| AspenTimes.com

Aspen School District ditching quarantines, still deciding on mask policy

David Bull of the Aspen School District’s facilities department swabs his mouth while self-administering a COVID-19 test outside of Aspen Middle School on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. This is Bull’s third test and the previous results were negative. He explained he takes the tests because he has a wife and son at home, as well as wanting to make sure he’s keeping the elderly employees he works with safe. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen School District will not mandate vaccines for students and does not plan on implementing quarantines but is still evaluating mask policies for the 2021-22 school year, Superintendent David Baugh confirmed this week.

“We’re getting a lot of questions about coming back to school, which really translates to, ‘What’s school going to look like?’ Well, school is going to look like school. We’re going to be back in person — we’re excited about that,” Baugh said during a midsummer update video on Monday.

Though students won’t be required to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, the district does expect all staff to get the jab and hopes all students who are able will also opt to get vaccinated, Baugh said.

“We hope everybody who can get a vaccine got a vaccine,” he said. “The science is overwhelmingly clear that even with the variants, the vaccines are a huge help.”

That said, the district does not have stats on how many teachers, staff and students are vaccinated, Baugh wrote in an email Thursday.

“We assume most of our staff are vaccinated (why wouldn’t you be — that research is most compelling) but we do not have that data as it is protected information,” he wrote.

As for mask policies in Aspen public schools, Baugh said in the video that the district expects to release additional guidance in early August.

That announcement was shared just one day before the state issued its recommendation — but no requirement — for in-school masking for unvaccinated individuals, which includes all students under the age of 12.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s recommendation released Tuesday aligns with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued earlier this month with mask recommendations for unvaccinated people. The American Academy of Pediatrics erred more cautiously with an in-school mask recommendation for all individuals over the age of 2 — vaccinated and unvaccinated alike — in its guidance released July 19.

The state said districts can choose to implement stricter masking policies, but Aspen administrators have yet to make that call. Baugh said Thursday that the district plans to hold tight until early August in case guidance changes as some schools reopen.

“We are still not one hundred percent sure about masks, so we are holding for the time being there. We do know that for the most part kids had no trouble with masks — obviously some kids had trouble but for the most part they wore masks and wore them well,” he wrote. ”We also saw decreases as a nation in transmissible disease last year from the social distancing, mask wearing and constant hand washing so the masks aren’t all bad as part of an overall strategy.”

The state public health department also will not require quarantining for “routine” COVID-19 exposure in the classroom.

There are some exceptions, including “higher risk exposures” like singing and contact sports and high community transmission rates that could prompt quarantines.

But overall, it will mean more students can spend more time learning in person rather than online — a big change after last school year’s waves of quarantines that at times counted several classrooms and more than 100 students at home after exposure to the virus.

That’s good news to the district, which does not plan to implement quarantines in the fall.

“We do not believe that quarantining was helpful — in fact there was so much quarantining with so little transmission that we believe quarantining was counterproductive and therefore, we do not plan on quarantining,” Baugh wrote. “Pitkin County Health has reserved the right to implement quarantines but we will not be doing that unless directed to do so.”

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Aspen dialing back pandemic team

The city of Aspen is dialing back its consumer and health protection program that was set up in response to COVID-19 and local public health orders.

A two-person team hired to educate businesses and do outreach regarding COVID restrictions has been cut in half, as one of the members, Emmy Garrigus, has moved to a permanent position in the city’s community development department.

Consumer and employee health protection specialist Mike Sear will stay on to help with outreach as events start to be held in the city, along with other projects in the environmental health department, said C.J. Oliver, the city’s environmental health and sustainability director.

He said Monday the program is in flux as COVID cases continue around the world, but the idea is to end the program in the third or fourth quarter of 2021.

“It’s been a nice gradual step down of sorts,” Oliver said. “But we are not out of the weeds yet, and we might have to snap back and I’m hoping we wouldn’t go back into it, but we want to be prepared.”

Garrigus and Sear were hired last fall and served as the city’s liaisons to the business community and on behalf of the municipal government and Pitkin County, the latter of which implemented most of the public health orders and was responsible for enforcing them.

The city’s environmental health department was granted as much as $300,000 package to build a consumer and employee health protection team to provide support for businesses as part of Aspen City Council’s $6 million response and recovery.

