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Roaring Fork Valley in winter storm warning through Monday with a foot or more of snow forecast for higher elevations

The first major snowstorm of the season is expected to roll into Colorado on Sunday afternoon with the mountains around Aspen and Carbondale seeing up to two feet of snow by Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

A winter storm warning is in effect starting Sunday morning until 6 p.m. Monday for nearly all of central and western Colorado, and travel is being discouraged, especially along Interstate 70 and over mountain passes.

Along with the snow, high winds and “bitterly cold temperatures” are in the NWS forecast.

The forecast calls for snow accumulations of “7 to 14 inches, with higher amounts nearing two feet in the higher portions of the Elk and West Elk Mountains. Winds gusting as high as 40 mph,” according to the weather service’s winter storm warning updated early Sunday morning.

The NWS is predicting most of the Colorado mountain ranges will see 6 to 12 inches, and locally higher amounts are possible “with the potential for a heavier snow band to develop and, depending on where the band sets up, snowfall totals could be much higher.”

The Aspen forecast calls for overnight lows Sunday and Monday in the single digits, and the high Monday at 32 degrees.

The Colorado Department of Transportation sent out a message Saturday night discouraging travel for the next two days.

“Chain and traction laws are likely (on I-70), so motorists should check tires before traveling and have chains or auto socks on hand,” the agency said in a news release Saturday evening. “CDOT continues to ask motorists to not travel to the high country, due to wildfire operations and evacuations. If travel in the high country is necessary, be sure to have an emergency kit in the event of road closures or delays due to winter weather.”

The drastic change in weather is expected to help the crews working on the East Troublesome (192,000 acres burned) and Cameron Peak (208,000 acres) fires burning in north central Colorado.

Those traveling through the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport should check with their airlines or go to aspenairport.com for updates. Two United flights to Denver scheduled to leave Sunday afternoon have been canceled, as of Sunday morning.

The Roaring Fork Schools are planning for grades 4-8 to return to in-person learning on Monday, along with K-3, which began last week. In-person classes could be cancelled due to inclement weather, but online coursework would still be expected under the district’s altered policies for this school year.

Aspen School District is also planning for middle school and high school students to return to in-person learning on Monday. District officials will send out a message by early Monday morning if classes are canceled.

Students, teachers at three Rifle schools latest to be sent to quarantine after positive COVID cases

The Garfield Re-2 School District has transitioned 81 students and nine educators at three Rifle schools to online instruction while in quarantine for 14 days, due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 and individuals experiencing symptoms.

The impacted schools are Rifle High School and Highland and Wamsley Elementary schools, the district said in a late Saturday news release..

“Garfield Re-2 was made aware of two separate situations that led to the quarantines,” according to the release. “The cases are not related.”

The district and building administrators are working with Garfield County Public Health on follow-up investigation and contact tracing. In the meantime:

  • Individuals diagnosed are being kept home from school until they are no longer infectious.
  • Activities when those individuals could have spread COVID-19 have been assessed.
  • The people who were close contacts of the person with COVID-19 have been instructed to stay home from school for 14 days (quarantine) after the exposure.

“Any child that was in at least one class or group as the person diagnosed with COVID-19, must follow quarantine instructions and stay home from school for 14 days from the date of exposure,” the district said in the release.

Impacted students will switch to online instruction beginning Monday, and will not be allowed back to school until their quarantine period completes, according to the release.

“Custodial staff has cleaned and disinfected the schools and they are prepared for the return of non-impacted students and staff.”

What to do if your child shows COVID-19 symptoms

Anyone who develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 — including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea — should:

  • Isolate until you/your child have had no fever for at least 24 hours (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) and other symptoms have improved.
  • Wait until at least 10 days have passed since you/your child were tested or your symptoms first appeared. A limited number of persons with severe illness may require an extended duration of isolation up to 20 days after symptoms first appear. (https://covid19.colorado.gov/how-to-isolate)
  • Have your child tested.
  • Continue to keep your child home from school and avoid other activities around other people.
  • Notify the school.
  • Seek medical care and testing for COVID-19, calling your doctor before you show up.

Questions can be directed to Garfield County Public Health 970-945-6614, or in Rifle at 970-625-5200.

