Pitkin County will not move into the red “severe-risk” level on the state’s COVID-19 dial, at least not of its own accord. Instead, the health board favored creating its own “orange plus” designation that would impose restrictions above and beyond those already being mandated by the state, but still less draconian than a stay-at-home order.
“It’s really catastrophic to think of a voluntary situation where you would make the decision to shut down restaurants for 30 days,” local restaurateur Jimmy Yeagar said during Thursday’s Pitkin County Board of Health meeting. “The unemployment in Aspen alone, I think, would be between 700 and 1,000 people in a temporary layoff. But, that’s just the problem is that, would it be temporary? How do you guarantee a reopening in 30 days? What if the numbers don’t go down?”
On Thursday at 5 p.m., Pitkin County shifted into the orange high-risk level on the state’s COVID-19 dial, which requires restaurants, offices, gyms, places of worship and other sectors to operate at just 25% of their normal capacities. Within Pitkin County’s orange-plus level, none of that would change. Additionally, retail businesses, both critical and non, could still operate at 50% capacity, as outlined by the state’s guidelines.
The new orange-plus restrictions, the specifics of which the county still needs to finalize, calls for a “visitor pledge/affidavit” requiring individuals to commit to the five commitments of containment, follow any quarantine and isolation requirements, wear masks and “be symptom-free before traveling to or from Pitkin County.” The new restrictions will take effect in the coming days, after Pitkin County Public Health has time to iron out the specifics of those additional requirements.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Chief of Staff Mara Brosy-Wiwchar — who participated in Thursday’s health board meeting — confirmed that the state would require counties to move into the red level, should the local metrics warrant it. Previously, it was not immediately clear if the state would force counties to make that move or if it would be a voluntary decision made locally.
“I appreciate the level ‘orange plus.’ I think that that’s a really inventive and collaborative way to have mitigation strategies and really recommend you take those,” Brosy-Wiwchar said. “But what’s more is to look at level red. With your metrics, I imagine that I will be here again in, you know, eight days, talking about that the county will need to move to level red due to where the metrics sit, unfortunately.”
The state utilizes three metrics to determine where counties fall on the COVID-19 dial: new cases locally, percent-positivity rate and the impact on hospitalizations.
“Pitkin County is solidly, right now, within our red metrics,” Brosy-Wiwchar said.
She explained the state did not move counties into the red unless they had experienced the level’s severe-risk metrics for at least 14 days. Pitkin County moved into the orange because it had only recorded red-level metrics for six days.
According to epidemiologist Josh Vance, Pitkin County had 96 COVID-19 cases reported in the last two weeks. Vance said on Friday alone, the county saw 19 new cases.
“We were just overwhelmed and swamped with 19 cases on a Saturday morning to try to work through,” Vance said. “If we continue at the current rate, that purple [stay-at-home order] is where we’re headed. So, by mid-December, we’d have 468 cases in a two-week period.”
Although the virus had been contracted in various capacities locally, the lion’s share — 23% — were transmitted through informal gatherings,15% from construction and 15% through restaurants. Currently, 404 individuals are quarantined in Pitkin County due to COVID-19.