Most of that was dedicated to salaries for two full-time employees, with the remainder covering operating costs, such as supplies for employees, and outreach collateral for businesses, according to Natalie Tsevdos, manager of the program.

From March 2020 to March 2021, 216 complaints had come into local governments, which were investigated and followed up on by the city team.

The role of the city team was to inform the business of the complaint, provide education as necessary and ensure the complainant’s concern was addressed, Tsevdos said.

About one-quarter of the health protection specialists’ workload was devoted to complaint response, including the investigation and follow-up with complainant.

“The team was committed to being the go-to resource for businesses by building strong relationships with owners and staff to help them navigate the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions,” Tsevdos wrote in an update to council. “With the team’s many years of customer service experience, it was known that these relationships were not going to be built on emails alone but also through in-person outreach and education.”

Oliver said business owners and representatives have provided feedback, and the one-on-one connection with the city has been positive.

“They are feeling like they have support and a partner and that was encouraging,” he said. “There is an opportunity to carry this forward.”

In the coming months, the program’s priorities are to continue keeping businesses informed and play an advisory role as regulations change and are rolled back, according to Tsevdos.

“The business liaison role occupied by this team could have future applications outside of COVID-19-specific programming,” she wrote. “Environmental health’s role in public health is traditionally the boots on ground effort, which continues to be an essential facet of the pandemic response and recovery.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Pitkin County moving to Green-level restrictions on Monday

With rapidly rising COVID-19 infections seven weeks ago, Pitkin County was one of the only counties in Colorado placed under Orange-level restrictions.

But as the offseason quiet settles in, the county will become one of the only ones at the Green level, the least restrictive, come 12:01 a.m. Monday.

“This is what we’ve been seeing throughout the pandemic,” Pitkin County Public Health Interim Director Jordana Sabella said Friday. “Our visitation rates and our mobility data very closely mirrors our (COVID-19) incidence data.”

Not surprisingly, fewer people in Aspen equals fewer infections in the county. That was certainly supported by recent statistics that indicate a run of zero daily COVID-19 cases each day in Pitkin County between Monday and Thursday, and just 10 total cases in the last week, according to the state public health department.

That led Sabella to announce the move to Green beginning Monday. Local public health officials are now mostly in charge of imposing or loosening COVID-19-related restrictions.

The move from Blue to Green-level restrictions will not prompt significant differences for most residents, employees and business owners. Everyone 2 years old and older will continue to have to wear a facemask indoors, Sabella said.

Restaurants, offices, gyms, retail, events and entertainment, personal services and outdoor guided services can operate without any state restrictions, though local public health officials can impose rules, according to the state guidelines. Bars, which were allowed to open for the first time in more than a year when the county moved to blue, can operate at 50% under Green-level restrictions.

All education classes are allowed to occur in person under Green restrictions, while group sports and camps can operate at 50% capacity.

The county’s board of health is set to meet Thursday to discuss what local COVID-19-related restrictions will look like this summer. The county is set to follow the state COVID-19 Dial color-coded restrictions until May 27.

“We want to prep the community for what will happen this summer,” Sabella said.

The one metric that could force the state to step in and impose restrictions locally is the hospitalization rate, she said.

“If 85% of regional hospital capacity is threatened, that is the trigger for possible future restrictions,” Sabella said.

Local public health officials will be keeping a close eye on the number of COVID-19 patients at Aspen Valley Hospital, the number of health care workers out with virus symptoms and the capacity of regional hospitals to accept patients who need to be transferred, she said.

A lot of behavior restrictions this summer may come down to whether a person has been vaccinated. For example, Pitkin County still recommends that people who are less than 6 feet apart outside for an “extended period of time” should wear a facemask, she said.

But when it comes to interactions between people who have been fully vaccinated, the county defers to CDC guidelines that don’t recommend that people need to wear masks indoors with others who’ve been vaccinated, Sabella said.

“The bottom line … is that getting vaccinated is the best strategy (to stay healthy),” she said. “The more folks who are vaccinated, the less transmission we will see.”

