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In Glenwood Springs, construction industry not immune to COVID-19

Construction at Two Rivers Park and infrastructure improvements planned for Cedar Crest’s roads and underlying infrastructure has been put on hold.

Last week, Gov. Jared Polis implemented a statewide stay-at-home order in an effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

Businesses deemed critical, however, can still operate including those that fall under the umbrella of construction.

Those businesses must comply with social distancing requirements per the public health order.

“What’s the intent of the order? It’s to be as aggressive at flattening the curve as we possibly can,” Karl Hanlon, Glenwood Springs city attorney, said.

While the order’s overall intent might be clear, exactly what it means with respect to construction depends on who you ask.

At a special city council meeting Thursday, councilors unanimously approved suspending construction at Two Rivers Park and postponing Cedar Crest’s upcoming work at least until this Thursday.

The Two Rivers Park Project began last October and was scheduled to conclude later this Spring.

Additionally, Gould Construction was ready to begin work on Cedar Crest’s roadway and underlying infrastructure improvements on April 6.

Council halted those two projects specifically — not all construction in Glenwood Springs.

Council will revisit that decision at Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

“Glenwood is taking a pretty conservative interpretation on all of the governor’s orders. That’s why we shut down Ride Glenwood a week-and-a-half ago,” Mayor Jonathan Godes said. “Just because Garfield County or other communities haven’t taken the same viewpoint as we have, doesn’t mean that we’re wrong or they’re wrong.”

Pitkin County recently ordered all residential and commercial construction sites not considered essential infrastructure to shut down by April 1.

On the other hand, Garfield County is allowing construction to continue so long as workers adhere to social distancing requirements and other safety protocols.

In Garfield County, construction workers must stay 6 feet apart and job sites cannot have more than 10 employees present at any given time.

Local contractor Gould Construction was ready to break ground on the Cedar Crest Project in Glenwood Springs, but now doesn’t know when that work will begin.

Gould Construction Chairman Mark Gould said the company was strictly adhering to all of the safety guidelines set forth and insisted work could be done safely.

“We can create social distancing in our business,” Gould said. “We’re asking everybody questions…We’re taking temperatures, we’re making people drive in their separate vehicles.”

One Gould Construction employee was in quarantine for 14 days — not because they tested positive for COVID-19 — but because one of their family members did, Gould said.

Gould, being a seasonal contractor, has approximately 50 employees in the winter and 100 during the summer.

“We’re looking forward to hiring those 50 people back,” Gould said. “We’re not endangering the public’s lives.”

Although the Two Rivers Park and Cedar Crest projects have been put on hold for the time being, future ones like the reconstruction of South Midland remain on track.

“Everything is proceeding and all the designers are working remotely,” said Terri Partch, Glenwood Springs city engineer.

Additionally, Public Works Director Matthew Langhorst said city employees were still sweeping streets and filling potholes in teams of one or two.

“If meetings, coordination or construction cannot be done effectively and safely per council direction, public works would stop that project and wait until the crisis allows for work to move forward,” Langhorst said.


Glenwood professional service providers adapting to new work-from-home requirements

Glenwood Springs-area professional service providers were just two days into adapting workplace environments to cut in-office staff by half when the “stay-at-home” order came from the state health officials last week.

Delivering client services through it all has been a challenge, as businesses such as real estate agencies, business accounting and payroll, and law firms have been adjusting day-to-day with the ever-changing state public health orders to try to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The latest directive, issued late in the day March 25, asked “non-essential” businesses — including many professional services not related to banking and finance — to close physical workplaces and have employees work from home as much as possible.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for accountants and tax preparers, who were in the middle of tax season when the pandemic hit Colorado and the notion of “social distancing” was introduced as a way to control it.

Federal and state income tax filing deadlines have been extended until July 15 — instead of the usual April 15 deadline. 

Still, clients have a lot of questions, and perhaps even more so with the financial uncertainty, said Chris West, CEO of Dalby, Wendland and Co. CPAs, which has offices in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Aspen.

The firm normally has 28 employees working out of its Glenwood office, and 40 at the main offices in Grand Junction. Staff is now working at home, but maintaining client contacts remotely, he said.

“We do still have some critical functions that have to be done in-office, so we have some people in and out,” West said, noting that accounting and payroll services are considered “critical” services under the state order.

