Covid tent wheeler

The COVID-19 testing tent outside the Wheeler Opera House was closed on Wednesday, but will be open starting at 1 p.m. prior to Friday’s shows. Aspen City Council updated an order on Tuesday allowing the Wheeler to require proof of vaccination or a negative same-day COVID test. 

(Editor's note: Following the publication of this story, the Wheeler Opera House announced today (Jan. 13) that events scheduled at the venue for today and Friday have been canceled due to staff illness. The Wheeler staff anticipates resuming normal operations next week.)

Aspen City Council on Tuesday approved a request from the Wheeler Opera House to require same-day negative COVID-19 tests for performance attendees and allow staff to reduce in-house capacity as they see fit during times of high COVID transmission.

Previously, the Wheeler required non-vaccinated guests to show proof of a negative COVID test within the last 72 hours. The venue also followed additional safety measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Executive Director Lisa Rigsby Peterson told the council that compliance has been excellent, and the new regulations will simply add more layers of protection to Wheeler staff, performers and guests.

“We believe that with these two changes to our COVID protocols, we can continue to remain open and keep people as safe as we possibly can,” she said. “We feel as if remaining open for the Wheeler is something that is good for our community.”

Under the updated administrative order, everyone 2 years old and older who enters the Wheeler must show either proof of vaccination or a third party-administered negative COVID test from the same day. The Wheeler also offers rapid tests before certain shows at a tent outside the building for those who haven’t had a chance to get a test within 72 hours, and results are sent via text message within 15 minutes.

The updated order also gives Rigsby Peterson the authority to reduce audience capacity to 50% until rampant spread of COVID throughout the community ceases. Pitkin County is currently reporting a high level of transmission and recommending significant measures to limit contact between persons, according to the county’s COVID-19 response and recovery website. Rigsby Peterson said that limiting the number of people who can gather in the Wheeler is a tool to keep everyone safe.

Council unanimously voted to support the changes, and Councilmember Rachel Richards said she would like to see the city take even more action. She noted that she has seen a trend in more and more organizations adopting vaccination-only policies, such as Aspen Skiing Co., which requires all employees to be fully vaccinated.

“I’d like to see us go further, and I would like to see us be vaccination-only,” Richards said. “I personally feel — other than folks who have a medical reason why they are unable to get a vaccination, that we should go further.”

Other councilmembers supported the updates, although Richards was the only one to suggest requiring vaccinations at the Wheeler. Rigsby Peterson also said she did not personally feel that requiring booster shots or vaccines was necessary yet. Councilmember Skippy Mesirow said he was fully supportive of the updates but asked how the Wheeler could make sure that rapid tests do not run out, and what the city would do if they do.

Mayor Torre said the city is working hard to keep rapid tests in supply and asked Rigsby Peterson to keep the city informed of any challenges.

“The city actually was instrumental in providing this space, obviously, next to the Wheeler, but also working with this provider in order to make sure that these were going to be available, so we’re doing everything we can,” he said. “We want to know how this goes and to make sure that the availability of these tests stays consistent, if not even more.”

The vote came before the Wheeler’s Wintersköl programming on Friday, which will feature a showing of “Aspen History 101” at 5:30 p.m. and “Aspen Extreme” at 7:30 p.m. The events are free to the public, but reservations are necessary.

Rapid tests will be available at the tent outside the Wheeler for $25 starting at 1 p.m. Rigsby Peterson said this makes it easier for patrons who need a test to receive one as they please without having to rush.

“If you’d like to stroll over and test in a leisurely manner, you’re welcome to do that,” she said. “It’s not just the half hour before we start.”