Pitkin County has stopped holding first-dose mass vaccination clinics, though second-dose clinics occurred Friday at Aspen High School and will occur May 14 at Aspen High School and May 20 at the Buttermilk Ski Area parking lot, said Phyllis Mattice, assistant county manager.

In addition, Pitkin County public health officials want to hear from local businesses interested in vaccinating their employees, Mattice said. A mass clinic for local hospitality employees may occur soon, and she encouraged businesses, like the restaurant industry, interested in getting employees the COVID-19 vaccine to band together and contact the county public health department.

“We can help them do it,” Mattice said.

Call the county’s vaccine hotline at 970-429-3350 for more information.

Another resource for finding information about vaccines and where to get them in the Roaring Fork Valley is https://covid19.pitkincounty.com, which also contains statistical information about local infections, testing locations and current local COVID-19 restrictions.

County officials also will be keeping close track of the CDC announcement next week authorizing emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 12 to 15. Public health personnel can set up a mass vaccination clinic for children in that age group if that is determined to be the best course of action, Mattice said.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Aspen’s outdoor mask zone expires on Saturday

People walk along Main St. in downtown Aspen in the city’s designated outdoor mask zones on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

As the Center for Disease Control on Tuesday eased its guidelines for people wearing facial coverings outdoors, Aspen City Council voted to let lapse its ordinance mandating a mask zone throughout downtown on May 1.

Council during its regular meeting unanimously passed an amended emergency ordinance that continues to require people to wear masks in indoor public places, as well as outdoors when they are unable to maintain social distancing and are with people from a different household. The ordinance expires June 7.

What was removed from the ordinance was requiring people to wear masks outdoors in a specific geographical area in the downtown core, the commercial area along North Mill Street and at Highlands base area.

That mask zone has been in place since last year and was being considered by council to be extended until at least June 7.

Councilwoman Rachel Richards preferred to extend the mask zone until that date, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases among children and an uptick in the positivity rate in Colorado.

“I’m having a little concern about unmasking right now,” she said. “I am comfortable with the expiration of June 7 and that is roughly 40 days from now, it’s not an especially longer time to try to wait this out in the name of protection of public health.”

Councilwoman Ann Mullins agreed with Richards, and said masks protect both the wearer and the people around them.

But Councilman Ward Hauenstein and Mayor Torre voted against the extension in an initial vote for adopting the ordinance as written.

Hauenstein said he shares Richards’ concerns but there are too many regulations for the average citizen to follow when it comes to COVID-19 public health orders.

“With three layers of ordinances, our ordinance, the county public health order and the state, it’s pretty much confusion for anybody,” he said.

Failing to get the required unanimous vote, Richards and Mullins changed their positions and voted with their colleagues to keep the indoor mask and outdoor social distancing regulations intact until June 7.

Council members expect the city will fall under Pitkin County’s public health order after that date, which will likely mirror what was passed on Tuesday.

City staff aired their concerns in a memo to council that maintaining the outdoor zone regulation may cause confusion if the county has addressed its own face covering mandates.

“If the city’s ordinance is completely consistent with the county’s, there should be no problem,” wrote City Attorney Jim True. “However, any discrepancy between the two could be a basis of confusion.”

The county’s board of public health is expected to vote on facial coverings when it meets next month.

Mayor Torre said if conditions change, council can revisit the mandatory mask zone and any other public health orders.

His main concern was not letting the ordinance requiring indoor and outdoor proximity mask wearing expire on May 1.

“I think it’s important that the city of Aspen maintains its voice in how we feel about these masks being worn indoors,” he said. “This council is extremely concerned about the health and safety of our community and we recommend that you take every precaution that you feel necessary.”

Elected officials throughout the valley have adjusted their face mask laws, with the most recent being Basalt Town Council on Tuesday extending indoor regulations until June 8, along with outdoor social distancing protocols.

Snowmass Village Town Council earlier this month extended its mask zone ordinance to June 7.

Glenwood Spring City Council also earlier this month extended the town’s existing face covering mandate for indoor public-facing spaces. For outdoor spaces, masks are no longer mandatory but encouraged when in close proximity with others.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Pitkin County dropping to lesser blue level restrictions starting Monday


With COVID-19 case counts falling as offseason takes root, Pitkin County will move to Blue level restrictions beginning Monday, an official said Friday.

