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Summit County health officials discuss shifting focus to hospitalizations rather than cases

Restrictions expected to return to local control after state dial expires

Bonnie Lehman, center, owner of Arapahoe Cafe in Dillon, serves food to Clara McClure, left, and Kodie Sheppard on May 31. Summit County officials are discussing possible restrictions for this summer, including a proposal to decrease the amount of physical distancing required on restaurant patios.
Jason Connolly / Summit Daily archives

With the state’s COVID-19 dial system expected to expire later this month, Summit County leaders sat down Thursday to discuss local restrictions that could help move the county toward what they called a “cautious reopening.”

At a Board of Health meeting, local officials presented the Summit Board of County Commissioners with a proposed first draft of a new public health order. If passed, the plan would replace the state’s dial framework when control is returned to local governments.

The plan, which is still in its early stages, is expected to include a dial similar to the state’s though the specific metrics for each level are likely to change, possibly focusing more on hospitalizations and less on case numbers. The county would continue to track incidence and positivity rates, but the proposed plan would only have officials increase restrictions if hospitalizations start to increase.



On the state’s current dial, Summit County has remained steadily in level blue for that metric, with 14 days of declining or stable hospitalizations, leaving some Summit County business owners wondering why so much focus is being placed on new cases if people aren’t getting seriously ill.

In discussions Thursday, health officials proposed a plan where restrictions could be loosened if case numbers improve but said the county would not be sent back to a more restrictive level unless hospitalizations become a problem.



In addition to proposing a new dial framework, local officials also presented the commissioners with a new vaccination goal. By May 27, health officials would like to see 75% of Summit County’s 16 and older population vaccinated.

Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said the goal was set following a focus group of business leaders and residents who hoped to reach that threshold by the start of the summer tourism season. The goal — which ultimately hinges on the state’s distribution of doses — is subject to change in the coming weeks as the county finalizes its plan.

Once the county vaccinates three-quarters of its population, it would move to the least-restrictive level green on the proposed local dial. It also could move to level green by meeting to-be-determined metrics for that level. Once either of those goals is reached, the plan would be to disband the local dial framework and operate with limited restrictions as needed.

Vargo noted that if the county struggles to manage variant strains or if hospitalizations increase, it’s likely the some targeted restrictions would be instituted to help keep cases under control.

“If we start to see that our hospital here locally, our hospital within the region, the hospitals at the state level are beyond capacity, then we’ll have to take a step back,” Vargo said. “That’s sort of the caveat for everybody. We do need to keep that in mind that there is that possibility.”

However, Vargo said he thinks the likelihood of that happening is slim because of the county’s initial success in vaccinating the community.

“We think that possibility is remote if we’re getting our community vaccinated at the rate that we believe we can.”

Health officials also recommended prioritizing safety indoors and easing some restrictions outdoors. For example, one proposal would maintain 6 feet of distancing in restaurants but reduce it to 3 feet on patios. Local officials also recommended that a mask order remain for indoor spaces, including public transportation, and in outdoor spaces when in close contact, which is defined as within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes.

To create the proposal, Public Health Director Amy Wineland said local officials solicited and received feedback from many different groups, including local recovery groups, a focus group centered on events, neighboring counties, resorts and a committee for the 5 Star State Certification Program.

In the coming days, all three county commissioners will work with local leaders to make adjustments to the plan.

“I want to get into the weeds a little bit more and understand it a little bit more, but I think from a high level this is exactly where I think we should go,” Commissioner Josh Blanchard said.

Commissioner Tamara Pogue agreed.

“I think, the way I understand (it), the approach makes a lot of sense,” she said. “I think the challenge is how do we boil it down to a point where our community can have some confidence around what to anticipate (and) it’s a bit more digestible. This is the first draft; there’s no reason to think we’ve packaged this up with a pretty bow.”

The team expects to review a new draft at the Board of Health meeting Tuesday, April 13.

How to get tested and vaccinated

The following places offer testing for the virus in Summit County:

• Centura Health’s Centers for Occupational Medicine in Frisco: Testing available daily by appointment at the Vista Professional Building. To schedule an appointment, call 970-668-5584.

• State testing in Silverthorne: Drive-thru testing available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 591 Center Circle. No appointment, insurance or identification required.

• Vail Health testing in Breckenridge: Testing available by appointment from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at the Speakeasy Movie Theater, 103 S. Harris St. To book an appointment, go to VailHealth.org/covidscheduling.

The following links have information about how to get vaccinated:

• Get on a list to be vaccinated through the public health department in Summit County, or any other county: CoMassVax.org

• Centura Health: Centura.org/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine-information

• List of vaccination providers across Colorado: CoCOVIDVaccine.org

People ages 16 and older are eligible for the vaccine. People with questions about the local response to COVID-19 can call the county’s hotline at 970-668-9730 or email covidquestions@summitcountyco.gov.


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