Summit COVID-19 trends point to possible tightening of restrictions
Visitation high over spring break with some unruly guests
Colorado plans to eliminate the COVID-19 dial midway through next month and hand over control of restrictions to local governments, but Summit County residents and visitors shouldn’t expect things to open back up right away.
Officials discussed how to approach post-dial restrictions during the joint board of health meeting with the Summit Board of County Commissioners on Thursday afternoon, noting that once the dial is retired, the state likely will have some mandates in place as will the county. And while it’s unclear what exactly those restrictions might look like, officials emphasized a need to plan ahead so that businesses and residents would know what to expect.
“I think it’s important for our next few board of health meetings that we continue to talk about, ‘Well this is today, but here’s what’s coming up,’” Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. “Because I think it’s really important to prepare our community that on April 16, I certainly don’t think all of our restrictions are going away here in Summit County. I think that would be reckless and not adhering to best practices as far as public health.”
During the meeting, officials discussed whether to update the county’s existing public health order to match new state policies. Assistant county attorney Cameron Turpin said Summit County’s regulations are more restrictive than the state’s with regard to last call for alcohol sales, capacity for events and sports facilities, mask mandates, construction site procedures, and policies at restaurants and short-term rentals regarding contract tracing, party size and household limits.
The commissioners ultimately decided to keep local restrictions in place until at least mid-April.
“I think we are just weeks away from really seeing our numbers drop after we get past spring break,” said Public Health Director Amy Wineland. “I am hopeful that by mid-April, we really will be in a much better place with vaccinations as well as our case numbers as people do stop coming to our community. … I’m hopeful still that we’re going to have much more of a typical summer than we had last summer.”
But it’s also possible that restrictions could tighten in that time. Wineland said COVID-19 cases have continued to spike in Summit County. The county has had 104 confirmed cases in the past week, about 15 per day. Wineland said Summit County would move backward to level orange on the state’s dial if its seven-day cumulative incidence rate eclipsed 345 new cases per 100,000 residents for five consecutive days. The rate currently sits at 322.8.
“When we look at our cases per day, again we can see the trend going up,” Wineland said. “… We need to maintain under an average of 16 cases per day for seven days. And right now, we’re heading in the wrong direction.”
Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott said a move from level yellow to orange would cut current capacity limits in half for restaurants, gyms, personal services, sports, camps and other events. Officials are hopeful that an end to the spring break season could provide some respite from rising numbers.
Wineland presented data on visitation to Summit County compared with other resort regions over the start of the year. She said Summit had about three visitors for every resident during January and February, compared with between one and two in other mountain counties. She said Summit’s number jumped to around five visitors for every resident over spring break.
Wineland said Summit County also had the most out-of-state visitors, who tend to have considerably more contact with other people because they’re staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.
“It’s striking to see the effect of that and to see the number of contacts over spring break, which correlates with our spike in numbers and cases,” Wineland said.
Commissioner Tamara Pogue also raised worries about the way some visitors were treating local employees.
“I am very concerned about how our front-line workers are being treated by guests to our communities,” Pogue said. “… I have heard kind of an increasing sentiment that we are putting our front-line workers in more risk at this point because some of the folks that are visiting right now are coming from states where there are no restrictions, and they’re not being particularly respectful of the scenario they are encountering here.”
Summit County Director of Communications Nicole Valentine said the county has been in talks with local towns to strategize on messaging to visitors to help address the issue, along with targeted advertising directed at likely guests.
Meanwhile, vaccination efforts persist. More than 40% of Summit County residents over 16 years old have received at least one vaccine, and 23% have been fully vaccinated, according to the county’s website. The county is hosting another drive-thru event Friday to distribute more than 1,100 doses.
Phase 2 of the vaccine distribution is expected to begin next month, which will open up availability to the general public.
“We really want to start encouraging everyone in our community to preregister,” Wineland said.
Residents can sign up at CoMassVax.org.
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