Sundeck distancing

Staff at the Sundeck on Saturday morning rearranged table placements in order to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing recommendations of at least six feet between private parties. By Saturday evening, following a state mandate by Gov. Jared Polis, Aspen Skiing Co. closed all its operations with the exception of the Limelight Aspen.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is now recommending that residents and recent visitors of Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Gunnison counties to minimize social contact — regardless of whether or not they’re showing COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’re seeing extensive outbreaks in these communities,” Rachel Herlihy, CDPHE state epidemiologist, said in a statement Sunday. “We are asking people to take this voluntary action to slow the spread of the disease in Colorado and keep people safe. If we do this now, our hope is that we can slow down the spread of this virus and lessen the potential stress on our health care systems and workers.”

That’s a step further than social distancing, the mitigation tactic public health officials are emphasizing across the state. During a time of increasing social isolation in response to COVID-19, local authorities are rallying efforts around community organizing and messaging.

“It’s been wonderful; we have a lot of people that are wanting help, and what we need to do is make sure we have the appropriate means for allowing people to be interactive in a help capacity in a time when what we’re dealing with is a challenge that presents itself to stay away from each other,” Aspen Mayor Torre said. “How can we best work together and have volunteerism?”

It’s a question he hopes to have some answers to early this week, he said.

Pitkin County commissioners, together with the city of Aspen and town of Snowmass Village, released a letter to the community Sunday afternoon recapping concerns surrounding potential undue strain on the area’s health care infrastructure and the need for individual responsibility regarding social distancing.

“Although our healthcare system is excellent, it is relatively limited in terms of hospital beds and capacity. It is imperative that we not overwhelm the system so that it can care for those who are at most risk,” the letter reads. “Keep in mind that our healthcare system must also remain available for all of the other emergent needs.”

On Thursday night, Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties announced that events with more than 50 people will be prohibited — though Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said in a press briefing Friday afternoon that he’s counting on the community self-policing and self-enforcing that order.

That announcement came after a flurry of event cancellations. Starting Sunday morning, Aspen Skiing Co., following a statewide order from Gov. Jared Polis, closed all four mountains. Additionally, with the exception of the Limelight Aspen, SkiCo closed its ancillary businesses — and some independently owned businesses have followed suit.

Local officials acknowledged in their letter that the COVID-19 outbreak has for many become as much an economic threat as a health one. 

“We are deeply concerned for our community members who are being so gravely impacted by the economic impacts of these cancellations and closures brought on by COVID-19,” they say in their letter. “We continue to seek the balance between the large-scale safety of the community and our community members’ need to earn a living. Thank you to the businesses that have made some difficult decisions and thanks to those critical businesses that continue to provide important services.”

At this point, Pitkin County is no longer offering general COVID-19 testing. Rather, only those who exhibit extreme symptoms and who require hospitalization may be tested at a physician’s discretion — a decision that’s been met with considerable public backlash on social media platforms.

Local authorities seemed to have taken note of the negative response, because the letter from the BOCC, Aspen and Snowmass Village officials addressed the testing situation in a singular, two-sentence paragraph in bold letters.

“Our community has not stopped testing,” it states. “We continue to test high risk patients that present to [Aspen Valley Hospital] for treatment.”

While the number of presumptive positive COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County remains at 11 as of Sunday — with 23 tests pending results — CDPHE confirmed 30 new cases across the state, bringing the state total to 131 across 17 counties. Eagle County now represents the second highest cluster of presumptive confirmed cases at 24, right behind Denver County at 25.

Megan Tackett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.