Coronameter

Pitkin County officials have been warned that on Wednesday, the locale will fall into Colorado state’s coronavirus Level 3 “orange” arena, which will require more stringent public health restrictions.

Pitkin County continues to head in the wrong direction on the state’s COVID-19 dial, which has prompted local officials to consider mandating even more stringent regulations than those already on the horizon.

During Thursday’s Pitkin County Board of Health meeting, Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said the county will move into the “Level 3: High Risk” category on the state’s COVID-19 dial beginning Wednesday. The shift also means new restrictions on Pitkin County businesses, including limiting several sectors to operating at just 25% of their normal capacities.

“Our 14-day incidence rate is now at 287 — that is the highest that it’s ever been,” Josh Vance, Pitkin County epidemiologist, said Thursday. “We’ve had 56 cases in the last 14 days among Pitkin County residents. We’ve had very few out-of-jurisdiction cases. Basically, all cases are Pitkin County residents at this point, and it’s Pitkin County residents infecting other Pitkin County residents.”

Vance estimated that 1 out of every 217 Pitkin County residents had the virus, marking a 0.46% prevalence rate.

According to Koenemann, the county received a warning letter from CDPHE on Nov. 3, met with state officials to discuss mitigation measures on Tuesday and will do so again Monday before the new restrictions take effect Wednesday.

“As soon as we’re moved into that orange color on Wednesday, all of those [restrictions] will be starting,” Koenemann said. “It impacts kind of every major sector of our community.”

Currently, Pitkin County restaurants must adhere to 50% indoor capacity restrictions, as well as an 11 p.m. service cutoff. However, beginning Wednesday, eateries must close by 10 p.m. and reduce their indoor operating capacity to just 25%. Additionally, offices, retail shops, gyms and places of worship will also have to reduce their indoor operating capacities from 50% to 25%..

Furthermore, counties may not apply for COVID-19 variances from the state when they move into the high-risk category.

Pitkin County Public Health held a virtual town hall with the local business community Thursday morning but did not explicitly state when the new restrictions would come down from CDPHE. But hours later, it was confirmed the county would in fact move into the higher-risk orange category on Wednesday. According to county officials, they weren’t made aware of the specific date until after Thursday morning’s town hall and prior to the board of health’s afternoon meeting.

“The coronameter process is pretty new for the state, and I think they’re making adjustments to their processes in response to what’s happening with the virus,” Jon Peacock, Pitkin County manager, said. “I think timelines have been shortened, and they’re figuring that out. … We’re seeing some change, but I don’t think that’s totally surprising, given how new the process is for the state and how much infection rates are changing.”

During Thursday’s health board meeting, members discussed additional mitigation strategies, which they may take action on at a later date. Those possible strategies include stricter municipal curfews, decreasing lodging capacity and requiring travelers to test negative for COVID-19 prior to their arrival in Pitkin County.

“Once they’re here, the cat’s out of the bag — COVID’s out of the bag,” Greg Poschman, Pitkin County commissioner who serves as vice chair of the health board, said Thursday. “What I want to see is a commitment that you’ve been tested after you’ve made your reservation [and] before you come to our valley.”

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