State public health officials recently notified the county’s public health department that the move will occur at 12:01 a.m. Monday after six consecutive days of case counts below 30 per day and a falling positivity rate, said Tracy Trulove, Pitkin County spokeswoman.

As of Thursday, the daily positive COVID-19 case count had fallen to 21 with a positivity rate of 2%, according to Pitkin County’s COVID-19 Dial.

The move to Blue will allow restaurants to operate at 100% capacity though six feet of distancing between parties must still be maintained, according to state guidelines. In addition, bars will be able to open for the first time in more than a year with 25% capacity and a maximum of 75 people, and last call is 2 a.m.

Local gyms also will be able to operate at 100% capacity while also maintaining six feet of distance between people. Offices and retail stores can open at 75% capacity, while personal services are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, according to state guidelines.

Group sports and camps can open at 50% capacity with a maximum of 50 people, while indoor unseated events and entertainment can move forward with 50% capacity and a maximum of 175 people.

Indoor seated events as well as outdoor seated and unseated events can operate with no state restrictions, though local public health officials have set the limit at 500 people seated with 6 feet of distancing. Venues may apply locally for a variance to exceed 500 people, and it would have to be approved by CDPHE, according to the county.

“It’s great news that we are able to move to level Blue and increase capacity restrictions,” Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County interim public health director, said in a news release Friday. “I want to encourage everyone who is 16 and older to get vaccinated and continue best practices around COVID, such as mask wearing and getting tested if you’re sick in order to keep transmission low.”

Masks are still required within any public indoor space and outdoors in public spaces when maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet is not feasible, according to the county’s current guidelines.

Aspen City Council will discussion at its April 27 meeting whether to continue the downtown Aspen mask ordinance past May 1, which is when the current ordinance is set to expire.

Earlier this month, Snowmass Village Town council voted to extend an ordinance designating mandatory mask zones in Base Village, the Snowmass Center and the Snowmass Mall through June 7.

Also, there is not a state limit on personal gathering sizes in private settings under levels green, blue and yellow.

Pitkin County will continue to follow the state’s COVID-19 Dial 3.0 guidelines until at least May 27. The county’s Board of Health will determine whether to continue to follow those guidelines after that date.

County residents who are not yet vaccinated can go to https://covid19.pitkincounty.com to find a local vaccine clinic.

Vail drops its outdoor face mask mandate

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday repealed a November ordinance requiring outdoor face coverings in the town’s resort villages.
Scott N. Miller/smiller@vaildaily.com

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday repealed the requirement to wear facial coverings outdoors in the town’s resort villages.

Responding to changes in the COVID-19 pandemic, the town stopped enforcement April 19 of its outdoor mask mandate, first passed in November 2020. Full repeal had to wait until the April 20 meeting.

The original outdoor mandate was passed in an effort to maintain a semblance of a full ski season. At the time, town and Vail Resorts officials were looking for consistency in requirements for guests heading from the town’s main parking structures to the gondolas in Vail Village and Lionshead.

“I think it worked well,” Town Manager Scott Robson told the council.

Council member Brian Stockmar had been an early advocate of the outdoor mandate.

Stockmar said the studies he’s seen recently indicate that social distancing is the most effective way to prevent transmission of the virus. Stockmar said he’s “reluctantly” come to the conclusion the mandate could be dropped, but urged the community to continue to maintain distance and caution.

“I think we need to (drop the mandate),” Council member Travis Coggin said, adding that the mandate created “a lot of uncomfortable situations” for a lot of front-line employees.

Mayor Dave Chapin said the town has received a number of emails on the topic. Almost all were in favor of dropping the mandate, Chapin said.

That support wasn’t unanimous.

Resident Doug Smith asked the council to give the mandate another 30 days in order to get vaccinations to that many more local residents.

But Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh spoke in favor of dropping the outdoor mandate.

Brumbaugh noted his stores have seen fistfights over the past several months, and noted that the county has had more mental health transfers than COVID cases over the winter.

The council voted 6-0 for the repeal, with Council member Jen Mason absent Tuesday.

“It’s nice to release the outdoors,” Council member Kevin Foley said. “I really want to ride my bike without a mask.”

Still, council members urged caution.