Source: Garfield Re-2 School District

Colorado limits more gatherings as COVID cases spike

DENVER (AP) — Citing a steady increase in Colorado’s coronavirus hospitalization caseload, state health officials announced new limits Friday on personal gatherings of people from different households in more than two dozen counties.

An amended state health order affecting 29 of the state’s counties limits personal gatherings to 10 people from no more than two households. Gatherings of up to 25 people were previously permitted in those counties, Colorado Public Radio reported.

Personal gatherings in 30 other Colorado counties, including Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle, were already restricted to 10 people. No new limits were imposed for five counties with lesser caseloads.

The Department of Public Health and Environment said it took the action after investigators determined that COVID-19 cases associated with social gatherings and community exposure had been more common since July.

“We need to keep gatherings smaller and with people from fewer households — we are asking everyone to ‘shrink their bubble’ to reduce the spread,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the department’s executive director.

On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis appealed to residents to help stem what he called an alarming acceleration of new cases and hospitalizations. Upward trends in new confirmed cases and hospitalizations could strain hospital intensive-care capacity in December, the Democratic governor said.

There are roughly 1,800 intensive-care beds statewide for all health emergencies. More than three-quarters of those beds were occupied for all reasons over the week leading up to Monday, the state health department said.

The state reported 458 virus hospitalizations Friday. Health officials reported there were nearly 20 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents Friday, one of the highest, if not the highest, recorded rates of the pandemic.

More than 2,000 people have died of the virus in Colorado, which has reported more than 85,000 positive cases. The number of cases is probably higher because of a lack of testing and other reasons.

The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

WEEKEND COVID-19 UPDATE: Heightened concerns about coronavirus spread in Garfield County as incidence, test positivity rate increase

October 23 update from Garfield County Public Health (14-day period: 10/9-10/23):

Unfortunately, the incidence rate (amount of cases) and the average positivity (percent of tests that come back positive) continue to increase. Both are key indicators of the virus in the community.

The incidence rate is ‘very high’ at 208.1 cases per 100,000 people. Community spread decreased but remains in the ‘concerned’ tier. Test turnaround time was good with 71% of the positive test results coming back within two days. However, the influx of new cases reduced the contact tracing team’s ability to handle the volume and dipped for the first time into the ‘cautious’ category.

Recent cases both locally and statewide seem to be coming from small personal gatherings where people are less likely to remember COVID precautions such as social distancing and mask-wearing. Remember to stay committed to containment and to get tested within 48 hours if you develop symptoms.

The test positivity rate of 6.4% has also moved to the “cautious” level, while hospital capacity in Garfield County remains in the “comfortable” range.

Garfield County’s death total since the start of the outbreak is five.

Garfield County remains in the overall “cautious” level for risk of spread of COVID-19.

READ THE LATEST GarCo PUBLIC HEALTH UPDATE IN SPANISH.

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

Cumulative cases as of Saturday, Oct. 24: 1,125

Newly confirmed cases since Thursday: 27

Deaths since outbreak began: 5

KEY RISK INDICATORS (measures from lowest to highest risk level: Comfortable-Cautious-Concerned-Very High)

Concerned — Rolling two-week total of new cases: Oct. 10-23 – 125 (<30 needed to achieve Comfortable level)

Very High — Case rate per 100,000 people: 208.1 (<75 needed to achieve Comfortable level)

Cautious — Test positivity rate: 6.4% (<4% needed to return to Comfortable level)

Comfortable — Hospital System Capacity: >75%

Concerned — Days before seeking testing, 24-48 hours of symptom onset recommended: 50-65%% (>85% needed to achieve Comfortable level)

Cautious — Test turnaround time; results within 48 hours: 66-85% (>85% needed to achieve Comfortable level)

Cautious — Case interviews within 24 hours: >85%

Source: Garfield County Public Health

Active outbreaks in Garfield County

Garfield County Community Corrections, Rifle: Date determined, 10/19; 9 total confirmed cases, including 6 clients and 3 staff; facility in quarantine.

Rifle Housing Authority office/workspace: Date determined, 10/14; 2 confirmed cases among staff, 1 probable.

Tequila’s restaurant, Glenwood Springs: Date determined, 10/9; 3 confirmed cases among staff, 1 probable.

