protection.

In these days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important not only to do your best to avoid the virus, but also to have an optimal immune system — which helps prevent infection, but also helps you fight it off if you are infected. Furthermore, an optimal immune system also helps prevent cancer, by destroying cancer cells as soon as they appear.

Eating the right foods boosts your immunity — particularly plants that are intensely flavored (herbs and spices) and/or intensely colored. These plant foods are loaded with antioxidants and other immune-boosting micronutrients. Following is a shopping list to help you make food choices that will boost your immunity and thereby directly decrease your chances of acquiring COVID-19 and particularly of dying from it. Eating these foods will also indirectly decrease your risk of severe COVID-19 illness by preventing, treating and in many cases reversing the chronic diseases associated with increased COVID risk: hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

VEGETABLES

• We tell people to eat the colors of the rainbow. Examples are green leafy vegetables of any kind (such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, chard, arugula), red cabbage, red onions, peppers, beets, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and eggplant.

• Cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, bok choy, radishes, arugula, water cress, mustard greens, collard greens and turnip greens. They are very healthful and contain a strong cancer-fighting substance that is destroyed by cooking. (So include some raw cruciferous vegetables in your salads or before eating cooked ones).

• Legumes: beans, lentils, chick peas and split peas.

• Allium family of vegetables, which includes onions, garlic, shallots, leaks and chives.

MUSHROOMS

They are a fungus rather than a vegetable, and the “intense color and/or flavor rule” doesn’t apply. Eating them a few times a week boosts your immunity.

HERBS AND SPICES

There are too many to mention here, but use them to add flavor to your meals. Turmeric, which is both intensely flavored and intensely colored, is the “king of health-promoting spices.” Adding black pepper to turmeric increases the effectiveness by 1,000 times.

FRESH (BUT NOT DRIED) FRUIT

Again, intense color is important: oranges, pink grapefruit, mangoes, papaya, watermelon, kiwi fruit, dark grapes, dark plums, berries. Bananas, while not unhealthy, are a white fruit, and overrated as a health food.

WHOLE (UNPROCESSED) GRAINS

Intense color applies to grains as well, so the most healthful rice is black (“forbidden”) rice, next best red rice, followed by brown rice. Avoid white rice because it’s refined and has minimal nutrients. When buying grain-based foods such as tortillas, watch for added sodium and sugar (4 grams = 1 teaspoonful). Check the food label and make sure the total carb:fiber ratio is 5:1 or less (multiply the fiber number by 5, and if the result is same or greater than the number for total carbs, that product has lots of healthy fiber and whole grains). Dr. Fuhrman says “the whiter your bread, the sooner you’re dead.”

HOW ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS?

If you eat the aforementioned plant foods, you will be getting all the vitamins and minerals you need, the way we evolved to get them — through the food we eat. We did not evolve to get them in pill form, and doing so can actually cause problems including harming your immunity. There are two caveats however: 1) Vegans and older omnivores need to take 1,000 mcg. of B12 daily (B12 is made by bacteria in dirt, and with treated water and pre-washed produce, we don’t eat much dirt these days). 2) Most people are low in vitamin D3, and need to take a 2,000 unit supplement every day.

MORE INFORMATION?

• Dr. Michael Greger’s book “How Not to Die” — the second half includes his daily dozen, foods we should be eating every day, why and how much.

• “Eat to Beat Disease, The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself,” by William Li, M.D.

• “Super Immunity,” by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Summary: Do what you can to avoid COVID-19, but also eat to support your immune system.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He gives a free presentation at 7 p.m. the first Monday of the month at the Third Street Center in Carbondale; is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718); and conducts a shop-with-a-doc session at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month at Carbondale City Market.

Garfield County community members working to keep Spanish speakers informed during virus crisis

At one point during his Spanish-language radio show a couple of weeks ago — amid the latest flurry of state public health orders related to the coronavirus — it occurred to Axel Contreras that he needed to change up the way he was delivering information.

His KQSE La Nueva Mix radio signal broadcasts throughout Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties, and the questions were coming faster than he could field them or find the people to answer them.

What exactly people are being asked to do and how it relates to public health and their own health is hard enough for the general population to understand, given the pace of evolving orders and updates. 

But it can be particularly difficult for the Latino community, Contreras said Friday as he was preparing for his daily 2-6 p.m. show from his home studio in New Castle.

“I try to answer questions, and when I can’t answer something I search everywhere I can for those answers,” he said. 

With radio, it’s hard to know how many people are listening, so he decided to try something new. 

In the middle of his radio show, he simultaneously started doing a Facebook Live newscast to further share the latest information and encourage more interaction, not only from people with questions, but from the experts who might have the answers.

“I had more than 800 people connected on the first session, and when I finished the broadcast 10,000 people had viewed it,” Contreras said. “By the next day, it had 20,000 views.”