“This is going to be with us for a while,” Coggin said. “Be responsible, and when you can’t distance, wear a mask.”

This is important

While Vail has dropped its outdoor mask mandate, other public health orders remain in effect. That means wearing masks in stores, in restaurants until seated and on town buses.

RFTA bus drivers’ union wants hazard pay for work during COVID-19 pandemic

The union representing bus drivers at Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will ask management Friday to provide hazard pay for work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ed Cortez, president and business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1774, said Wednesday the chapter would seek an increase in hourly pay, a lump sum bonus or a combination of the two. Details such as how far back the pay would go and how much it would put the in pockets of bus drivers has to be worked out, he said.

“A lot of people don’t realize the dangerous situation drivers have been in over the last year,” Cortez said. “It’s prevalent and dangerous. As front-line workers, we’re subjected to it every day.”

The union feels that RFTA can afford the hazard pay since it received a healthy chunk of change from the federal government to help offset financial hardships caused by the pandemic.

However, RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship said the issue is complicated. While RFTA was awarded $19.25 million in grants through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, there are strings attached to spending the funds.

It appears that expending funds from the relief act on hazard pay needed to be subject to an agreement made prior to the hazard or incentive pay, according to the frequently asked questions sections of the Federal Transit Administration’s website, Blankenship said.

“So it could not be retroactive,” he said Wednesday.

Cortez said the union did not seek hazard pay last year when the pandemic arose because of the financial uncertainty facing the organization.

Now, he said, the union is seeking hazard pay that rewards bus drivers for their work and loyalty without breaking the bank for RFTA.

“It should be a bonus or a reward for drivers who risked everything to keep the buses going,” Cortez said.

Blankenship said on-duty risks were higher when the pandemic started than they were soon after, when safety protocols were put in place. RFTA, with input from the union, took steps such as requiring social distancing among passengers, mandatory masks, minimizing direct contact between drivers and passengers and installing Plexiglas “sneeze shields” around the driver’s station on buses. RFTA also cleans buses after each shift with a virucide. Public health requirements currently limit capacity on buses to 50%.

RFTA lead mechanic Will Fabela, right, and Patricia Rosales Trigo disinfect a bus at the Aspen Maintenance Facility on Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

When COVID-19 hit the region in March 2020, RFTA was carrying about 18,000 passengers per day. This winter, it averaged about half that daily number, according to Blankenship.

“Since the pandemic began, RFTA has worked very hard to provide a safe work environment for all of its employees, to support them with full paychecks when they became infected by COVID-19 or were exposed to the virus or had their shifts eliminated, and to maintain their jobs by continuing to provide essential transit services upon which the public relies,” Blankenship said via email.

Currently, the organization has two employees out of work for COVID-related reasons, though neither has tested positive at this point. RFTA employs about 385 workers in all departments. RFTA also is offering a $500 bonus for employees to get the COVID vaccination. About 60% of employees were partially or fully vaccinated as of mid-April.

“At this point, I think it might be more challenging to make the argument for hazard pay when so few people at RFTA are out of work for COVID-19 symptoms or possible exposure and when approximately 60 percent of the workforce has been vaccinated,” Blankenship said. “A fair number of front-line employees still have not taken advantage of the vaccination incentive bonus and, if they did so, we believe it would significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the hazard or risk they face of contracting the virus, whether on duty or off duty.”

Cortez countered that front-line workers “aren’t out of the woods yet.” Even those who have been vaccinated can be subject to illness from a variant, he noted, and bus drivers can be subjected to COVID at a moment’s notice.

Cortez said 24 bus drivers “went down” because of COVID-related issues. Nearly all of them recovered and returned to work. A total of 51 RFTA employees missed some work because of COVID.

Another eight full-time drivers didn’t feel comfortable reporting for work once the pandemic struck due to medical issues, according to Cortez.

No RFTA employees are currently being paid hazard pay because of COVID, according to Blankenship. If hazard pay were offered to one department, such as drivers, it would raise a fairness issue.

“Typically, RFTA would want to make any incentives it would provide to one segment of the workforce available to other segments of the workforce,” Blankenship said. Nearly all workers of the organization qualify as front-line because their jobs put them in close proximity to the public or coworkers, he said.