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment

Valley View Hospital Cumulative Stats 10/22/2020

Specimens collected through Valley View — 11,008 (+206 since 10/20)

Positive results — 520 (+9 since 10/20)

Pending results — 39

Hospitalizations since outbreak began — 75 (1 new since 10/20)

Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 66

Grand River Hospital Cumulative Stats 10/22/2020

Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 3,945 (+69 since 10/20)

Positive results — 279 (17 new since 10/20)

Pending results — 43

Hospitalizations since outbreak began — 13 (1 new since 10/20)

Patients discharged — 7

Patients transferred — 5

Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday

Garfield County Public Health statistics are updated daily, and hospitals report their latest statistics twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday.

Current public health measures in place for Garfield County

• Facial Coverings: Required in all settings, indoor or outdoor
• Events: 100 ppl max indoor |175 ppl max outdoor
• Private Gatherings/Groups: 10 ppl and no more than two households
• Personal Services (Salon, massage, spas, etc.): 50% capacity | 50 ppl max
• Restaurants: 50% capacity | 175 ppl max
• Gyms/Fitness/Pools: 50% capacity I 175 ppl max

• Group/League Sports: 25:1 instructor ratio | parents ok; spectators discouraged

• Museums/Libraries: 50% capacity | 50 ppl max
• Retail (non-critical): 50% capacity | 50 ppl max
• Outfitters & Guides: 10:1 guest ratio
• Places of Worship: 50% capacity |175 ppl max indoor
• Life Rites (funerals, weddings, graduations): 50% capacity | 175 ppl max indoor I outdoor based on social distancing calculator

City to discuss pot, Blake and Ward 2 before the election

This week, the city of Glenwood Springs will be discussing marijuana regulations, seeking input on Blake Avenue south of 23rd Street and appointing a city councilor. All meetings can be attended via Zoom.

Marijuana regulations

The Planning and Zoning Commission will once again discuss possible changes to the municipal code regarding marijuana facilities at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27.

At P&Z’s special meeting on Sept. 15 councilors focused on buffers of 1,000 feet around schools, parks, other pot shops and mental health and drug treatment facilities. Another idea was limiting the number of retail shops to one per 1,000 residents.

P&Z will have draft code language to review and could make a recommendation to City Council from this meeting, assistant city manager Jennifer Ooton said.

“Staff is going to put together their best recommendation for a cap based on the population and also increasing distance requirements,” assistant economic/community development director Gretchen Ricehill said after P&Z’s Sept. 15 meeting.

If a recommendation is made, it would likely go to council at its Nov. 19 meeting, Ooton said.

Should council decide on a code change, that would require an ordinance, which requires two readings before council, Ooton said.

Blake Avenue 

The city of Glenwood Springs is holding a virtual meeting from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, to discuss street configurations of Blake Avenue related to the Bell Rippy development north of Walmart; and Blake improvements from 23rd Street to Highway 82 at McDonald’s.

Council voted unanimously at its Oct. 1 meeting to accept staff’s recommendation to keep the Blake Gate closed until a certificate of occupancy is issued for a building at the Bell Rippy development at some point in 2021.

At the Oct. 28 meeting Engineering and Community Development staff will introduce and present different circulation options for consideration, and the city will ask for comments from the Palmer and Blake area neighborhoods. Proposed plans will be posted on the city’s website at cogs.us/blake on Monday, Oct. 26, according to a press release.

Comments from the neighborhood residents will then be presented and discussed at the city’s next Transportation Commission meeting at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, Election Day. 

“City Council has asked staff to bring back a recommendation, and I would anticipate that it would be some version of the plans that are being finalized for the [Oct. 28] meeting. We are looking for input from the public and Transportation Commission, so there may be some revisions to the ideas that staff will offer for consideration,” Ooton said.

City Council Ward 2 seat

Last Monday, City Council interviewed Ray Schmahl, Monica Wolny and Ingrid Wussow for appointment to the Ward 2 council seat recently vacated by Rick Voorhees.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, council will meet to make a selection.

Public comment will be accepted, Mayor Jonathan Godes said.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Grizzly Creek Fire grows by 150 acres since Thursday

Fire activity in the Grizzly Creek drainage since Thursday has caused the Grizzly Creek Fire to grow by about 150 acres.

The U.S. Forest Service in a news release Friday reported that spot fires have also occurred on the east side of the upper Grizzly Creek and No Name drainages, which ground crews are working to contain.

The Grizzly Creek Fire began Aug. 10 and is currently 91% contained at 32,631 acres.

