PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Pitkin County will be moving back to Level Red on the state’s COVID dial starting Sunday, Jan. 17.
Pitkin County’s Board of Health made the decision in a unanimous vote during a special session Monday afternoon. The move is a voluntary decision to self-impose more strict public health orders than required by the state.
“It’s because the case numbers are out of control,” alternate board member Ann Mullins said.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Pitkin’s two-week cumulative incidence rate is 2,467 per 100,000 people. That is about five times higher than any of the Denver metro area counties.
“We’ve gone from orange to orange-plus to orange-plus-plus and things have gotten worse. We have to do something,” board member Jeannie Seybold said.
Under the revised public health order, indoor dining county-wide will be closed. This includes all of Aspen and every ski resort.
That decision was not made lightly. More than 1,000 people called in for public comment. Many of those who spoke against the measure worried about the impact on businesses and jobs.
“If we can really focus on messaging and telling people what the expectations are when they come to our town we’re gonna have much greater success than having a lock down and putting a lot of people out of work,” alternate board member Bill Madsen said.
Board member Brent Miller argued messaging has not worked so far, saying, “A lot of people don’t change their behavior. We have to change it for them, in a sense.”
Pitkin County says to help businesses, it plans to apply for the state’s 5-star variance program immediately.
“As soon as we have those two weeks of sustained decline in red, as soon as that happens our intention is to already have businesses lined up who have certified with the program to be able to operate,” Pitkin County Public Health planning, prevention and partnerships manager Jordana Sabella said.
Restaurants approved under the variance would be allowed to operate at 25% capacity for indoor dining.
“That’s what makes our decision hard. How do we protect our community’s health? At the same time, are we affecting our community’s health in other ways by shutting down the restaurants?” alternate board member Patti Clapper said.
Under the new guidelines, Pitkin County ski resorts will be required to have better enforcement of social distancing and masks. All lodging will also be required to make sure guests are limited to one household per unit.
The board’s decision Monday also establishes guidelines for Pitkin County to be able to move out of the self-imposed Level Red.
“We would move out of red level restrictions as a county if the incidence rate is below 700 and has been decreasing for 14 days,” Sabella said.
While some board members and members of the community expressed concerns about the length of time it will take to achieve those metrics, as a whole, voting members of the board agreed tighter restrictions are the fastest way to get there.