Summit officials stay the course as nearby counties request variances from state public health order |

Summit officials stay the course as nearby counties request variances from state public health order

Summit County case data is not in a strong enough position, officials say

People pack Frisco’s Main Street during the Colorado BBQ Challenge on Friday, June 15, 2018. Eagle County requested a variance from the state’s public health order to allow gatherings up to 250 people.
Hugh Carey /

FRISCO — Eagle County officials submitted a variance request to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Tuesday asking to allow gatherings of up to 250 people and remove capacity restrictions at restaurants, swimming pools and places of worship. 

Local officials say Summit is just not there yet. 

“If our numbers continue to be on the positive side of things, we could certainly consider and have that conversation, but I wouldn’t recommend it at this point,” Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said at Thursday’s joint Board of Health and Board of County Commissioners meeting. 

Throughout the pandemic, Eagle County has received praise from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis for its response to the virus. On May 25, the state approved Eagle County’s variance request to move into the “blue phase,” named after ski run difficulty levels. The “blue phase” allowed for gatherings up to 50 people. If the most recent variance request is approved, the county will move into the “black diamond phase,” allowing for gatherings up to 250 people. 

The larger gathering limit still would require a 6-foot distance between groups in different households. However, if the variance is approved, a group of 250 would need to be at least 20 feet from another group of 250 people. 

“They are upping the ante, so to speak,” Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said at the meeting. “Again, we’re not in a position to make that sort of request.”

According to Eagle’s request, the 250-person limit applies to all “businesses, groups, functions, activities, events, faith-based organizations, nonprofits where space can accommodate and still meet all social distance requirements.”

In Summit County, the health order follows the state’s guidance on group gatherings, which sets a limit at 10 people.

Other counties have considered loosening gathering size limitations, as well. Routt County officials are drafting a variance request to increase gathering sizes to 50 people. The state approved Jefferson County to increase gathering size to 250 people as long as each large event submits a plan to be reviewed by public health, Wineland said at Thursday’s meeting.

Wineland said Summit County doesn’t have the data to support a variance request like the ones being seen elsewhere. While Summit County’s data is looking good, she said, it is on a two- to four-week lag — the time it takes for someone to be infected, develop symptoms and get a positive test result.

“That’s really before we made some of these major steps forward with reopening,” she said about Summit’s reopening process, which began in earnest June 1. “(Eagle County) is in a different place than we are. We know we have higher visitors than they do on a regular basis.”

Summit County requested a variance from the state’s order May 15 to open short-term rentals and was later denied. Wineland said it takes the state 10 days to approve a request, which could cause major changes in how the data is interpreted. 

“By the time they got to the point of reviewing it, we had some outbreaks that occurred,” she said.

If that state approves Eagle County’s “black diamond phase,” it would remove 50% occupancy restrictions on restaurants, swimming pools and places of worship. Instead, it would rely on those businesses to have a 6-foot distance between groups of people. 

Eagle County also is hoping to allow open houses for real estate, transportation for recreation activities and esthetician businesses to operate. If approved, Eagle County would keep face covering language consistent with the state’s order, which “urges” rather than requires people to wear masks. 

In comparison, Summit County’s order requires people to wear face coverings when in a building open to the public or outside where a 6-foot distance from others isn’t possible.

Wineland said it’s also possible that Polis increases the gathering limitations statewide at the end of the month after evaluating the state’s progress.

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