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State: Harsher restrictions coming to Pitkin County next week

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

With COVID-19 on the increase in Pitkin County, state public health officials have decided to move the county to the next level of restrictions Wednesday.

That was the word Thursday from Public Health Director Karen Koenemann, who said her state counterparts told her they were changing rules that would previously have allowed Pitkin County two weeks to bring case numbers down, and instead almost immediately moving the county to the orange, high-risk level restrictions.

“They accelerated the timeline,” Koenemann said. “We are moving in to orange on Wednesday. I think what’s happening is that we’re seeing such rapid transmission across the state.”

Orange-level restrictions set capacity at restaurants, retail businesses, places of worship, gyms and most other businesses at 25%, down from 50% under the current yellow restrictions. Restaurants will have to close at 10 p.m. under the new restrictions starting Wednesday, as opposed to 11 p.m. previously, while sports leagues must move online or outside in groups less than 10.

Businesses in Aspen and Pitkin County were warned of the possible change earlier Thursday during a town hall meeting and efforts by the county to help them deal with it, County Manager Jon Peacock said. After the meeting, the state notified the county that it will definitely move to orange-level restrictions Wednesday, he said.

Jordana Sabella, a public health official at that meeting with businesses earlier Thursday, said business owners were in favor of implementing the stronger restrictions sooner rather than later. They thought it better to start bringing the numbers down now rather than waiting two weeks, she said. “Better to do it now than Christmas or New Year’s week,” Peacock said.

Sabella also said the business community understands the economy depends on the community getting spread of the virus under control.

Koenemann said public health officials are bracing for another spike in cases after Thanksgiving and the opening of the ski mountains.

Pitkin County’s incidence rate — which is based on population — is the problem area lately. It must remain below 175 per 100,000 residents, but it has been above that number for the past 13 days, said Josh Vance, the county’s epidemiologist.

Pitkin County’s average incidence rate during the last 14 days is 287, and it peaked at 315 on Tuesday and 309 on Monday, according to Vance, who cited locally gathered information that may be a bit different than Pitkin County’s information that shows up on the state’s COVID-19 Dial.

“(The 287 number) is the highest it’s ever been,” said Vance, who noted that the incidence rate during the surge of cases in July peaked at 258. “It’s much higher than we’ve seen previously.”

Pitkin County has reported 56 new cases of the virus among county residents in the past 14 days, Vance said. Just 13 out-of-jurisdiction cases — people not from Pitkin County — have been reported for the past two weeks, which aren’t included in the 56 new cases, according to local statistics.

The rest of the state and the country also have seen skyrocketing virus case numbers, Vance said.

The incidence rate over the past 14 days in Summit County is 1,026, while Eagle County’s is 488 and Garfield County’s is 407, Vance said. Anything above 350 is classified as a lockdown or stay at home level — the red restrictions under the state’s COVID-19 Dial — should be implemented, according to the state’s metrics.

The county’s positivity rate is between 6% and 7% during the past two weeks, while the state’s is at 10%, he said. By contrast, South Dakota’s positivity rate is 51% — meaning 1 in 2 people who are tested are positive for COVID-19 — while Wyoming’s is 36% and Idaho’s is 39%.

Public health officials want to keep the positivity rate under 5%, which ensures that enough testing is being done to track the virus.

One-third of residents who test positive don’t know how they were infected, Vance said. More than 18% were infected within their households, 12% through out-of-state travel and 11.5% at work, Vance said.

The county has seen 13 outbreaks in the past month, with four traced to informal gatherings that caused 23 infections, he said. As of Thursday, 31 people were in isolation in Pitkin County, while 271 were under quarantine orders, he said. Of those 271, 201 are Pitkin County residents.

Aspen Valley Hospital is in a cautious phase with the number of tests it’s doing and the number of health care workers who are out sick, said Dave Ressler, hospital CEO. However, not all of those who are sick have COVID-19, and many more workers are out because they are under quarantine, he said.

The hospital continues to have a low number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

On Thursday at the Pitkin County Board of Health meeting, Koenemannn proposed several mitigation topics she said she wanted board members to talk to their constituents about. Those included municipal curfews, decreasing lodging capacity, requiring pledges or negative tests from travelers, re-adherence to wearing face masks and encouraging all employees who are able to work from home.

Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman liked the idea of traveler requirements.

“What I want to see is that they’ve been tested after they make a reservation (in Aspen or Pitkin County) and before they come to our valley,” said Poschman, who floated the idea of requiring an affidavit from travelers about their COVID-19 status.

Poschman also suggested having Aspen band together Colorado ski towns to collaborate on such traveler restrictions and pledges.


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