Garfield commissioners make case to keep county from moving to stricter Covid business restrictions
The psychological impact of rolling back to tighter business restrictions to try to curb Covid-19 transmission locally might be worse than the risk of disease spread itself, Garfield County commissioners advised in a meeting with state health officials Tuesday.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky doesn’t think it would have much impact at all on the rate of spread. But the negative impacts of limiting business activity could be devastating, he said.
“What you’re saying to us, is put this on the backs of small businesses; our retail shops, restaurants, the middle class,” Jankovsky said in response to a recommendation from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Chief of Staff Mara Brosy-Wiwchar that the county move from the “yellow” (concern) level of restrictions to “orange” (high risk).
“We know that they can’t take another shutdown,” he said.
However, Brosy-Wiwchar did indicate when asked that individual municipalities could adopt the tighter restrictions, even if the county as a whole does not.
“If municipalities want to tighten things up, they have every right to do so,” Commission Chairman John Martin said. “We do wish to work with everyone, and look at the guidance from the state … (but) we just cannot continue to push people down a road that they will not go down.”
Brosy-Wiwchar requested the special videoconference meeting with the commissioners Tuesday to discuss the county’s surge in new coronavirus cases, which is similar to the trends seen in neighboring Eagle, Pitkin and Mesa counties, and elsewhere in the state.
Many counties have moved to the orange level, which restricts restaurants and most other businesses, as well as churches, to 25% of their building occupancy capacity.
Existing state-approved variances for attractions including the Hot Springs Pool, Iron Mountain Hot Springs and the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park would not be impacted if the county switched to the higher level of restrictions, Brosy-Wiwchar clarified.
“We have seen remarkable community transmission across Colorado based on the latest metrics,” she said, referring to the state’s Covid-19 dial. The dial measures risk levels based on the 14-day incidence rate, test positivity rate and hospital capacity.
Garfield County is in the “red” (severe risk) range based on its current incidence rate of 623.3 cases per 100,000 people, and its positivity rate of 12% is at “orange.”
Hospital capacity so far still remain in check, falling into the least-restrictive “green” category.
For now, the state is continuing to monitor where Garfield County as a whole sits within those metrics, but if local hospitals start to max out, the state could step in.
“While we collaborate with counties about the need to move on the dial, once that movement occurs, they are expected to enact and enforce those restrictions,” CDPHE said in a statement provided to the Post Independent following the meeting. “A county’s move on the dial depends on two-week cumulative incidence rate, positivity rate and hospitalization rates.”
Added Brosy-Wiwchar during the Tuesday meeting, “Movement on the dial does not signify a punishment or a downgrade, but is the appropriate amount of opening for the level of transmission that’s happening in your county.”
Commissioners said they believe measures can be taken within the current restrictions to try to limit virus spread.
“There are other ways we can go about this,” Jankovsky said. “(County) Public Health has done a good job of mitigation … and people are becoming very aware of what’s going on in our communities. But they don’t want to move again (to tighter restrictions).”
To press home the point that mask-wearing and following of public health restrictions is mandatory for businesses — both for employees and patrons — the county is stepping up its complaint-driven outreach, Jankovsky said.
If a complaint is filed regarding a certain business, public health has been directed reach out with a reminder about the rules, he said.
“If it happens another time, the name of that business comes before this board and becomes public,” Jankovsky warned.
State health officials on Tuesday also changed the metrics dial to include the interim “red” or severe risk level, which would fall just short of the new “purple” level. The purple level would constitute a stay-at-home order, similar to what was in place in the spring.
Jankovsky noted that the vast majority of Covid-19 cases in Garfield County, about 70%, have involved residents between the ages of 15 and 49.
“Where we are seeing cases now is not in the vulnerable populations,” he said, noting that the county’s measures have served to protect older residents and those at greater risk if they were to contract the virus.
“I believe in this community, and know we will do everything we can to get this under control,” Jankovsky said.
CDPHE advised in its follow-up statement, “We are at a pivotal juncture, and we continue to move in the wrong direction. We must do all we can to ensure hospitals have the capacity to care for everyone who needs it.
“We need everyone to wear a mask, avoid socializing with anyone outside of their households, and physically distance.”
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