If the drivers’ union fails to secure hazard pay for their work during the pandemic, it could potentially set up tougher negotiations in the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1774’s next collective bargaining agreement. The current three-year agreement with RFTA expires Dec. 31. Among the issues the local union representatives and RFTA management will discuss Friday are timing of negotiations for the next agreement. A big part of the discussions is always the pay rate for drivers.

(Editor’s note: This story corrected information to show that 24 drivers missed time on the job due to COVID-19. A source in the story originally said 51 drivers were affected.)

scondon@aspentimes.com

Optimism rises as case counts lower in Pitkin County

People walk through downtown Aspen in the mandatory mask zone on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Pitkin County is edging closer to achieving herd immunity and ditching capacity restrictions in time for the summer season, according to County Manager Jon Peacock.

Citing recent public health trends in a COVID-19 update presentation he gave to county commissioners Tuesday, Peacock said recent COVID-19 case trends bode well for the county, now both feet into the offseason for tourism.

“This is what we anticipated would happen as we hit offseason with less travel in the community, that we’d start to see our case counts go down,” Peacock said. “And they are.”

Pitkin County’s seven-day case count was 14 on Tuesday, its lowest since Oct. 22 when it was also 14, according to county statistics. The same goes for the incidence rate, which was 79 on Wednesday, the lowest number it had been since it was 79 as well on Oct. 22, data shows.

The positive rate was 2.4% Tuesday — 23 positive results out of 950 tests administered over seven days.

The declining numbers set up the county well to retreat from its use of the state dial metrics and restrictions on May 27, which is the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend. The goal is for the county to work in concert with other resort communities to establish consistent protective measures, Peacock said.

“We’re looking forward to that Memorial Day Weekend that we’ve reached that critical mass,” he said.

The way data is trending, it is a realistic scenario that there will be no capacity restrictions outdoors or indoors this summer, said Peacock. The county also plans to re-open its buildings to the public June 1. Plans will become more concrete when the Pitkin County board of health meets May 13.

In the meantime, Peacock said people need be steadfast in using preventive measures against the virus, and there’s also a push to get as many county residents vaccinated as possible.

Dating back to December when Aspen Valley Hospital and Community Health Services began Phase 1A of vaccinations, 23,600 doses will have been administered in the county by the end of this week. Recipients comprise 57% Pitkin County residents and 43% non-residents, who include commuters and part-time residents, Peacock said.

Fifty percent of the county’s eligible population has been vaccinated, and 16- and 17-year-olds received their first doses last week. That percentage does not include the 4,579 doses given to Pitkin residents outside of the county, which could raise the percentage to 57%, according to data.

Pitkin County can achieve herd immunity with the vaccination of 70% of its residents, “which is really the goal,” Peacock said. That’s the minimum threshold for herd immunity, “and we’re really getting there,” he said.

An estimated 3,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine have been administered in the county, Peacock said. The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended a pause of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine because of a link to rare blood clotting among six of the 6.8 million vaccinated.

“I would say out of an abundance of caution was it pulled,” the county manager said.

Thursday marks the conclusion of the county’s mass-vaccination clinic at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot, as the county partners with Community Health Services to operate mobile, pop-up and smaller vaccination clinics.

“The convenience of having a mass clinic right here in Pitkin County is coming to a close, in part because we’ve had a tough time getting people to sign up for vaccines in the last few weeks,” said Incident Commander Phylis Mattice in a statement this week. “With clinics starting to open with primary care providers, pharmacies and a state-run clinic in Grand Junction, it appears people who were motivated to find an appointment went elsewhere.”

To schedule an vaccination appointment for this week at the Benedict Tent site, visit https://avh.jotform.com/210874815707966. If it’s your first of two doses, the county will set up an appointment for the second jab. The county also has launched a “Vaccine Finder” at www.covid19.pitkincounty.com, which is where people can find locations to get vaccinated.

“The transition does not mean we are going to stop administering vaccines,” said Carly Senst, Pitkin County Public Health, in a statement Tuesday. “We are just changing the scale at which they will be administered. The focus is shifting to consistency and accessibility.”

The mass-vaccination site will have accounted for 18,116 of the doses given.

