After voting to adopt the state’s updated COVID-19 dial last week, the Pitkin County Board of Health will debate yet another controversial topic in the weeks ahead: Pitkin County’s self-imposed traveler affidavit.
“I want that conversation to start now,” Aspen Mayor Torre said in an interview Tuesday. “That conversation is something that should include our community as well. It’s not just a conversation at the board of health table.”
Aspen Mayor Torre, who also serves on the health board, said he wanted to discuss how long and to what degree the traveler affidavit should remain intact at the next BOH meeting on Feb. 25.
According to Pitkin County’s COVID-19 response and recovery website, the traveler affidavit will remain in effect until “at least April 30.”
“I am really delighted with how successful I think that traveler affidavit has been,” Torre said. “How many people tested positive before they flew and did not come and thereby prevented potential spread — that I don’t know. But I can tell you that it did raise the awareness for our visitors this winter, and I think that was one of the great benefits the affidavit had.”
Torre — and many of his colleagues on the Board of Health — had hoped Gov. Jared Polis would implement a state-wide traveler affidavit, but when he did not, Pitkin County enacted its own.
The local traveler affidavit requires overnight visitors to have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their arrival or to quarantine for 10 days upon arriving in Pitkin County. The five-page affidavit provides information concerning the five commitments of containment, local mask-wearing requirements and rules against informal gatherings.
“I don’t think that some of those components need to go away,” Torre said particularly of the affidavit’s educational information.
Pitkin County Public Health deletes traveler affidavits 60 days after their submission “if no longer required for enforcement proceedings.”
Failure to comply with the traveler affidavit’s requirements can land violators a $5,000 fine according to the public health order.
“We did have a huge rush when we opened the program back on Dec. 14,” Tracy Trulove, Pitkin County COVID-19 Response and Recovery public information officer, said off the traveler affidavit program. “It has still been pretty active with people filling it out.”
According to Trulove, to date, Pitkin County has received over 59,000 traveler affidavits.
During its Tuesday regular meeting, the Snowmass Village Town Council discussed the traveler affidavit, at Mayor Bill Madsen’s request, and expressed support to keep the program in place in its current iteration at least through the ski season.
“I wanted to get their point of view, and they were all pretty unanimous about, ‘We should keep the traveler affidavit,’ and I want to make sure their opinions are honored,” Madsen said after the council meeting Tuesday evening. “I’m just one voice in Snowmass Village, and I think we should learn as much as we can and take that information and learn from it.”
He had expressed some reservations about the traveler affidavit, echoing concerns voiced last month during an Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors meeting that the added step of either acquiring a negative COVID-19 test or quarantining upon arrival could serve as a deterrent to would-be visitors.
“It’s interesting how word travels in the tourism industry,” Madsen, who also serves as an alternate on the health board, said. “Even though it’s really not that big a deal to get tested, a lot of people feel like it is, and they go elsewhere as a result of it. If they can go to Vail or Breckenridge and not deal with that — some people are making that choice.”
When Pitkin County’s traveler affidavit went into effect on Dec. 14, at the time, the county’s 14-day incidence rate was 1,002 cases per 100,000 residents. One month later, on Jan. 14, Pitkin County’s 14-day incidence rate had reached 2,922 cases per 100,000 residents.
As of Tuesday, Pitkin County’s seven-day incidence rate had dropped to 118 cases per 100,000 residents. The state’s new COVID-19 Dial 2.0 shifted from using a 14-day to seven-day metric.
For Madsen’s part, he’s hopeful that if the traveler affidavit does remain in place, the benefit of time and hindsight may offer some lessons for the future about the efficacy of the program.
“That way, hopefully there’s some sort of dipstick and we can figure out if it’s working, if it’s not working. We want to do what’s right for the community,” he said.