At Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, the commissioners received a weekly update from the county Incident Management Team.
Incident Commander Brad White told the commissioners they’d had a good week. Some businesses had been able to reopen and the county was holding at 5 confirmed cases of COVID-19. He added there were another 5 confirmed cases where the individuals reside elsewhere in the state, one of which remained in the hospital.
White said they anticipated delivery of 300 swab kits which would enable the county to conduct surveillance testing of front-line workers that have had a lot of contact with the public. “It is voluntary, but because it is a state lab test, it costs nothing to the employer,” said White. The tests will give a better indication of whether COVID-19 has been in the county.
Towns and businesses in the community have expressed frustration with not having any solid dates to work with for reopening. White told the commissioners they were considering applying for a variance from the state’s Stay at Home order to give the businesses a better foundation and certainty for reopening.
In order to apply for the variance, the county must submit a written application to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) certifying the county has low case counts and document a 14 consecutive day decline in COVID-19 cases. The application must also include a COVID-19 suppression plan approved by Grand County Public Health, the local hospital system, Middle Park Health, and the county commissioners.
The suppression plan must address prevalence of COVID-19 within the county, discussion regarding the county’s hospital capacity, including number of ICU beds (none) and ventilators (5); adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers; EMS capacity; testing and detection; containment of outbreak; and contact tracing capabilities.
The application must also identify specifically each restriction found within the Safer at Home Order for which a variance is being requested, and what alternative restrictions are proposed. An application for variance does not guarantee approval by the CDPHE.
Both Eagle and Mesa counties were granted a variance. In some cases, Eagle County enacted stricter regulations than the state order and White pointed out that Eagle County is not really open for business to all. “Be aware, this isn’t a waiver to make our own rules,” he cautioned. The goal is to meet the intent of Safer at Home.
Public Health Director Brene Belew-LaDue told the commissioners, “The one thing with variances and Public Health orders is there is no guarantee. There is no date we can guarantee other than the government order. We don’t know what is going to happen with this virus. After a couple of weeks of being open, whether it ramps back up. We can open some things, but we may have to close them as well.”
White said the team had been monitoring other municipality requests to see whose are approved. With limited acute care available in Grand County, White felt they could pick a few items for which to request a variance. Currently, they had identified three areas of focus for a limited variance request:
- High School Graduation Ceremonies. “We are trying to get the kids a good respectful way to move on with life,” said White;
- Restaurants. Determining reasonable occupancy standards.
- Short-term rentals (STR). “We are seeing if we can shorten STR restrictions from May 26 to May 21,” said White. He added, “I’m skeptical, since it’s pretty contrary to the governor’s message of local travel within their own county.”
Winter Park Business owner, Rebecca Kauffman, spoke on behalf of the newly formed Grand County Restaurant Group. “We are growing ever impatient. We need a confirmed date for reopening. We need to train our staff, financial relief for PPE and we need to find sources. We are going to have those things and there is no money tree in our backyard,” said Kauffman. She added that guidance from one source without contradicting information was imperative. Clarification of acceptable occupancy and whether to use fire code as a baseline was also needed. “Even if we only have people on patios, we need liquor license and zoning relaxation, and sanitizing products as well. Some businesses are weeks away from closing their doors. We need clear and concise information.”
“It is really important for you to work as aggressively as possible to get everybody open,” said Ed Raegnar. “We need to get on a cohesive path. In my experience at the state level, rural is an afterthought. As you work with the guidelines, try to advocate for us as a rural group. We still need to get open.”
Charles Johnson, owner of Cooper Creek Square and Winter Park Station pointed out the emotional toll the virus has had on local businesses. “We need to welcome visitors in the safest way we can. We never had and will never have the ability to treat a high number of cases. We need to work with the state to provide a very clear warning to visitors that they travel at their own risk.”
Ryan Barwick added, “The hardest part is the uncertainty. We can’t control much of anything. As of right now, there is a lot of conflicting information. Can we plan on Memorial Day? June 1? June 15? July 1? I don’t know if there is an answer. We need guidance for business to try to plan around so we can staff, get balls rolling, get to point that, when the switch is flipped, we are ready.”
Winter Park & Fraser Chamber Director Catherine Ross said, “I do understand there is no guidance. We need any kind of guidance – make the information short & sweet, clear and concise. We are all learning and we want to offer our help with dates and direction. A variance gets us a little more control over Grand County. It helps everybody’s sanity to have dates that are targets.” Ross later asked the commissioners to include STRs in their guidance since they too are looking for direction.
Commissioner Chair Kris Manguso said she wanted to make sure other businesses, such as outfitters, furniture stores and the like are also provided guidance.
“This whole process has been frustrating for the IMT as well,” said White. The governor’s draft order differed from the final order, leaving the team scrambling in the eleventh hour.
IMT Public Information Officer Schelly Olson told the commissioners they were still seeking clarification from the CDPHE on campgrounds and short-term rentals. Olson clarified that masks are required to be worn by employees at essential businesses. All businesses have the option to require customers wear masks and refuse service to those that don’t comply. She added that the general public is encouraged to wear a mask.
The commissioners directed the IMT to work on the variance request. White told them they would submit the request as soon as the six indicators required had been met. “We have 3, and we believe by the end of the week we’ll have 2 more. I am reluctant to put a date, but anticipate by early next week.”