covid meter

County commissioners passed an emergency resolution Wednesday authorizing Pitkin County to hire additional public health personnel — as soon as possible — in anticipation of the upcoming ski season and the accompanying influx of tourists to the area.

The new COVID-related positions include a testing and vaccine analyst, along with a case investigator, or contact tracer. Pitkin County commissioners already approved an emergency resolution in June, which called for 12 new positions all directly related to the county’s COVID-19 response.

According to Pitkin County Budget Director Connie Baker, those 12 positions were made up of four contact tracers, two contact tracers (including supervisors), two consumer protection specialists, two public health administrators, a public health analyst and an administrative assistant.

“As the winter months were approaching and schools were starting back up, [the county] felt the need to beef up their staffing for COVID a little bit more with these two new positions,” Baker said. “The opportunity also came along because Snowmass Village was willing to fund a good part of the cost of these two positions.”

According to a county staff report, Snowmass Village will reimburse the county $170,000 from its Coronavirus Relief Fund, and in return, the county will dedicate a consumer protection specialist and a contact tracer to Snowmass Village.

County staff requested the addition of a testing and vaccine analyst to assist with planning and coordination of COVID-19 testing, as well as vaccine distribution when a vaccine becomes available.

County staff also wanted to hire an additional case investigator — also referred to as a contact tracer — to “have a dedicated resource for schools,” the county staff report explained.

Prior to discussing the emergency resolution, Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury commented that the county, state and nation were beginning to see an uptick in COVID-19 cases and reminded the public to adhere to the Five Commitments of Containment.

“We all need to just double down and refresh our behaviors,” Kury said. “Washing your hands, sanitizing frequently, staying home when you’re sick, wearing a mask, getting tested and staying 6 feet apart.”

County data indicates an uptick in COVID-19 cases not seen since August — on Tuesday, the 14-day count was up to 33 new cases, the highest number since Aug. 7, at 38.

In addition to the two new positions specific to COVID-19 containment, the emergency resolution also called for the hiring of a financial analyst.

“We’ve grown the public health department pretty dramatically in response to COVID,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman. “I’m sure they’re being responsive to the needs.”

Poschman commended the county’s public health department for their work during the pandemic but also wanted to see a comprehensive report detailing how the additional positions were working out.

“When things scale up rapidly and a lot of money is spent … it makes me a little nervous — only because I want to make sure we understand where it’s all going, how it’s being spent,” Poschman said. “At some point, I think we’re going to want to get our bearings with what sort of structure we are going to have at the end of this thing.”

County Manager Jon Peacock said the county had been fortunate in that it was able to attract and hire qualified individuals for the various COVID-related positions.

“We are figuring out new roles in a very fast-moving environment,” Peacock said. “We are making adjustments as needs change, and one thing we know about the pandemic is that the needs evolve.”

The new COVID-19 positions have been budgeted for the remainder of 2020 and will likely remain intact through 2021. The financial analyst position, however, is likely to remain a permanent position.

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