The state health department has indicated that the Pitkin County’s mandated health orders will increase this week, even beyond the “orange” level restrictions that go into place on Wednesday.
Sara Ott, Aspen City Manager, gave the announcement of further restrictions to the City Council at their work session Monday night.
“We are headed down a road we don't want to go down,” Ott said.
The county’s incident rate has spiked to 450 per 100,000 positive COVID-19 cases. The state has indicated that Pitkin County will need to move into the “red” zone by the end of the week, which means no indoor dining and early curfews will be enacted.
She said that in talks with the business community, there is a sense that it is better to spend the next month getting cases back under control so that the town can reopen safely as the height of ski tourism begins.
“We are nine days away from the bull wheels turning, so this is some pretty big planning and changes,” she said.
Ott also had good news for the council. Just as the new orders take effect, Aspen will have its first free community testing site downtown. Beginning Nov. 23, a kiosk will be set up outside of City Hall to provide COVID-19 tests to those experiencing symptoms or told they’ve been exposed by the county’s contact tracing team, per the “medically necessary testing” guidelines outlined by the CARES Act for billing insurance companies.
The location behind City Hall is known as Warren’s Alley. The scheduling and administration of the tests will be done by Aspen Valley Hospital.
Mayor Torre said the increase in testing will help address the rising incident levels.
“One of our prime initiatives over the last months and month has been to get better community access and availability for testing,” he said.
However, he stated that he wants the community to take ownership of curbing the spread of the disease and not wait for the state to enact stricter public health orders.
“We highly encourage our citizens of Aspen to start staying as isolated as possible and avoiding contact,” he said. “It is not time to go have a last hurrah before the lockdown. It is time to just simply stay at home.”
Ott spoke along the same lines, saying the public needs to reduce social bubbles immediately.
“This includes skipping those dinner parties, those drinks, those other gatherings. A lot of folks need to take a look at their plans for Thanksgiving,” she said.
Pitkin County’s epidemiologist Josh Vance has attributed the rise in case numbers to locals infecting other locals.
Other council members said they would join Torre in signing a declaration encouraging locals to self-isolate and only go into public spaces for essential trips.
Councilmember Ward Hauenstein said the sense of COVID-fatigue after nearly 11 months of dealing with the pandemic is leading people to make counterproductive choices.
“A lot of people are letting down their guard, and the numbers are showing it. When the lifts open and people can’t come here because we are in red, that's the price we are going to pay for noncompliance to an honorary system,” Hauenstein said.
The city is also in talks with other public and private partners to continue free testing at the Warren’s Alley site, even after state funding runs out at the end of 2020.
“I have a lot of faith right now that we are at least going to get more of a handle on this over the next two weeks,” Torre said. “How it is going to play out over the rest of the winter, I don't know.”