“Everyone has the ability to work from home, and we have policies for any circumstances where someone would need to be in the office,” he said. “We did have a little bit of foresight before the latest government announcements, and had a plan.” 

It did mean getting the technology in place for people to communicate with clients and coworkers from home. Again, much of that was already in the works as the professional service industry is always improving technology, he said.

“The main thing we want to do is make sure our business is in a position to be able to help clients, many of whom are in bad need of some advice right now,” West said.

Integrated Mountain Properties, which provides real estate sales and property management services out of its downtown Glenwood Springs office, has made similar adjustments.

Under normal circumstances, there can be between 15-20 people in and out of the office in a day.

Given the nature of the real estate business, though, it’s a rather mobile work environment, and a lot of the staff is able to work from home even in normal times, Bob Johnson, founder and executive vice president for Integrated, said.

Even before the new orders came down from the state, “We encouraged the team to work remotely whenever possible,” he said.

On the property and homeowner association management side, “We created remote meeting guidelines that have been effective and supported by the communities we manage.”

At the Balcomb and Green Law Offices in Glenwood Springs, where there are usually 16 in-office staff, plans were made before last week to move to a complete remote office environment if need be, law firm partner Chris Geiger said.

“Like most businesses, we have been closely monitoring the federal and state guidelines and making sure we are taking the proper steps for the safety of our clients and employees,” he said. “We’ve also been keeping an eye out for any new developments in the law, and how that might affect our clients in how they operate their businesses.

“We are somewhat fortunate in that we work in an information business, and we regularly communicate electronically with clients and among staff, so our ability to represent clients is not impaired,” Geiger added.


Garfield County community members working to keep Spanish speakers informed during virus crisis

At one point during his Spanish-language radio show a couple of weeks ago — amid the latest flurry of state public health orders related to the coronavirus — it occurred to Axel Contreras that he needed to change up the way he was delivering information.

His KQSE La Nueva Mix radio signal broadcasts throughout Garfield, Eagle and Summit counties, and the questions were coming faster than he could field them or find the people to answer them.

What exactly people are being asked to do and how it relates to public health and their own health is hard enough for the general population to understand, given the pace of evolving orders and updates. 

But it can be particularly difficult for the Latino community, Contreras said Friday as he was preparing for his daily 2-6 p.m. show from his home studio in New Castle.

“I try to answer questions, and when I can’t answer something I search everywhere I can for those answers,” he said. 

With radio, it’s hard to know how many people are listening, so he decided to try something new. 

In the middle of his radio show, he simultaneously started doing a Facebook Live newscast to further share the latest information and encourage more interaction, not only from people with questions, but from the experts who might have the answers.

“I had more than 800 people connected on the first session, and when I finished the broadcast 10,000 people had viewed it,” Contreras said. “By the next day, it had 20,000 views.”

Over the course of that first week, his broadcasts had a quarter-million views.

“(Thursday), I had the lady who is in charge of Latino outreach in Eagle County explaining the stay-at-home order, and who can go to work and who can’t,” Contreras said.

The dual format can also more effectively help dispel rumors and misinformation, which he said is just as rampant in the Spanish-speaking community as in the general population.

And, for a culture that’s highly social, it became a way to explain the importance of social distancing during the public health emergency.

“It’s just another way to have a community gathering and say, ‘let’s talk,’” Contreras said. “If I don’t know the answer, I search for the right people to find the answer.”

Other media resources for the area Spanish-speaking population have also been providing up-to-date information, including Entravision Communications’ Radio La Tricolor Aspen. The station has been focused on sifting through the state, local and federal aid programs and providing answers, Vice President Samuel Bernal-Urbina told the Aspen Times.

Bernal and others also created a Facebook public group called Coronavirus Aspen 2 Parachute Community Help to answer questions and serve as a clearinghouse for providing help to people in need. Most people are posting in Spanish but all posts can be translated.

El Montanés, a twice-monthly print publication that includes a mix of local, state and world news and locally relevant information, has also been focused on coronavirus news.

“We’ve been running stories about this since January, so we took it really seriously from the beginning,” Editor Veronica Whitney said. “It’s been our cover now for three weeks.”

