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Those in the restaurant industry breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday when the Pitkin County Board of Health stopped shy of implementing red-level restrictions that would have prohibited indoor dining.


The Pitkin County Board of Health, at a special meeting Monday, did not move the county into all-out level red on the state’s COVID dial, but did implement many of the “severe-risk” level’s accompanying restrictions.

“I would call it ‘orange-plus-plus,’ Markey Butler, who chairs the Pitkin County Board of Health, said of the county’s latest iteration of restrictions. 

The new restrictions, which take effect Tuesday, allow Pitkin County restaurants to still operate at 25% capacity indoors as long as they continue to conduct last call at 9:30 p.m. and close by 10 p.m. However, restaurants can only seat members of a single household together.

Had the board opted to move entirely into level red, restaurants would have had to stop indoor dining altogether and rely on takeout and delivery.

“These red-level restrictions with capacity for restaurants to still operate is what we need — everything we can do outside of a total shutdown,” said Aspen Mayor Torre, who also serves on the Board of Health. “If each one of us does our part, we can be successful to slow disease transmission in our community.”

Beginning Tuesday, Pitkin County will prohibit indoor events, unless organizers had already submitted their indoor event safety plans on or before Sunday (Dec. 20). In accordance with Pitkin County’s latest restrictions, offices and gyms must reduce their operating capacities from 25% to 10% indoors. Critical and non-critical retail businesses may continue to operate at 50% capacity.

Monday’s special Board of Health gathering was held to address Pitkin County’s two-week cumulative incidence rate, which has continued to trend upwards despite the county implementing several mitigation measures. The county previously adopted its own ‘orange-plus’ restrictions just days before Thanksgiving and later required visitors to complete a visitor affidavit beginning Dec. 14.

As of Monday, Pitkin County’s two-week cumulative incidence rate was well into level-red metrics at 1,447. The state’s orange “high-risk” level calls for a two-week incidence rate of less than 350 per 100,000 people.

“This is war, right?” said Brent Miller, Board of Health member. “[These] are extraordinary times. If we were having discussions like this for something lesser you’d hear all sorts of people talking about infringement of their personal rights and et cetera.”

It was also announced at Monday’s BOH meeting that Aspen’s New Year’s Eve fireworks display had been canceled due to COVID-19.

“The city determined that the potential for gatherings, whether on the mountain, at private homes, or in the parks, was just too much risk and so we have canceled the fireworks,” Aspen Councilmember Ann Mullins, who also serves as an alternate board member, said during Monday’s meeting.

The Town of Snowmass Village, however, will still have fireworks on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

“We believe we can provide this amenity [in] a safe, socially distanced manner for our residents and guests,” Clint Kinney, Snowmass Village town manager, said in an email.

The town of Snowmass Village does not offer a designated viewing area for its firework displays.

The Board of Health will revisit whether to implement additional restrictions in early January.

Local restaurateur Ryan Chadwick hoped Pitkin County’s metrics would trend in the right direction so as to avoid another shutdown. He expressed frustration with how little assistance had been provided to ailing businesses.

“It’s strange,” Chadwick said. “They just expect that you can pause, for an undetermined amount of time, and you’ll be OK because you can just open back up again. That’s not how restaurants work."

Matthew Bennett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at: matthew@aspendailynews.com