“Fire behavior today has not showed much growth in acres. Mostly some isolated torching,” Incident Commander Dan Nielsen said in the news release. “Please respect the area closure of the fire perimeter and remember the White River National Forest and BLM in this area are in Stage 1 fire restrictions.” 

Air resources will focus on the west line of the Grizzly Creek Fire to slow growth while ground resources will suppress the fire “where it is safe to do so.”

“The plan for additional resources to staff the fire will continue to evolve depending on precipitation from this weekend’s predicted snowfall,” the release states.

Anyone recreating in the area surrounding the Grizzly Creek Fire should be prepared and on the alert for changes in fire behavior and stay out of closed areas. The current closure map can be found on Inciweb.

Despite pandemic challenges, some businesses still opening, expanding in Garfield County

During a period of economic uncertainty when businesses were laying off employees and the future was a big question mark, some entrepreneurs were brave enough to try to get a new enterprise off the ground.

For Valley Fuel and Sundae ice cream shop in Glenwood Springs, opening in June was neither despite nor because of the coronavirus — rather, it was more of a coincidence.

“When the pandemic hit in March we were actually very close to being able to open, so when we got the green light from our buildout team we decided to just go for it,” Sundae assistant manager Molly LaBrecque said. 

In June 1 the Glenwood shop — at 723 Grand Ave. — joined Sundae shops in Vail and Edwards providing a food that may be crisis proof. 

“Everybody loves ice cream no matter what’s going on in the world,” LaBrecque said.

For Heather Hill, opening Valley Fuel at 1304 Grand Ave. had been a project in the works for two years, and she just happened to be ready to open June 11.

“It definitely wasn’t ideal, but it’s ‘now or never,’” she said of her feelings at the time.

Eventually, she plans to base her other business, Valley Taxi, out of the gas station.

New Castle Physical Therapy opened on Aug. 10 specifically because of the pandemic.

“We were planning on starting our own business at the end of this year, but we lost our jobs due to COVID in late March and could find no more work. Rather than stay on unemployment for a long time due to no available jobs, we decided to be proactive and create our own,” Nick Peterson said in an email. Peterson co-owns the business with wife Sarah at 6420 County Road 335 Unit B.

How’s business?

At Sundae, business has been booming with a cherry on top.

“We have had a very surprising and busy year, and our Glenwood store especially exceeded our expectations of what we would open up to,” LaBrecque said. “We didn’t set our expectations as high as we would normally, but we did about the same amount of business as we would have expected without it being a COVID year.”

LaBrecque expects business to get better after the pandemic, especially when employees can offer samples to customers again.

“If we can have such a successful first summer with COVID-19 and all the regulations that we’re adhering to, without any of that we’ll succeed far more than we can imagine currently,” she said.

Growth has been slow at New Castle Physical Therapy.

“The progress has been slow, but the business is slowly growing despite startup during COVID in a small town to which we’re new,” Peterson said.

He believes business will improve after the pandemic.

“It’s hard to know how many people are holding off on getting treatment for pain or injuries at this time due to anxiety over COVID. We do offer Telehealth options, but many people may be unaware of that. Personally, I believe business will rebound post COVID. I know many are still anxious about the virus,” Peterson said.

From left, Jim Sandretto, Mike Murphy, Heather Hill and Christine Guire pose at Valley Fuel, the future headquarters of Valley Taxi.
Charlie Wertheim

Hill is not quite ready to call her new business (she has owned Valley Taxi since 2015) a success, though things have been picking up since July.

“We’re getting there. With all the construction and everything we’ve had to do it’s been hard to tell. We haven’t really had the tourists we normally get for the taxi or the gas station so that’s made it extremely difficult to be successful,” she said. “It was very hard to get through COVID, especially March, April, May and into June, then things started opening up a little bit.”

Valley Taxi was mandated to stay open to provide medical transport — which Hill said is 80% of her business — but she lost some taxi service to people opting to use Telehealth instead.

Her sales have increased fivefold since opening, and she’s confident business will continue to increase.

“We will eventually have a food truck or two there on the lot to draw people in,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure we have everything that everybody could possibly need without having the convenience store.”

Filling a niche

Part of being a successful business is filling a niche, and Valley Fuel has a claim to fame.

“We’re the only gas station in the state to offer all nonethanol fuel,” Hill said.