“It’s been an impressive community effort, and one we do need to celebrate,” Peacock said, applauding AVH, Community Health Services, local municipalities and government, the Pitkin County Incident Team, and the volunteers who averaged 70 per clinic.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Snowmass Town Council extends mask mandate until June

Skiers wearing masks walk into Snowmass Base Village after skiing Fanny Hill on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Keep those masks on when walking outside in one of Snowmass Village’s three commercial hubs: Town Council voted April 5 on second reading to extend an ordinance designating mandatory mask zones in Base Village, the Snowmass Center and the Snowmass Mall through June 7.

Council members Tom Fridstein, Tom Goode, Alyssa Shenk and Bob Sirkus voted in favor of the extension at the regular meeting; Mayor Bill Madsen was the dissenting vote.

That’s sooner than the extension originally specified — it would otherwise have been scheduled to sunset Sept. 30 if council had approved it as-is, according to a copy of the ordinance included with the agenda packet — but later than the staff-recommended expiration date of April 20.

The staff recommendation suggested that the town allow the current Snowmass Village-specific mask mandate to expire April 20; the ordinance requires masks at all times (indoors and outdoors) except when eating or drinking in Snowmass Mall, Base Village and the Snowmass Center.

Instead, staff proposed the town should align with current county, state and federal guidance that mostly requires face coverings indoors and on public transit but not outdoors where 6 feet of distancing is possible.

Consistency was the goal with the staff recommendation, according to Town Manager Clint Kinney and Police Chief Brian Olson.

“The confusion, the difficulty of enforcement, the inconsistencies — I’ll let Brian speak to some of that — just knowing all of that, it just becomes difficult for enforcement,” Kinney said. “Because we put those important rules in place, … we still believe it’s a good idea as quickly as we put them in place to be open-minded about lifting these restrictions.”

Aligning with Pitkin County’s guidance (masks only required outside when 6-foot distancing isn’t possible) could help with enforcement of face covering rules, Olson said. It can be difficult to explain to someone in a parking lot in the Snowmass Center, for instance, that they must wear a mask even though they are far more than 6 feet away from others.

“From an enforcement standpoint we have to be able to defend the practicality and the reasonableness of the law, and to be in compliance from the public,” Olson said. “And it’s a lot easier done when we understand where we are right now and that distancing is the best way to go and the fresh air and masking up when you’re not around anybody else is not as practical as perhaps it was at one time.”

Madsen, who voted to let the mandate expire April 20, also expressed concerns about the consistency and practicality of the current requirements. Under the ordinance, anyone walking outside in the Snowmass Mall, Snowmass Center or Base Village must be masked, but anyone sitting outside dining right next to the sidewalk is exempt.

“The consistency of it just doesn’t really make sense. … It just doesn’t make sense if you’re wearing a mask walking down the mall, but once you’re seated, it’s OK (not to wear one),” Madsen said.

“I just don’t think we’re getting the effect out of it,” he said. “If we wanted to really ensure people’s safety and health, we should tighten up where people are in closer proximity.”

But for several council members, consistency also was an argument against letting the ordinance expire.

“It is really important, as we saw early in the pandemic, to be consistent with what Aspen’s doing, because like I said before, if you’re coming to Aspen, you’re coming to Snowmass, and vice versa,” Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk said. “If they’re keeping their mask zones and then you come to Snowmass and it’s all bets off and you can do whatever you want, I just think that’s even more confusing.”

Aligning with Aspen’s mask policy was in part what led the Snowmass council to approve the extension on first reading March 15. Council members OK’d the first reading while still unsure what Aspen would decide to ensure the second reading would take place before the Snowmass ordinance expired.

Aspen City Council members expressed an interest in extending the city mandate beyond May 1 when they met last month and will consider an extension on first reading at a meeting Tuesday.

Plus, Councilman Bob Sirkus noted, even state guidance is no longer as consistent as it once was.

Gov. Jared Polis extended the statewide mask mandate April 3 — it now lasts through May 2 — but also relaxed face-covering requirements under that mandate.

Counties on the Green level of the state’s COVID-19 dial are exempt from mask requirements in many businesses and stores, and for counties that fall into the Blue level or above on the COVID-19 dial, mask requirements in most indoor public spaces apply only if there are 10 or more unvaccinated people in the room. (There are some exceptions where the mandate still universally applies, like schools, hospitals and personal facilities. Businesses can still set their own mask requirements.)

