Pitkin County’s government offices will remain closed until a date still to be decided, officials said Tuesday.
“I think there’s been some confusion with the public since we got our variances with the expectation that our offices have opened back up,” County Manager Jon Peacock said during a work session of commissioners on Tuesday afternoon.
He was referring to variances the county requested from the state, which were approved May 24, regarding reopening guidelines for restaurants and lodging as well as other sectors of the economy.
Phase II of the county public health department’s “Roadmap to Recovery” plan allows larger gathering sizes and limited openings of restaurants, lodges and retail operations. But county government is still following the state’s guidelines to limit workers to 50% or less of normal office capacity and limiting public access to county facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a news release issued prior to the work session.
Since the global pandemic became a local factor in mid-March, local and state governments have issued public health orders that shut down businesses deemed nonessential while also closing public access to government buildings to prevent the coronavirus spread. The county’s elected officials, as well those representing local municipalities such as the city of Aspen, have been conducting meetings online, allowing citizens to comment via telephone or email.
County and city departments have continued to operate, albeit with many workers handling their duties from home. Functions for the public have been provided via phone and online — sometimes in-person, but only in extremely limited instances.
“We have had great success in serving the public virtually while our brick-and-mortar offices have been shut down,” Peacock said in the release. “We’ve provided everything from meals and activities to our senior population to online motor vehicle and election services and library curbside service. We’ve even launched a new, more efficient online building-permit-tracking process and a much-improved property and parcel search website out of the assessor’s office.”
Pitkin County leadership is currently working on details of a phased reopening plan that would include daily employee symptom checks and temperature-taking, the release says. Signage on the exterior and interiors of all Pitkin County facilities will be in line with the public health department’s “Five Commitments to Containment,” which include maintaining at least six feet of social distance, washing hands often, covering faces, staying home if sick and seeking testing immediately if symptomatic.
“We believe that there is just no reason to rush to fully reopen our offices and risk increasing our staff and the public’s potential for exposure,” Peacock said in the release.
The only Pitkin County facilities that have remained open to the public are the landfill and the airport, the release notes.
At the meeting, Peacock said he anticipates a possible late-June public opening of county offices, including the Board of County Commissioners meetings at the county’s administration building, 530 E. Main St. However, the closures could possibly be extended to the end of June, he said.
“Some of the challenges we’re trying to work through are [how] to social distance,” Peacock said.
For example, with the goal of allowing the public to access the BOCC meeting room, the county will have to determine who and how many people will be allowed inside, and how to deal with “vulnerable populations,” Peacock said.
“We’ll probably be in this mode of doing business for a few more weeks,” he said of commissioners’ virtual meetings.
Aspen city officials have yet to make firm determinations of when City Hall will reopen to public business.
Aspen Public Works Director Scott Miller said in an email Tuesday that decisions will depend on public health orders relating to the size of group gatherings so as to accommodate municipal employees, plus any public visitors.
Compounding the issue, he wrote, are problems with the Galena Street building such as: lack of common space, narrow hallways, not enough restrooms, cramped restrooms and lack of mechanical ventilation.
“We will first implement re-entry plans for each city department, then phase in public entry,” Miller said.