Over the course of that first week, his broadcasts had a quarter-million views.

“(Thursday), I had the lady who is in charge of Latino outreach in Eagle County explaining the stay-at-home order, and who can go to work and who can’t,” Contreras said.

The dual format can also more effectively help dispel rumors and misinformation, which he said is just as rampant in the Spanish-speaking community as in the general population.

And, for a culture that’s highly social, it became a way to explain the importance of social distancing during the public health emergency.

“It’s just another way to have a community gathering and say, ‘let’s talk,’” Contreras said. “If I don’t know the answer, I search for the right people to find the answer.”

Other media resources for the area Spanish-speaking population have also been providing up-to-date information, including Entravision Communications’ Radio La Tricolor Aspen. The station has been focused on sifting through the state, local and federal aid programs and providing answers, Vice President Samuel Bernal-Urbina told the Aspen Times.

Bernal and others also created a Facebook public group called Coronavirus Aspen 2 Parachute Community Help to answer questions and serve as a clearinghouse for providing help to people in need. Most people are posting in Spanish but all posts can be translated.

El Montanés, a twice-monthly print publication that includes a mix of local, state and world news and locally relevant information, has also been focused on coronavirus news.

“We’ve been running stories about this since January, so we took it really seriously from the beginning,” Editor Veronica Whitney said. “It’s been our cover now for three weeks.”

Whitney said it has also been equally important to make sure her readers know about the 2020 Census. That information, and people’s participation in the Census, is even more important now, she said.

Much of the information coming from officials sources, including the county health departments and schools, is provided in Spanish in addition to English. 

Organizations such as the Valley Settlement Project and the Roaring Fork Schools Family Services have been staying in close contact with the families they serve to make sure they are informed and have the resources they need during a difficult time.

“Our work is certainly shifting, given the new crisis,” said Anna Cole, interim director for the schools-based Roaring Fork Family Services. “It was a little awkward because just as things started to escalate we went on spring break.”

Even so, each of the schools’ bilingual family liaisons worked to maintain contact with families during the past two weeks, she said.

Starting Monday, liaisons will resume regular wellness checks to make sure they know how to access resources for health and economic assistance.

“People are scared, and I imagine we will begin to see a lot of new families who are suddenly struggling,” Cole said of the economic fallout from the global pandemic and attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19 locally and statewide.

“It’s really important to get our contacts in place now, because the sense is we’re going to need those resources soon,” she said.

Part of the school district’s response will be to distribute breakfast and lunch meals five days a week to any school-aged student who needs them, starting on Monday in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The Garfield Re-2 schools are also continuing meal distributions in Rifle, Silt and New Castle while schools remain closed due to the public health crisis.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Garfield County reports first death of person with COVID-19

A woman in her 70s who tested positive for COVID-19 died Saturday, a news release from Garfield County Public Health reports.

The release states the woman “had other significant health conditions” and that the county “extends deep condolences to the family members of the woman for their loss.”

No other information about the woman was available Saturday.

County public health urged people to continue practicing social distancing and to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

Garfield County’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 came March 14. As of Saturday, there were 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The total number of positive cases is unlikely to represent how widespread COVID-19 is in Garfield County, as testing is being made available only for those who are critically ill in a high-risk group where diagnosis would benefit treatment.

Parachute police officer tests positive for COVID-19

A Parachute Police Department officer has tested positive for COVID-19, Town Manager Stuart McArthur said Wednesday, but the community’s other officers continue to serve the public.

The Parachute Police Department have gloves and N95 masks as personal protective equipment, McArthur said, and they continue to respond to calls.

“The town of Parachute is trying to inform the community as much as possible. We have closed town hall, requesting that everyone use the safe distancing and sheltering in place.

“We encourage people to be as safe as they possibly can. If they need something from the town, please call. We’re here to help,” McArthur said.

Most municipal services are temporarily closed or suspended, or staff is working remotely. Parachute’s public works staff are still working, as is the town manager and financial director.

“Right now, the only people who are working at the town are essential services,” McArthur said.

The positive test result for the Parachute officer was returned earlier this week. The officer who tested positive was not symptomatic when last on the force, McArthur said.

“My understanding from the police chief is that (the officer who tested positive) was not exhibiting any symptoms,” McArthur said.

If someone is not exhibiting symptoms, the risk of exposure to others is lower, county health officials explained.

“Regarding asymptomatic transmission, people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the Garfield County Public Health Department said in a statement.

Parachute police have not requested additional patrol officers from local law enforcement agencies, but that is an option through the mutual aid arrangement between local agencies, McArthur said.

Due to medical privacy laws, further information about the positive COVID-19 case was not available.

