Full Pitkin shutdown unlikely as discussions continue on curbing the rise of COVID cases

Austin Colbert
The Aspen Times
Liftie Ben Filger helps a family on to the Thunderbowl Lift at Aspen Highlands on Thanksgiving Day in Aspen on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. Aspen Skiing Company opened a run on Buttermilk and Highlands to spread skiers out during the holiday. Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times.

Various members of the Roaring Fork Valley community met virtually on Saturday to discuss the next steps in controlling the spread of COVID-19, with cases continuing to reach a new high nearly every day.

A Pitkin County Board of Health meeting is scheduled Monday afternoon that could lead to additional pandemic-related restrictions, although County Manager Jon Peacock said that as of Saturday evening there were no immediate plans to implement a complete shutdown, as was the case back in March.

“There certainly is recognition that the incidence rate we are seeing right now is a problem. We need to do something,” Peacock said Saturday. “The recommendation wasn’t for a full stay-at-home, but to try and find some additional things that we can do over the next few weeks to try and drive the incidence rate down. Staff’s recommendation has never been a full stay-at-home, and we are certainly not seeing that emerge from the community discussions we are having.”

The county currently is in the “Orange-plus-plus” safety level, essentially meaning most sectors are operating at the higher Red level, outside of indoor dining. Peacock did say a move fully to Red was possible come Monday, which would close indoor dining at restaurants — keeping outdoor dining and takeout — while also impacting hotels and on-mountain dining options at the area’s ski resorts.

A move to Purple, which is the most extreme level and includes a strict stay-at-home order, is unlikely, even though the county’s incidence rate remains the second-highest in the state, according to local epidemiology data.

Saturday’s discussion included representatives from many different industries in the valley, including restaurants, the Aspen Chamber of Commerce, Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen School District, among others.

“Today really was about getting more community feedback. I do think it’s important to note that staff’s recommendation was not about a generalized closure,” Peacock said. “It was more gathering ideas about are there more incremental things we can do a better job of to get this incidence rate down short of doing a full community stay-at-home order? I would note the stay-at-home order came up during the public comment phase of the board of health meeting, but that’s not something we necessarily had on the table at the staff level in recommending to the board.”

How a possible move to Red would impact the ski area remained unknown as of Saturday, but Peacock said there were no immediate plans to shut down any of the chairlifts. That being the case, he also said additional safety protocols are being considered without going into detail on what those may be.

“Can we do a better job with getting people to wear a mask and space out while they are there?” Peacock asked. “We are looking for additional opportunities to keep the ski areas safe to operate.”

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