| AspenTimes.com

As restrictions loosen, some people are hesitant about returning to pre-pandemic life

Summit County resident Stephanie Trasatti looks out her window in Dillon on Thursday, May 13. She is one of many people who are feeling hesitant about pandemic restrictions loosening in the community.
Photo by Ashley Low

While many are breathing a sigh of relief at the loosening of local restrictions, some are feeling hesitant and are questioning whether the county is moving too quickly.

On May 4, the county officially moved into level green, removing the 6-foot distancing rule and capacity restrictions. On Friday, May 14, the county was working to update its public health order to better align with the state’s in addition to new guidance on mask-wearing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the county quickly drops restrictions that have become a part of everyday life for the past 14 months, some residents, including Stephanie Trasatti, are taking pause and wondering if this is the right move.

Trasatti is a nurse who works at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center and has helped take care of COVID-19 patients. Because of her job, and because she has underlying health conditions, she said she has significantly reduced her social circle over the past 14 months and limited how much she’s in public.

“I feel like I’ve also had to cut out certain people, friends who are not as cautious as maybe some other people, which has made my friends group very small,” Trasatti said. “(They’re) people I trust to hang out with. But that, in turn with the restrictions everywhere, has left me sitting at home a lot and totally changed my entire lifestyle.”

Since the pandemic began, Trasatti has canceled four trips to visit family and said she felt anxiety about attending her brother’s wedding. She said she continues to feel hesitant about traveling and being in large groups of people.

Now that life is slowly returning to normal, Trasatti said she’s nervous about transitioning to life post-pandemic, especially as mask requirements loosen.

“Almost going out without a mask on, you just feel so exposed and so vulnerable. And COVID’s not gone, so it makes it difficult,” Trasatti said. “You want to trust that they’re doing this for a reason, and they’ve done their research, but I feel like masks have almost become a security blanket, and it just makes you anxious because you could get sick. Your risks of getting sick are a lot higher being around people, and you don’t have that shield.”

Summit County resident Stephanie Trasatti works from her home in Dillon on Thursday, May 13. She is one of many people who are feeling anxious about pandemic restrictions loosening in the community.
Photo by Ashley Low

Breckenridge resident Patricia Walker said she also isn’t sure whether the county is heading in the right direction.

“I’m not too sure we’re handling the relaxations very well,” Walker said. “I personally — as much as I hate wearing this mask, and trust me, I hate wearing this mask — I would rather wear this mask until (COVID-19) is completely gone.”

Walker said her life dramatically changed, too. Walker typically sees her husband six months of the year because he travels for work. When the pandemic hit, both of them were in different parts of the country and neither was willing to travel to see the other. Until recently, Walker hadn’t seen her husband since January 2020.

Though she’s visited a couple of restaurants, socialized with friends who are vaccinated and traveled some, Walker said she’s still hesitant to be in public without a mask.

Rachel Miller, mental health supervisor at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said she primarily sees individuals who are struggling with one of two responses: in some instances, Miller said individuals experience physical symptoms of anxiety and might be having a trauma-like response when reentering society. In other instances, individuals are trying to forge ahead and are questioning what normal looks like for them.

Miller said it’s important to establish practices that remind you you’re safe in the present moment. Activities like exercising, being outside, gardening, meditation, meaningful connection with loved ones and journaling are all coping strategies she suggested. Above all, Miller said it helps to validate feelings of stress in most cases.

“I just want to normalize that people are feeling that way, and sometimes just normalizing it is what we need to hear to move through it,” Miller said. “You’re not the only person feeling that way.”

Summit County resident Stephanie Trasatti takes her dog for a walk in Dillon on Thursday, May 13. She is one of many people who are feeling anxious about pandemic restrictions loosening in the community.
Photo by Ashley Low

On Thursday, May 13, Building Hope Summit County hosted a virtual event that focused on anxiety reentering society. Jane Hahn of Grit Therapy led the event and provided some tips and coping strategies for attendees to try as they begin participating in social activities again.

Some of her strategies included starting small, like mingling in a small group of people outside, and getting a “COVID reentry buddy,” or another person who feels similarly to you so that the two of you can try activities together.

Hahn also suggested separating caution and fear, setting boundaries with family and friends about what you are and are not OK with, limiting news intake, participating in virtual social events and going to therapy if anxiety is impacting your sleep or appetite.

At a glance

Tips for managing reentry anxiety

• Start small: Socialize with a small group of people outside before attempting to socialize in large groups or indoors

• Get a reentry buddy: This person could be someone who has similar feelings as you who you can reenter society with

• Separate caution and fear: Are you staying home out of necessity or because of anxious or fearful feelings?

• Stay connected: Continue participating in virtual social events

• Get help: Go to therapy if negative feelings are disrupting sleep or causing loss of appetite

Carbondale women form Shot Whisperers: an organized effort to help valley residents get their COVID-19 vaccine

Immunization Coordinator Laurie Cohen holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine in the Community Health Services building in Aspen on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Once the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine is administered, Niki Delson said the relief and gratitude people feel is totally tangible.

It’s one year into the pandemic and some people are feeling burnt out on quarantine, but finishing off the double dose of the vaccination, Delson said, brightens the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The feeling of people after they get their vaccine it’s almost like you want to raise your hand and say, ‘Hallelujah!’ …you can see in people’s eyes…a kind of sense of relief that maybe life can return to some normalcy and you can hug somebody in the future,” Delson said.

Delson is co-chair for the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI) as well as one-third of the Carbondale Shot Whisperers team. The two other women who make up the trio are Nicolette Toussaint, a retired journalist and steering committee member at CAFCI, and Ryn Calhoon, a registered nurse and member of the Carbondale Emergency Task Force. Calhoon said each of the women was trying to find a way to help elderly community members get their vaccines, and when they stumbled upon each other they decided it would be best to join efforts.