Garfield County has 16 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The state health department is counting cases where patients with COVID-19 symptoms and contact with other confirmed cases as positive, even if there hasn’t been a formal test done by the state.

tphippen@postindependent.com

55-year-old man second reported death in Pitkin County related to COVID-19

A 55-year-old man confirmed Friday as Aspen’s second COVID-19-related death lay dead in his home for two days before he was found by police officers during a welfare check, an official said.

Pauli Laukkanen was found Tuesday and “had reported minimal symptoms of night sweats and fever several days before his death” but died Sunday, according to a news release from Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers. Confirmation that Laukkanen died of COVID-19 complications came Friday, the release states.

“(Laukkanen) was from Sweden but has lived in Aspen for many years,” according to the release.

A 94-year-old man who died at his Aspen home Tuesday was confirmed Thursday as Pitkin County’s first death related to the coronavirus. The man’s identity was still not available Friday pending notification of next of kin, Ayers said Friday afternoon.

Pitkin County officials are awaiting COVID-19 test results on one more recent death in the county, though they don’t believe it’s related to the virus, he said.

Through Thursday, Colorado public health officials reported 1,734 total cases in 42 of the state’s 64 counties, with 31 deaths and 239 people hospitalized, according to the agency’s website. Pitkin County had 25 positive COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, according to the state’s website.

Much of the county’s population — including Aspen — is under orders from the Pitkin County Public Health Department and Gov. Jared Polis to remain at home in an effort to control spread of the virus. Officials have asked visitors and second homeowners to return to their primary places of residence during the pandemic.

Along those lines, all short-term rental businesses, including hotels and lodges, were ordered to cease operations, to comply with local and state health orders requiring all persons to shelter in place and limit transmission of coronavirus in the community, according to a news release Friday from the city of Aspen.

The city forbade further bookings or occupancy of short-term rentals in Aspen until public health orders have been lifted, the release states.

Short-term rentals are classified as lodge and residential properties that are available for occupancy for a period less than 30 consecutive days.

The announcement includes hotels, motels, lodges, condo-hotels, bed and breakfasts, and any other lodging types as defined by the city. Privately-owned residential property within the city limits being used as a short-term rental, whether through an online booking service, local property manager, or any other means, and with or without a valid city vacation rental permit also was included.

Exemptions are limited to local residents using short-term rentals as a permanent residence, anyone in quarantine or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and self-isolating, or anyone able to demonstrate good cause for maintaining residence in a short-term rental to comply with public health orders.

Outdoor recreation during COVID-19: Forest Service limits some access, backcountry open

COVID-19 lockdown has touched every aspect of life in the Roaring Fork Valley, including the great outdoors.

While outdoor recreation is expressly allowed under Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order, there are still restrictions, and the White River National Forest is tightening access in some areas.

“Most backcountry access points and trails remain open,” the Forest Service said in a news release.

But the Forest Service will close developed recreational facilities like rental cabins, toilets and group sites through April 30, a Friday news release states.

The popular Hanging Lake trail is closed through at least April 11, and no permits are available for purchase until after that date.

The boat ramps at Grizzly Creek and Shoshone are currently open.

The Vail Pass Winter Recreation area is open from the Redcliff and Camp Hale access points, but the Interstate 70 parking lot is closed.

Backcountry trails are open, but that could change if authorities see violations of the social distancing orders.

“The Forest Service will be monitoring access points and adjusting management of these areas as appropriate to best meet social distancing direction and keep group sizes small. Safe and responsible use of our national forests will reduce impacts to local communities who may be at risk from the virus,” according to a Forest Service fact sheet.

Polis’ order, which took effect Thursday, tells all Coloradans to stay home for the next few weeks to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, unless someone is running necessary errands, working in an essential role, or going outside for exercise.

 “We want people to be able to get outside,” said Carrie Godes, spokeswoman for the Garfield County Public Health department.

Outdoor recreation is important, but further restrictions could be put in place if social distancing guidelines are not followed, Godes said.

“Right now it’s a privilege, and I would encourage people not to ruin that privilege. We want people to be healthy, to get outside, to breath clean air, to get physical exercise,” Godes said.

But locally, some activities and access to public lands has already been restricted.

“I think an example of that is Sunlight being closed, due to a number of factors, but some of those were social distancing complaints in the parking lot,” Godes said.

Godes also asked that people be careful in the backcountry since a medical emergency there would draw upon needed resources from local hospitals during the pandemic.

The governor’s order lists many activities as examples of allowable activities, such as “walking, hiking, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, biking or running.”

Those and other activities must assume social distancing, and some physical recreation should be avoided altogether under the governor’s order.

“I don’t know if there’s a way to practice social distancing in soccer that would be exempt,” Godes said.

Violation of the governor’s order could be punished by up to $1,000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail.

But local law enforcement would ask potential violators to voluntarily comply with the order first.

“The first step that they’re going to take is an educational approach, asking for compliance,” Godes said.

If the matter escalates, it could result in a cease and desist letter and eventually a citation.

tphippen@postindependent.com