She said her gas is a little more expensive, but cars get better gas mileage and run cleaner. Valley Fuel also sells leaded race fuel, Sunoco 110, which is about $12 a gallon.

“Most of the toys that take this type of fuel don’t take a lot of it,” Hill said, so sales are fairly low.

The Petersons at New Castle Physical Therapy are fairly specific in the types of people they treat.

“I’m specializing in working with strength and outdoor athletes/enthusiasts primarily. My wife is catering primarily to runners. That being said, we work with a wide range of people from the community,” Nick Peterson said.

Sundae is one of several ice cream shops in Glenwood.

“Our brand is all about small batch artisan ice cream. We make everything in house,” LaBrecque said as how Sundae’s offerings stand out from the competition.

Hiring employees

While some local businesses complained of having trouble finding employees during the pandemic, Sundae didn’t have to do much recruiting and got a lot of interest from social media.

“For is it was quite easy. We were fortunate to have a massive interest from the work force early on,”  LaBrecque said.

Hill said Valley Fuel is operated as an unmanned gas station — which is permissible only if an emergency phone is accessible to customers — so needed no employees there.

At Valley Taxi she had to lay off employees as the pandemic limited her customer base.

The Petersons have no employees other than themselves.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Grand Lake has escaped worst of the Troublesome Fire so far, but there’s extensive damage in surrounding neighborhoods

The East Troublesome Fire was over 170,00 acres Thursday evening, according to the latest figures from fire officials.

Grand Lake has reported there was no known structural damage within Grand Lake as of 6 p.m. Thursday. This includes the historic Grand Lake Lodge, which has stood for 100 years. However, there has been extensive damage in surrounding neighborhoods.

The fire grew almost 100,000 acres Wednesday night into Thursday, and officials said that growth was unheard of. The fire experienced another 50,000 acres of growth by 5 p.m. Thursday.

In a bit of good news, containment lines to the south are holding, and fire officials anticipate more work along the southern front, which is threatening Granby. To the east of Granby, crews are working to build a dozer line from Willow Creek toward the Colorado 125 corridor to prevent further spread to the south toward Granby.

Further east, fire crews are working from Willow Creek to US Highway 34 to get to the Lake Granby overlook. The latest report had crews making good progress on that front.

Also, structure protection continues along US 34 up to Grand Lake and the surrounding area. Fighting the fire along the Three Lakes has been one of the hardest things crews have had to do, and that presented a big challenge for them Thursday.

The fire has also crossed US 34 near Grand Lake and moved into Rocky Mountain National Park, which remains closed at this time

There has been at least one spot fire in Rocky as a result of the East Troublesome Fire, and the fear was that spot fire could spread to threaten Estes Park. On one side of the fire, a cold front pulled moister in from the plains and that caused the fire to fall down to the surface and “check itself.” That has kept the fire from moving toward Estes Park.

Meanwhile, the fire continues to spread on its northern and eastern fronts.

In his remarks, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin was thankful Thursday wasn’t as bad as Wednesday, and he said the sheriff’s office would be focused on life safety for now.

Allowing people to get back into the area to assess damage is something that will take time and happen once it’s safe to do so, Schroetlin said, adding that they will also continue to watch US 40 between Hot Sulphur Springs and Granby.

Protocols questioned as coronavirus outbreak at Garfield County Community Corrections center in Rifle grows to nine cases

A Garfield County Community Corrections client on Thursday criticized the facility’s handling of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases over the past week, as state health officials were on hand to further assess the situation.

The number of confirmed cases also increased to nine late Wednesday when another staff member tested positive. No new cases were reported Thursday, Garfield County Public Information Officer Renelle Lott said.

To date, the confirmed cases involve six clients and three staff members, she said.

“All three staff have been released to quarantine away from the facility, and all six clients have been either furloughed or transferred to parole for quarantine,” Lott said.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rapid response team was on-site Thursday and completed testing on all remaining staff and current clients. The collected samples will be tested at the state lab, Lott said.

Meanwhile, Aaron Braatz, a client in the Rifle-based criminal justice facility, said the outbreak is not surprising given what he claimed have been weak safety protocols within the residential work-release program.

Last Saturday, Braatz said he was among 10 people on the facility’s transport van in the south Rifle area when he learned that one of the passengers was symptomatic and was being taken to Grand River Health to be tested.

