Belly Up

Belly Up Aspen on Friday.

Pitkin County will still require people to wear masks indoors and on public transportation as of May 28 — but it will otherwise kiss the rest of its COVID-19 public health restrictions goodbye.

“Distancing will still be a recommendation,” Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County Public Health interim executive director said during Thursday’s board of health meeting. “That’s no longer a requirement, and there are no more capacity restrictions.”

Pitkin County will remain at Level Green on the state’s COVID-19 dial through May 27. Once the COVID-19 dial no longer applies, Pitkin County will still require people to wear masks indoors — unless 80% of people have been fully vaccinated. Additionally, the 20% or fewer of unvaccinated patrons indoors at any given event would have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entering the facility.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines shortly before Thursday’s BOH meeting to say that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or physically distance in any setting except when required by federal, state or local laws.

Although most of Pitkin County’s COVID-19 requirements will become recommendations May 28, members of the board of health still implored residents and visitors to follow the five commitments to containment and, most of all, get vaccinated.

“It only takes just a little bad apple to spread [COVID-19],” BOH alternate Markey Butler said. “We don’t ever want to go back to [the] Orange zone or Red zone. So we have no idea what the summer will bring.”

Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg said he intends to reopen the 450-person-capacity indoor music venue around the third week of June.

“There’s clearly an appetite for live music this summer. There’s an appetite not just from a customer perspective but from the artist perspective,” Goldberg said. “We’ve determined that the artists, our staff and finally customers are considerably more comfortable being in an environment where they know that the majority of people have been vaccinated.”

Businesses like Belly Up would be responsible for tracking each patron’s vaccination status, and unvaccinated attendees would have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the event in order for indoor events to be mask free.

As of Thursday, 59% of Pitkin County residents were fully vaccinated and 70% had received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Public health officials have estimated that between 70% and 85% of the population needs to be fully vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity.

Pitkin County Public Health epidemiologist Josh Vance presented data during Thursday’s BOH meeting that illustrated the correlation between high vaccination rates and plummeting COVID-19 case counts.

“From before mid-April, we’ve just been on a downward trajectory and are now really down in the single digits of case counts being reported to us over a two-week period,” Vance said.

Regional hospital capacity has also remained at a comfortable level over the last several weeks, officials said Thursday.

Public health officials will continue to monitor hospital capacity and may reimplement the COVID-19 dial and its accompanying restrictions if over 85% of hospital beds are filled at any point. The board of health will reconvene on June 10 to reexamine local data and determine whether or not to implement any additional restrictions.

“This pandemic is still extremely real,” Vance said. “There is still a lot of hurt and people suffering around the world … from this virus.”

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