Toussaint column: Covid-19 Hotspots and Lessons from the Lake Christine Fire | PostIndependent.com
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Toussaint column: Covid-19 Hotspots and Lessons from the Lake Christine Fire

Nicolette Toussaint

When I moved to the Roaring Fork Valley about 10 years ago, I was astonished to learn that some Aspenites brag about never venturing down the valley past the Aspen roundabout. I soon learned that some Glenwoodies had no use for Aspen.

Covid-19 couldn’t care less. Like the Lake Christine fire, it pays no attention to lines humans have drawn on a map. It goes wherever the wind blows.

I wish – how I wish! – we could collaborate and communicate now like we did then.

I had planned to write this column about what our Valley was doing in relation to the recent uptick in Covid-19 cases: one cluster connected to Basalt High School and City Market in El Jebel, plus an additional 40 new cases in Garfield County. I wanted to answer two questions: 1) What social distancing requirements are in place in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, El Jebel, Basalt and Aspen? 2) How are those mandates being enforced?

Because we live amidst a crazy quilt of governmental entities, that winds up being ten questions, not two. When I realized that the column’s research was going to take more than a day, I quickly scrapped that idea.

If a local – one with a journalism backgroud – can’t easily figure what’s required where and when, I truly fear what’s going to happen when tourists start arriving from Texas, Arizona and hotspots to recreate, eat in our restaurants and cross invisible town and county lines.

My friend Robin Waters put it well: “There’s a special challenge in creating a single message that facilitates knowledge and compliance. We have three counties, five towns (six if you include Marble/Redstone), plus the state and numerous sources of information, and all are constantly being updated. But the reality is that the Valley is interconnected and interactive, with thousands of people flowing up and down and through from the I-70 corridor….”

I live mid-valley, in Carbondale. I buy home repair supplies in Glenwood and plants in El Jebel. If I get sick, I will go to one of two hospitals, located at either end of this 50-mile long mountain trough.

I’m now suffering severe double vision; I need eye surgery. The one place I would choose to get that surgery, outside of Denver, is Aspen Valley Hospital. Assuming I can even manage to schedule this “elective” procedure in this time of Covid-19, I’m going to have to go though three counties to show up for it.

That’s worrisome, especially with tourists thrown into the mix. Unless I must stop for gas, I’m going to drive the speed limit with the windows rolled up. (At the beginning of this, because of the Covid-19 cluster around Vail, I avoided Costco and Eagle County like the plague.)

Because official information about local conditions is so fragmented and oblique, I get most of mine via multiple local Covid-related Facebook groups. My friend “Roaring Fork Valley: Aspen to Glenwood Springs news, views and events” – started by my friend Robin (and dedicated to the idea that the Roaring Fork Valley is an interconnected community) is a good one. Recent local Covid outbreaks have prompted a flurry of discussion about whether mask ordinances are being enforced and what local businesses are doing (or not doing) in response.

To date, I haven’t heard of anyone getting fined for not wearing a mask – about equivalent to a parking ticket – and I have only seen one person asked to wear a mask. An unmasked woman had followed me into White House Pizza, and restaurant staff asked her to please wear a mask. The town’s mask requirement was clearly signposted, but the woman had walked past the signs, oblivious.

The woman nodded and left. No big deal.

I’m truly grateful for the hard work and patience shown by both local public officials and essential workers. They’re working long hours, often at personal risk, and in an political environment where no good deed goes unpunished.

But, where communication is concerned, we could do better. Remember the Lake Christine fire?

During that time, I was editor of Roaring Fork Lifestyle magazine and wrote an article that included this sentence: “Doug Cupp, the Fire Chief for the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, led a response that ultimately involved 38 agencies and nonprofits, including local towns and counties, police, firefighters, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the US Forest Service and the BLM, the Roaring Fork School District, the Eagle County Airport, as well as food pantries, mental health organizations and animal shelters.”

Wow – 38 agencies and organizations! And somehow, we had daily briefings with coordinated information from a single source.

Sure wish we could do at with this Covid-19 fire.

Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.


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