State will not allow Summit County to move out of level red ahead of the holidays
Summit County officials express their frustrations with the state’s handling of the COVID-19 dial, calling it 'arbitrary' and 'capricious'
Summit County won’t be moving out of level red restrictions for the foreseeable future.
At a Summit County Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Dec. 15, County Manager Scott Vargo said the county’s current public health order, which places it in level red, will extend past Friday, Dec. 18 — its current expiration date. When the county initially moved into level red, state officials said it would be able to move into level orange once the county showed a two-week decline in its incidence rate.
The state, which determines where counties fall on the COVID-19 dial, has since changed its mind. State officials are now saying that the county must show two weeks of level orange numbers to move out of level red, which prohibits indoor dining and gatherings among more than one household.
“We’re quite concerned about this,” Vargo said. “The state has moved the bar on us and changed their expectations.”
Although Summit County has seen a sustained decline in its two-week incidence rate — the number of new cases per 100,000 people — it is still far from being within level orange. As of Tuesday afternoon, the county’s incidence rate was at 968.3 new cases per 100,000 people, which is far above the 350 new cases per 100,000 people that is required to move into level orange.
For the first time throughout the pandemic, Summit County officials have publicly expressed frustration with the state’s handling of the COVID-19 dial levels.
Commissioner Thomas Davidson made the point that other counties, such as Pitkin and Eagle, are operating within level orange although they are showing level red numbers. For example, Eagle County’s current two-week incidence rate is 900.7 new cases per 100,000 people, according to the state’s dial dashboard.
“It is arbitrary, and it’s capricious the way that the state is not applying their own rules amongst the counties,” Davidson said. “It’s important for our restaurant owners and our community to understand that we, along with other counties, are now pushing back aggressively.”
To help businesses that are the most impacted by the level red restrictions, the county is looking to implement the state’s Five Star Program, which allows restaurants to operate under looser capacity restrictions.
When the board first discussed the program, it was hesitant to move forward while the county remained in level red. Now that a move out of level red in the near future seems unlikely, the county is planning to do everything it can to implement the program in Summit County.
Although official guidance on the program won’t be released until Wednesday, Dec. 16, Vargo said state officials have indicated they will allow level red counties with a sustained decrease in case numbers to apply for a variance to be a part of the program. If approved, restaurants in Summit County would be able to open indoor dining at 25% capacity.
Vargo said there’s some possibility for other restrictions to be loosened, as well. A committee made up of county staff, Summit Chamber of Commerce representatives, people in lodging and restaurant owners will be meeting Wednesday to discuss a county-specific approach to the program.
“At this point, it is certainly likely that (the local Five Star Program) will include 25% capacity for indoor dining for restaurants, and it may or may not include anything beyond that,” Vargo said.
While the program is a hopeful option, the county isn’t fully confident the state will approve a variance with the county’s current case numbers. In the meantime, officials are urging everyone, regardless of symptoms, to get tested for the virus, which is the best way to reduce the county’s positivity rate, or percentage of positive tests out of all tests.
“When we have a high percent positivity, it’s not that we want people to go get tested and hope that they’re negative, just so our positivity rate goes down,” Public Health Director Amy Wineland said. “A lower positivity rate means that we’re doing enough testing in our community to identify those who have the virus so that we can quickly get them into isolation.”
The commissioners said they also will be lobbying the state, along with other mountain resort counties, for a reclassification of restaurants as critical businesses. Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence made the argument that a resort community like Summit County relies on restaurants to feed its visitors, especially in peak times like the winter ski season.
“It’s tough to have the same restriction in a mountain community that they’re trying to have in the suburbs of the Front Range,” she said. “Frankly, we’re responsible for feeding people that are here.”
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 in Silverthorne. No appointment, insurance or identification is required.
• Vail Health testing in Breckenridge: Testing is available by appointment from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at the old Speakeasy Movie Theater, 103 S. Harris St. in Breckenridge. To book an appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org including name, phone number and a copy of photo ID.
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