Breckenridge prepares for spring break crowds, fears an increase in COVID-19 cases

Residents and visitors enjoy a snowy evening in downtown Breckenridge on March 4, 2021. Breckenridge Restaurant Association representative Ken Nelson hopes the industry will get through the busy spring break period unscathed.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

Breckenridge officials and tourism industry representatives made predictions about crowd levels, business, and restriction-related confrontations associated with the spring break period during the Breckenridge Tourism Office’s community update on Friday.

Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula urged citizens of Breckenridge and Summit County at large to stay vigilant “for at least the next month” in their attempts to reduce the spread of COVID-19. He said that while the county’s case numbers are trending downward, he is afraid the community will see a resurgence of the virus due to spring break crowds expected to arrive in mid-March.

“A lot of (our spring break crowd) now is coming from states that have decided to put the foot on the gas and stop any COVID measures at all,” Mamula said. “No more mask mandate in places like Texas. So there is some danger for us, and my fear is that we’re going to get people that come to town that believe COVID is no longer existent, whether they believed in it or not the first time, and they are going to be a bit of a menace to our front-line workers.”

Mamula predicted that retail, lodging and restaurant operations could be negatively affected from an infection standpoint by spring break visitors. He noted that the town is hiring private security to patrol Main Street over the spring break period in order to support employees, but he said security personnel will not hand out tickets or arrest people.

“They’re going to be a uniformed security force that’s going to walk around the town and say, ‘Hey, excuse me sir, could you please put up your mask? You’re in a mask zone,'” Mamula said. “This way, when they get into our retail, restaurant and lodging (establishments) they already have their mask. They understand what the rules are.”

Town Manager Rick Holman said that the town is hiring private security as opposed to appointing this summer’s mask ambassadors because uniformed security carries more authority. He said that the idea is for security personnel to discuss local public health requirements with visitors before there is a potential conflict between guests and employees — for example, restaurant workers stationed at the front door.

“If somebody is going to have an attitude out there, or give lip to somebody, I would much prefer that they give it to those people that we’re employing to try to talk to them before they get into a business or restaurant,” Holman said.

Holman added that the Breckenridge Police Department is often busy this time of year, and the town can’t guarantee they will always be present downtown, which is why security has been added to the area during afternoons and evenings.

Ken Nelson, a representative of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association, said that while the association knows that many schools are not providing a spring break period this year, and others have moved spring break away from traditional dates, he still expects that the town will be busy for the next three weeks.

Nelson said that restaurant staff is prepared for this increase in visitors, but there are concerns about conflicts with guests. He said staff at his restaurants — which include Briar Rose Chophouse and Sancho Tacos, as well as other restaurants he’s talked to — are happy that the town is placing security on Main Street. The security could help reduce conflicts at the front door of a restaurant regarding mask wearing and other COVID-19 restrictions.

“We know that people aren’t really trying to cause trouble, but it’s a front-door issue at the restaurants,” Nelson said. “And I know those guys working hard really like to have the respect of a customer coming in with a mask already.”

Overall, Nelson said the industry is looking forward to getting through the spring break period.

“We realize (spring break) is hopefully the final high-risk scenario for this pandemic,” Nelson said. “If we can get through it without any more illness at a staff level, that would be great.”

Breckenridge Tourism Office President Lucy Kay noted that the town’s net promoter scores, or the propensity for visitors to recommend Breckenridge based on service levels, have remained comparable to pre-pandemic scores throughout the season.

Watching the COVID-19 dial

Nelson also explained the current situation restaurants are in with the state’s COVID-19 dial. In Summit County, restaurants are either operating in level yellow or level blue if they’re certified under the 5 Star State Certification Program. In level yellow, restaurants can operate under 50% capacity or up to 50 people per room.

While level blue still limits restaurants to 50% capacity, the per-room limit is bumped up to 175 people. Nelson explained that the capacity change from level yellow to level blue doesn’t change much for an average restaurant, but larger restaurants have been able to increase their capacity as a result of this change.

“For the average restaurant, the biggest advantage was gained from going from red to orange and then orange to yellow,” Nelson said. “From here on out, it’s going to kind of stay the same.”

Nelson said that the restaurant association expects to see the state’s dial change for a third time in the next 30 to 60 days, but noted that how it will change is unknown.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.