Summit County commissioners and staff say they advocated to stay in level yellow restrictions |

Summit County commissioners and staff say they advocated to stay in level yellow restrictions

Summit County Commissioners Josh Blanchard, from left, Elisabeth Lawrence and Tamara Pogue pose for a photo after being officially sworn into the position Jan. 12. All three commissioners said they advocated for Summit County to remain in level yellow on the state’s COVID-19 dial.
Photo by Scott Vargo / Summit County manager

Days before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment made the decision to move Summit County back into level orange restrictions, county commissioners began advocating to stay in level yellow.

Prior to spring break, Summit County’s metrics had been steadily in level yellow. But as visitors flocked to the area to ski, the incidence and positivity rates began to increase, eventually hitting level orange metrics and even reaching into level red for a short time.

Local leaders expected the metrics to stabilize at the beginning of April as spring break wrapped up. But as the days progressed, the county’s metrics stayed in level orange.

The Summit Board of County Commissioners, as well as Summit County Manager Scott Vargo, began advocating to the state in the hopes that it would give the county an additional week before officially moving to level orange.

“My message was (that) as a resort community, we know from our occupancy and our reservations exactly when we’re going to go into mud season,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said. “When we go into mud season, as everyone in Summit County knows, we don’t have as many tourists here. … Going into mud season, you’ll see that difference drop dramatically, and that means likely our COVID cases are going to decrease dramatically.”

When Pogue and other officials began advocating for the county to stay in level yellow, they made their message clear: They wanted the state to give the county more time.

Local officials including Vargo and Commissioner Josh Blanchard reached out to Squire Patton Boggs, a Denver-based law firm that Pogue said helps the county with government affairs. Blanchard said he also reached out to Mara Sheldon, a senior policy analyst with the firm, to express his concern.

“I just expressed our concern (that) if the (state health department) was going to put us into a place of orange prior to Easter weekend, what that would mean for our local businesses, how that would be challenging from an enforcement standpoint and really advocated for us to make it into the month of April,” Blanchard said.

Sheldon declined to comment for this story.

Vargo tried rallying the county’s town managers and encouraged them to leverage any connections they had that might be influential in helping the state make its decision.

Frisco Town Manager Nancy Kerry said she also relied on the help of Squire Patton Boggs to advocate for the county. Breckenridge Executive Assistant Peyton Rogers said the town did not reach out to the state. The Summit Daily News was unable to confirm whether officials from Silverthorne contacted the state.

Pogue said she reached out to two statewide organizations, including Colorado Counties and Counties & Commissioners Acting Together. She also reached out to state Rep. Julie McCluskie, who represents Summit County.

“(Counties & Commissioners Acting Together) and McCluskie both indicated that they would help, and I know they had conversations with various connections,” Pogue said.

Those connections bought the county a few extra days.

“The message I got back from them was that the state was willing to give us a few more days, but it wouldn’t be the full week, and that’s what we saw happen,” Pogue said. “They gave us a few days of grace from Sunday to Wednesday.”

The news that restrictions would be increased, reducing capacities at many businesses, disheartened many local leaders and business owners, including Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence.

“I was internally questioning the decision as the dial is set to go away so soon,” she wrote in an email. “But then again — rules are rules! We do have a number of circumstances in Summit County that I am not sure if the state was taking into account.”

When contacted for comment, officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said they were “working closely with Summit County to find ways to slow disease transmission.” State health officials went on to describe the dial as “a tool that allows Colorado to tailor its response on a county level, recognizing that conditions will vary locally.”

On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis announced that the state dial would expire April 16, thus giving counties more control over local restrictions. Summit County’s Board of Health is working to develop a plan for local restrictions that would take effect after that date.

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