“The state seems to be going in the opposite direction from my perspective,” Sirkus said. “It actually gave me a lot of anxiety when Polis came out last month and said we’re going to drop outdoor masking and the only thing we’re going to care about is indoors and public transportation. I was really worried about that.”

Sirkus expressed concerns about the spikes in local COVID-19 cases that have occurred after most major holidays and vacation periods when the area sees an uptick in visitors; removing the outdoor mask requirement in designated mask zones would be unlikely to help that situation, he said.

However small a difference mask-wearing makes in outdoor spaces, it would still be worthwhile to continue to implement an indoor and outdoor mask mandate in Snowmass Village’s three busiest hubs, Sirkus said.

“It’s low, low risk — but it’s still risk,” Sirkus said.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Providing false info for vaccinations has negative consequences

Approximately 15% of people receiving the COVID-19 vaccines in Pitkin County are improperly filling out data collection records, which could later come back to haunt them, officials said Friday.

Some of the bad information appears to be mistakes — like using a nickname instead of a real name — but other entries are clearly intentionally wrong, like entering “why?” in the address portion of the form, said Carly Senst, the county’s vaccine and testing coordinator, and Gabe Muething, who oversees the vaccine clinics.

“What people need to understand is that this is a medical record,” said Muething, who also serves as director of the Aspen Ambulance District. “If you wouldn’t give your doctor bad information, don’t give us bad information. It’s all the same.”

The vaccine records are not used for advertising purposes, are not sold to marketing companies and are protected, like any other medical record, by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, they said. They are entered by Aspen Valley Hospital into each person’s medical record and can be accessed by the person’s doctor.

“This is not Ticketmaster,” Senst said. “This is not booking a concert.”

The vaccine records, in other words, are similar to a driver’s license or passport.

“If it’s not accurate, it’s a different person so it won’t attach to you,” Senst said.

Entering a false date of birth or fake name or not completely filling out the information has consequences, they said. If, for example, the government decides to issue vaccine passports in the future for travel, work or school, the vaccine record of a person who entered false information won’t be available to them.

Or if someone loses the white CDC card issued to each vaccinated person containing proof of the vaccination, they will not be able to obtain a copy from their doctor like someone who entered the correct information could do, Senst said. Even if someone remembers the false information they provided, county public health officials cannot reissue the cards because they would have no way of knowing if the person is who they say they are, she said.

County public health officials have received many requests for new cards from people who have lost their original cards. In fact, the only way to replace them is through the person’s primary care physician, Senst said.

“If the person put down egregiously wrong information and lost their card, there’s not a lot we can do,” she said.

Senst said that she had to deny one person a vaccination at the most recent clinic Thursday because the person refused to provide identifying information. Officials have also run into problems in earlier clinics when people who weren’t yet 60 or 70 years old — the threshold at the time — entered birth dates indicating they were, Muething said.

Another problem officials ran into at the latest clinic — the first to include 16-year-olds — was parents making vaccination appointments in their own names rather than their children’s, Senst said.

“People are looking at it as a placeholder,” she said.

Entering false information also affects everyone else who followed the rules, Muething said. That’s because each dose provided to Pitkin County by the state ends up with a person’s name on it that must be provided back to state public health officials. If there are issues with bad information and delays in reporting it, the state can use that as an excuse to delay further shipments of vaccine to the county, he said.

At the clinic held March 25 at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot, approximately 1,700 people were vaccinated. Around 250 of those people either didn’t fully fill out the form or intentionally entered wrong information, such as false birth dates or phone numbers, Senst said.

County public health officials then have to manually go through each of those 250 records and try and rectify them with information about real people. Sometimes that works out when, for example, there are misspellings or nicknames, and addresses or phone numbers on file can provide the accurate information, she said. But when that can’t happen, that vaccination record is essentially lost in the ether, Senst said.

Those who have provided fake information in order to receive vaccinations should talk to their doctors about how to remedy the situation, Senst said.

“We want the public to realize there are consequences for putting in bad information,” Muething said. “Think about any important document you have. This is absolutely no different.”

jauslander@aspentimes.com