Whitney said it has also been equally important to make sure her readers know about the 2020 Census. That information, and people’s participation in the Census, is even more important now, she said.

Much of the information coming from officials sources, including the county health departments and schools, is provided in Spanish in addition to English. 

Organizations such as the Valley Settlement Project and the Roaring Fork Schools Family Services have been staying in close contact with the families they serve to make sure they are informed and have the resources they need during a difficult time.

“Our work is certainly shifting, given the new crisis,” said Anna Cole, interim director for the schools-based Roaring Fork Family Services. “It was a little awkward because just as things started to escalate we went on spring break.”

Even so, each of the schools’ bilingual family liaisons worked to maintain contact with families during the past two weeks, she said.

Starting Monday, liaisons will resume regular wellness checks to make sure they know how to access resources for health and economic assistance.

“People are scared, and I imagine we will begin to see a lot of new families who are suddenly struggling,” Cole said of the economic fallout from the global pandemic and attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19 locally and statewide.

“It’s really important to get our contacts in place now, because the sense is we’re going to need those resources soon,” she said.

Part of the school district’s response will be to distribute breakfast and lunch meals five days a week to any school-aged student who needs them, starting on Monday in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.

The Garfield Re-2 schools are also continuing meal distributions in Rifle, Silt and New Castle while schools remain closed due to the public health crisis.


Sunday Profile: Dani Carballo serves customers and community at EAT Bistro & Drinks

Although eating out has come to a halt, Dani Carballo is doing all she can to provide customers with a sense of normalcy.

These days, the EAT Bistro & Drinks server takes orders over the phone, bags up food and constantly sanitizes pens, all while adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

“It’s difficult,” Carballo said. “You don’t feel like you can make as much connection.”

Since March 17, a statewide public health order has prohibited eateries from offering sit-down service in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.  

Along New Castle’s Main Street, establishments like EAT Bistro & Drinks have had to rely entirely on revenue generated from to-go orders.

Prior to the pandemic, EAT, with the exception of a few soups and desserts, did not offer to-go food. 

While Carballo can’t bring hot plates of lobster mac-n-cheese to diners inside, she can still serve customers the hearty entrée to go.

“We’ve been so lucky to have such wonderful patrons that really care about the business and want us to survive,” Carballo said. “I’m just really appreciative that the community has embraced us so much.”

From the Front Range to the service industry’s frontlines

In 2010, Carballo decided to trade in Aurora’s hustle and bustle for the Roaring Fork River Valley’s serene settings. 

“Living in this valley, most everybody finds themselves at a restaurant job,” Carballo said.

From waiting tables at The Artisan in Snowmass to bartending at the Woody Creek Tavern, Carballo has earned a living serving others.

“We get to know people’s lives,” Carballo said. “What they’re like, what their kids are like and what their family is like when they bring them in.”

When COVID-19 started appearing in headlines across the country, at first, Carballo didn’t know what to make of the news.

Carballo, who also studies nursing at Colorado Mountain College, took the disease seriously but was unaware of how serious the situation would get.

“I didn’t realize we were going to have to shut down cities, states and countries in order to, sort of, get it under control,” Carballo said. “In some ways, this virus may show us how important it is to love your neighbor.”

The Offering

Carballo originally met EAT’s owners Molly Mogavero and Jeff Ellis while walking her two Australian shepherds through New Castle.

“She’s just a blessing right now,” Mogavero said of Carballo. 

Mogavero and Ellis’ passion for home-cooked meals, handcrafted cocktails and most of all community inspired Carballo to start working at EAT a little over a month ago.

“I adore the whole operation,” Carballo said. “I’ve always appreciated how community-oriented they are.”

Every morning, outside of EAT, Mogavero and Ellis have set out everything from baguettes to quiche for anyone in need during the pandemic. 

“Maybe it just puts a smile on someone’s face because it’s homemade and it’s made with love,” Mogavero said. “We call it the offering.”

Mogavero said that just because grocery stores remain open, doesn’t mean everyone has a paycheck to purchase groceries. 

For Mogavero and Ellis, meeting the needs of the community has and always will be EAT Bistro & Drinks’ core ingredient. 

“We’re going to continue to work until the government tells us we can’t,” Mogavero said.mabennett@postindependent.com