He said he began questioning staff when he returned to the facility why other passengers would be allowed on the van if they knew someone was symptomatic and en route to be tested.

“No one even bothered to make me aware, or give me a choice to take the van, or not,” Braatz said. “I would have walked back to the facility if I’d known.”

Even within the facility on Sunday and Monday, after he said it was known that there was at least one confirmed case, it was business as usual during a community dinner.

Braatz said there was little attempt to prevent people from touching the same food items and utensils in the grab-and-go style community meal. Throughout the facility, he said there was little effort to keep people separated, and that the clients were still responsible for cleaning common areas, rather than a professional cleaning crew being brought in.

Braatz’s first COVID test taken earlier this week came back negative, and that he was tested again when the rapid response team came in Thursday. He said several residents have been sent home to quarantine, or to isolate if they tested positive, but that about a dozen male and female clients remain in the facility.

Garfield County Criminal Justice Services Administrator Rodney Hollandsworth said via an email response from Lott that ample safety precautions were and are being practiced.

“The facility had an established cleaning structure in place before COVID-19 occurred and strengthened it with the risk of COVID-19,” Lott said in the statement to the Post Independent. “Surfaces were and are cleaned and sanitized daily, including with supervision and oversight of these operations.”

Lott noted in an email to the Post Independent that clients of the Garfield County Criminal Justice facility are in the oversight of the courts.

“Upon entry to the community corrections facility they are notified that at any time they may initiate a complaint through the grievance process provided,” she said in response to Braatz’s claims.

The internal grievance process involves at least two levels of review, in which clients are requested to make a complaint verbally to a staff person first.

“If they feel the outcome does not meet their concern, they may initiate a formal written grievance that will be reviewed at the director level. This allows review by more than one staff member,” she said. 

Hollandsworth said Thursday that no such grievance has been filed.

Back in March of this year, when the COVID outbreak first showed up in Colorado, sanitizing at the facility was increased to include making sanitizing wipes available for commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, in restrooms and in common areas.

“As a result of the first positive test over the weekend, all cleaning supplies were provided in the common areas for both the male and female areas inside the living facility,” she said. “Clients had access to supplies 24 hours a day over the weekend and are continuing to have this.”

As for the transport vehicles, “sanitizing is done for both of the vehicles and surfaces in which people have routine contact.”

County corrections officials were notified Tuesday of four positive COVID cases at the facility. Notifications of positive test results for three additional cases were received later Tuesday and another on Wednesday, according to a Wednesday news release.

A quarantine remains in place for all individuals who were in the facility and may have been exposed.

The community corrections program is designed as a transitional program to prepare clients convicted of crimes to live independently after incarceration. Many of the clients work outside of the facility and are closely supervised when they return.

Personal responsibility is a big part of that arrangement, the county’s news release went on to state.

“Frequent and routine cleaning is a part of the requirements of clients to meet the standards of preparing to live on their own after their release,” the release stated.

Facility staff has also increased cleaning protocols to include cleaning after every single use of the restrooms, and after any use of the common areas, according to the release.

Staff also regularly wear protective masks, and clients are “encouraged” to do so, the release states.

Lott said Garfield County Public Health staff began working on contact investigations in the correctional facility over the weekend. However, the matter did not come up during the weekly Public Health update to county commissioners on Monday.

“The department was awaiting test results early this week to identify and determine whether or not there was a COVID outbreak in the facility,” Lott said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

In Garfield County’s season of the pandemic, crowds — not witches — seen as spooky

At first, some of the neighbors of Old Town in River Valley Ranch wondered what they could do to keep Halloween safe instead of turning off the porch lights. Maybe they could toss candy at the kids? Maybe set out bowls? Maybe even have a slide in the front yard where they could send candy down the chute? They exchanged ideas and thoughts, sometimes coated with emotion, like chocolate over a peanut bar, on a Facebook page. 

Halloween is a big deal anyway, but in the Carbondale neighborhood, it’s a Super Bowl-sized event, with more than 2,000 kids swooping through their streets. Even in our season of the pandemic, it seemed crazy to shut down trick-or-treating.

“There was a lot of back and forth,” said Sarah-Jane Johnson, a homeowner in the neighborhood. 

