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Guest Opinion: COVID-19 double-jeopardy for Glenwood Springs

Sumner Schachter
Guest column
Sumner Schachter

Glenwood Springs is facing a twin crisis. We are facing a deadly pandemic and a major financial crisis. Glenwood could find itself in double jeopardy as we enter a new phase of the COVID crisis.

Glenwood is experiencing the huge financial losses that have accompanied the pandemic shutdown and “stay in place” provisions. The city and our businesses rely heavily on revenue from service and tourism from visitors to Glenwood. As we and the rest of the state and county consider easing restrictions, Glenwood faces “double jeopardy.” If our finances and businesses are to improve, we must have significant tourist visits. If we have significant tourist visits, we may significantly increase health risks due to a spike in coronavirus infections and another necessary shutdown/stay at home response.

Colorado has moved to the “Safer at Home” phase. Garfield County is applying for waivers to open more businesses more leniently than the state guidelines. Glenwood is considering how to implement newer state guidelines while protecting the safety of our citizens and rekindling economic growth. But Glenwood’s economic recovery and growth means more people from more places coming to our town.

The coronavirus is not “gone” and not even contained, according to most medical experts. We have been fortunate in having relatively few cases here and medical facilities have not been overwhelmed. This has likely been a result of Glenwood being relatively isolated and actions by our residents and businesses to shelter in place.

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How do we/should we balance economic and health needs? It is complicated and confusing especially with mixed and inconsistent information and policy practices on the national level. We are beginning to see rising “hot spots” where restrictions are being lifted. We know that businesses, particularly small local businesses, are suffering greatly and struggling with survival.

However, if we open up too quickly, we run the risk of the virus migrating here via our “bread and butter” visitors coming from all over the state and country. We do not have means to monitor, test or quarantine those who travel here once restrictions are lifted.

Most medical experts predict a significant second surge of illness and death if we open up unwisely. That may lead to another heavily restrictive stay in place type shutdown. This is a risk until we get a vaccine or herd immunity.

Many communities are opening up, and businesses and patrons are becoming more lax with safe distancing. Our Chamber Resort Association is prepping a campaign to incentivize and encourage visitors to return to Glenwood. Can we afford to open up, to open the pool, the hot springs, caverns, restaurants? Can we afford not to open up? I can’t imagine the angst and fear and pain of being a local business owner with zero business. The risk to frontline employees is also evident. How do we balance economic risk with the health risk to Glenwood from visitors from all over flocking to Glenwood?

Perhaps we should wait and see what happens in other eager communities before putting Glenwood at risk. Possible surges and new hot spots can serve as warnings to Glenwood as to how and when to open for business. Yes, we risk continued economic pain and loss by waiting, but our health and longer-term economic success may be better protected.

Because Glenwood relies so much on visitors with their heightened migratory risk of the virus and infection, we should consider going slower than other areas and protect our community from a surge of illness and pain.

We should tread deliberately and continue to limit visits to our area until we have more information and data and testing and tracing resources. We will learn relatively quickly from other areas what happens when restrictions are lifted, and then we can decide how to proceed in a more sustained way and help our suffering economy as well.

We should continue wearing face coverings (required) and continue with safe distancing and limited business openings and services. In the meantime, there will be a lot of economic suffering, and we should continue to do whatever possible to support our local businesses with donations, safely distanced purchases and support.

What will you do? Let our city councilors and decision makers know your thoughts about opening up our town. Should we open up for business and how much and how fast? Should we continue to wear face coverings? Can we monitor and control who comes to visit? Should our hotels and motels be open? Would you be willing to go and sit at a restaurant now? Would you be willing to go use our hot springs or ride a gondola? Let’s get input to our decision makers.

Our double jeopardy won’t go away, but we need to deal with it proactively or it will deal with us.

Sumner Schachter is a 50-year resident of Glenwood Springs, teacher and retired financial advisor. He is also co-founder of Imagine Glenwood.


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