Summit County officials thoroughly debate plan to ease some public health order restrictions |

Summit County officials thoroughly debate plan to ease some public health order restrictions

County could issue new order as soon as Friday

Cyclists take advantage of empty streets in Breckenridge on Thursday, April 23. Summit County could issue an updated public health order easing restrictions as soon as Friday.
Liz Copan /

DILLON — Summit County government’s cautious grappling with how to take steps to gradually reopen the county amid the coronavirus pandemic was on full display Wednesday and Thursday for hundreds of interested residents to see.

On Wednesday, a virtual meeting to consider the government’s “roadmap to recovery” plans quickly reached its capacity of 100 people. At Thursday’s meeting — which was bumped up to accommodate as many as 500 viewers — County Manager Scott Vargo said Public Health Director Amy Wineland could issue the county’s new public health order as early as Friday.

Vargo said the county would like to have Wineland sign the updated regulations for residents and businesses Friday despite the fact that the county doesn’t expect official directives from the state until the weekend. Vargo and other officials said the county would reserve the right to alter the local order pending state measures.

For the past month, the Summit Board of County Commissioners, acting as the Summit County Board of Health, has held public meetings three times per week pertaining to local coronavirus issues. At previous meetings, just a few non-county officials joined the video conference.

But on Wednesday, public interest surged as county officials — such as commissioners, managers, an attorney, the public health director and the emergency management director — discussed and debated the proposed updates for more than two hours.

“We know that it’s been very challenging for people to be living their lives under the stay-at-home order from the state and then the restrictions in the local public health order,” county spokeswoman Julie Sutor said after Wednesday’s meeting. “And we appreciate all of the sacrifice and all of the dedication that the community has shown in helping to control the spread of COVID-19. … People are eager to resume some pieces of their lives that have been restricted.”

LISTEN: Click the link below to listen to a portion of Thursday’s Summit County Board of Health meeting (Courtesy Summit County Government)

Wednesday’s meeting was an exhaustive one, where Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine moderated discussion among the county officials for 40 minutes. For nearly an hour and a half after that, officials went over the 14 bullet points the county shared earlier in the week as recommendations for an updated public health order.

After debating the recommendations Wednesday, the officials returned Thursday to discuss the top items they felt affected the community, including:

  • Whether to mandate the wearing of face masks and coverings everywhere in public or only within nonresidential buildings, namely retail stores
  • How and when to allow child care services to reopen with restrictions
  • Whether to open in-shop services for nonessential businesses or to limit nonessential businesses to curbside pickup
  • Whether second-home owners should be mandated by order not to visit their second home outside of essential maintenance or if traveling to Summit County should just be highly discouraged

The officials supported bringing the primary Summit Stage bus lines through the Blue River and Snake River corridors back on board.

The officials also said they could possibly work with town managers to create an online application process for local businesses and service providers to be considered for slight alterations to elements of the order.

And the officials made it clear that any regulations the county order puts in place would have to be more stringent than the state order, unless they wanted to go through a special exemption application process.

LISTEN: Click the link below to listen to Wednesday’s Summit County Board of Health meeting (Krystal 93 video)

Vargo and other county officials, including Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence, said that despite Gov. Jared Polis’ press conferences earlier this week touching on potential upcoming changes to regulations, the county is left in the dark about what to do until the official state order arrives.

Namely, county officials said they are looking for more explicit direction from the state in terms of detailing measures affecting personal-service businesses such as hair salons, the relaxing of measures affecting child care services, and what exactly “strict precautions” means as it pertains to elective medical and dental procedures.

“It is a challenge for local public health agencies, for local boards of health, because of the approach that the governor’s office has taken in issuing these orders,” Vargo said Thursday. “… I sense the perception in general in the public is the county is holding back information. The fact is we simply do not know.”

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