But then neighbors became spooked about a rising number of cases, to the point where health officials are calling it a nationwide second wave, and worried about ruining the chances of their schools reopening in the next couple of weeks. Upon hearing the news that Aspen’s most popular neighborhood will close on Halloween, the consensus was River Valley should probably do it as well. The porch lights, as it turns out, will go off. Neighbors even released an official statement:

“Our neighborhood, which has a tradition of being the happening place for enjoying Trick or Treating and Halloween festivities in Carbondale each year, instead asks the community to respect our space by not coming into Old Town in River Valley Ranch,” the statement read in part. 

Carbondale, like many Colorado towns across Garfield County (and really all over the state) are discouraging trick or treating this year while attempting to offer fun alternatives. Johnson calls it “the right thing to do,” as she’s part of the Carbondale Emergency Task Force, a volunteer organization led by residents to help the town figure out all the tricky dilemmas caused by COVID-19 this year. The task force also recommended parents to do something other than trick-or-treat. Carbondale’s mayor, Dan Richardson, agrees, saying parents should take “a different approach to Halloween this year.”

“Naturally, children are likely to have a hard time remembering to wash their hands, keep their masks on, and practice social distancing when they are excited about Halloween candy,” Richardson said, “so we strongly urge parents and the community to consider doing it differently.”

Perhaps as a carrot — or maybe a chocolate bar — the Carbondale Police Department will act as a de facto candy distributor. Officers usually hand out glow sticks to kids on Halloween. This year it’s goodie bags. The first 2,000 kids 13 and younger who request one either by social media or calling the police department during business hours (970-963-2662) will get a bag.

The Garfield County Library Carbondale branch will also offer a chance to carve a pumpkin on the back patio from Oct. 27-29. Between 5-7 p.m. on Oct. 30, you can vote for the best pumpkin at the library (patrons can take their pumpkin home if they don’t want to be famous), with the top three getting a prize. 

Glenwood Springs and Rifle are taking a similar approach, although the public health department isn’t forbidding trick-or-treating, just offering ways to enjoy it and remain safe, if that’s possible. 

Halloween isn’t canceled. It’s just quieter this year, as Amy Kimberly, executive director of Carbondale Arts, put it.

Carbondale

There may not be a more stark example of the way COVID-19 has stripped away our fun more than Carbondale’s Dia de los Muertos. 

The Day of the Dead on Nov. 1 is actually a lively celebration that honors loved ones who have passed on with dancing, music and a whole lot of fun. Carbondale developed a reputation as the place to be for the Dia in the last decade, even more than Halloween. When you ask Amy Kimberly about it this year, she just sighs. She is the Carbondale Arts executive director, and she was in charge of coordinating everything. This year, that was an easier, albeit more painful, task. She couldn’t put together a procession of more than 200 dancers, singers and costumed community members. She can’t even allow people to gather at the altar to shout the names of their loved ones and have those names be echoed by the crowd because, well, there’s a crowd. 

She did try. She reached out to a ballet folklore dancing troupe but was turned down. 

“I get it,” said Kimberly, with the tone of a kid who’s been turned down by a busy parent too many times for a game of catch. “Nobody can take risks right now.

“It’s just difficult these days. We’re very sad. It was such a cross-cultural event for us.”

Kimberly does have a couple of ways to celebrate, even as she knows they’re muted in comparison to years past. The first is a community altar hosted by the Valley Settlement Project that will be created on Nov. 2 and run to Nov. 6 at The Launchpad, 76 South Fourth St. Those who celebrate build altars to honor their loved ones with symbols of their favorite foods, pastimes or clothing as well as pictures and the more traditional symbols such as flowers and sugar skulls. 

Kimberly hopes Carbondale residents create their own altars in their yards and let the Arts organization know, so maybe she can create a map for people to go around to see all of them, in the same way communities create maps of cool Christmas decorations. 

The second way to celebrate, scheduled for Nov. 6, will be a virtual First Friday and will feature the customs of the day, including instructions on how to paint your face in the calavera style and a look at how other communities are celebrating. That stream will be on the Thunder River Theatre Company’s website. 

“You will still get that feeling, I think,” she said. “But it will be a little quieter.”

Quieter is right, as other parties and events were canceled, many at the last minute, much like River Valley Ranch’s decision to shut down. KDNK Community Radio usually hosted what it called “an adult party,” with live music, costumes and goodies. This year the station considered offering a family-friendly, socially distanced event, maybe something like pumpkin carving, but after Garfield County’s public health department released guidelines on staying away from trick or treating, the station decided to cancel everything. 

“We decided it would be best to not even do a daytime event,” said Greg Albrecht, development director at the station, “both for safety in general as well as public perception. There’s no reason to push that.”

Rifle and New Castle

Rifle may be quiet this year, as City Manager Scott Hahn said he hadn’t heard of anything going on. But one place is attempting to pick up the slack. 

Columbine Ford will host a Trunk or Treat for the first time this year. This is a strange time to try to host a public event when you’ve never done one before, but that’s part of the point, said Bethany Duggan, business development manager for the car dealership. In fact, it will be the first in a series of holiday events the dealership will host through December. 

“We know everyone is struggling right now,” Duggan said, “and we just want to be there for them.”

The dealership has the space to do it, she said, with a giant parking lot to help everyone stay spread out. The event, from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 30, will allow kids to enter through the north, one way, and exit with candy and surprises at a few different stations. 

“I know people aren’t feeling safe about going door-to-door,” Duggan said, “and I know we have the ability to put in precautions with that giant parking lot. We want you to come and bring your kids down, have a good time and enjoy the holidays the best that we can.”

The New Castle branch of the Garfield libraries will offer Halloween fun at 1 p.m. on Halloween Day at the Town Hall/Library plaza. Costumes are encouraged.

Glenwood Springs

The phones were ringing at Garfield County Public Health this year even two months before Halloween. But since the health department released a detailed list of guidelines, they’ve been quieter, just like the holiday. 

“There are so many details, laws and regulations now that sometimes it’s confusing,” said Carrie Godes, the public information officer for the public health department. 

Those guidelines include strict adherences to trick-or-treating, including limiting the time at doorways, parents policing social distancing for their excited kids and wearing a mask, even under or over a costume, just as you sometimes have to wear a winter coat over it as well, Godes said. The recommendations also include avoiding crowds, and that one makes Godes cringe a bit. 

“We think we can do some trick-or-treating as long as we stick to those precautions we’ve been preaching for so long,” Godes said. “But we are concerned about people clogging up those doors. I know this personally: Even the most cautious kids forget about social distancing when they’re around a bowl of candy.”

Residents who have health concerns, or those spooked by the virus, shouldn’t feel bad about turning off their porch light, Godes said. This is the year to do that. Maybe they can hand out salted caramel apples or something special next year to make up for it. 

As a way to help families who don’t feel safe trick-or-treating, Glenwood Springs’ recreation department will offer a scavenger hunt, which are usually socially distanced anyway, and a Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin patch and a few haunted houses in the parking lot. All of these replace the big haunted house the recreation center usually puts on. The event will be scaled down from past years, said Pat Miller, recreation manager for Glenwood Springs, but it may feel larger, as the offerings will be spread out more. The event takes place from 1-5 p.m. on Halloween day. Register in advance for $5.

Miller and the city will also drop off pumpkins and 250 pieces of candy to downtown businesses that sign up for a week-long Halloween event that starts Oct. 26. Businesses can carve the pumpkin and hide it in their store, and patrons can take a photo of the pumpkin and tag it “#glenwoodrec for a chance at prizes.

Both events are designed to remove the sting of forgoing trick-or-treating if they have to this year. 

“The kids are still feeling like they are interacting and going around and getting candy, but obviously in a socially distanced way,” Miller said. “If we can help them feel back to normal even for a bit, we will consider that a win.”

Safer frights are available. The Glenwood Springs Historical Society will offer a virtual ghost walk this year as an alternative to the in-person fundraiser it offers every year, the society’s largest. That takes place at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at www.glenwoodhistory.com/ghost-walk, and for a donation, you can watch ghosts walk the cemetery and talk about their connections with their underground neighbors. 

“It’ll be just like going, only you’ll get a neat experience with some special effects,” said Lisa Langer, the director of tourism promotion for Visit Glenwood Springs. Langer herself portrays Big Nose Kate, the common-law wife of Doc Holliday. She will stand in front of Holliday’s grave and talk about their relationship. Versatile Productions and the True Media Foundation put together the presentation.

Maybe she was just searching for any way to enjoy the holiday, but Langer noticed that a lot of people did decorate their homes this year. 

“I decorated mine too,” she said.