“I recall pretty clearly how this happened…Nicolette posted on Carbondale’s Mutual Aid Facebook group, ‘Boy I’m sure seeing people having some difficulty getting vaccinated.’ So I called Nicolette and Niki and said ‘Girls, I think we’re all doing the same thing, let’s coordinate ourselves,’” Calhoon said.

Toussaint said the women had realized that online appointments and phone calls were not the most effective way to reach the older demographic of valley residents, the people who arguably had some of the highest needs for the vaccine. It was her personal frustration with the process that inspired her to start helping direct others on how they could expedite their own vaccination timelines, and where to look for availability.

“I’m watching everybody get shots because Colorado said, ‘OK, if you’re over 70 you can get a shot.’ I’m 69 and 1/2 and I have three underlying conditions, and I have a 90-year-old husband who’s had three strokes…I’m an at-home caregiver and none of that qualified me for a shot,” Toussaint said.

Karin Bannerot, a resident of the valley out in Missouri Heights, said she had a similar issue qualifying for the vaccine. Bannerot is a registered nurse and works multiple jobs one of which is being a child care health consultant at the state company and at two childcares in the valley. Bannerot said besides working with children part-time, she also has Type 1 Diabetes but neither of those things allowed her to qualify for the vaccine.

“I could not get vaccinated in Pitkin or Garfield County even though I do my preschool teaching for Garfield Teachers and the SkiCo which is Pitkin County, no one was claiming me…the pitfalls are if you’re self-employed, which I am, and…I felt like i was a woman without the backing of an employer per say because I don’t work full-time in any of my jobs,” Bannerot said.

Since Bannerot is trained as a nurse she ended up getting her vaccine by stopping by a clinic at the Eagle County Community Center, and saying although she wasn’t on the list, she was willing to wait in case there were any no-shows to get vaccinated. It turned out that the Medical Moderator for that clinic wasn’t able to come that day, and asked if Bannerot was able to step in for that afternoon.

“I said I’ll clear my calendar for this afternoon, and I did. So I got my first shot Jan. 8, filled in quickly…so then Feb. 5 was my second shot so I volunteered to work that clinic all afternoon again,” Bannerot said.

Delson was the one who helped Bannerot’s husband, who is 66 and has chronic lung issues, receive his vaccine. Bannerot said she had been exchanging resource information with Delson for a while when Delson reached out and told her Mountain Family Health Center in Glenwood needed 10 people and they had one more vial of the vaccine. Delson said word of mouth and knowing where to look for these extra doses is how many are seizing the opportunity to get vaccinated.

“It’s just finding out who did not use up all of their vaccines. I mean maybe people couldn’t come in for an appointment and so they still have some left over but no appointments scheduled for that extra. That’s how competitive it is to be able to get vaccinated,” Delson said.

Calhoon said although finding these clinics with vaccines to spare is challenging, everyone she has talked to told her that once they had arrived at the clinic the process was incredibly easy. Toussaint agreed and said that when it was time for her husband to get his vaccine at Valley View it seemed like half the town of Carbondale was there, but the operation still ran very smoothly. Part of the confusion comes from medical professionals being overworked and having to juggle many tasks at once, Calhoon said.

“The Feds said ‘OK here’s the vaccine, you handle it state,’ and the state said, ‘OK counties you handle it.’ And everybody is doing it differently. It’s the same people who have been burdened with doing the contact tracing and organizing the testing that are now burdened with the vaccine aspect,” Calhoon said.

Delson, Toussaint and Calhoon all agreed that the healthcare workers in the Valley are doing a wonderful job, and with Shot Whisperers they just want to make information more accessible and help streamline the process to get people who need the vaccine where they need to be.

Vaccine access or joining Shot Whisperers info

For information about vaccine access in Garfield County visit this website

To schedule a vaccine at Valley View Hospital (VVH) go here. Valley View said, “If no vaccine product is available then no appointments will be scheduled.” If you do not have internet access call the VVH community hotline at 970-384-7632.

All three Shot Whisperers are currently based in Carbondale but said they are looking to expand and bring other volunteers in from different parts of the Valley, especially as more vaccines are being delivered. To help in their efforts to share COVID-19 resources or learn more about how you can get the vaccine, feel free to use their contact info as listed below.

Niki Delson: niki@agefriendlycarbondale.org / 707-496-3322

Nicolette Toussaint: thymetoblossom@gmail.com / 970-963-3674

Ryn Calhoon: cathycalhoon@gmail.com / 970-618-1257

jpeterson@postindependent.com

Garfield Public Health, state investigating possible COVID-19 variant case in Glenwood Springs school

Garfield County Public Health building in Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Garfield County Public Health and Roaring Fork Schools are cooperating with Colorado public health officials to investigate possible exposure at a Glenwood Springs school to coronavirus disease variant.

Local officials were made aware by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that a Sopris Elementary student “and/or” staff member may have been exposed to one of the different COVID variants earlier this month.

“The health department is working with a dedicated team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to determine potential exposure and contain any further spread,” Garfield Public Health said in a Saturday morning press release.

“Public Health can confirm that no students or staff members in this cohort have reported symptoms to the health department, and the normal quarantine window has already ended,” the release stated. “Families of students in the impacted cohort have been contacted and school staff and the health department are continuing to monitor for any signs of COVID symptoms.”

Local public health officials and school administration have indicated that they are not aware of any students having symptoms during the past 14 days.

“While there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the different COVID variants, the greatest concern is the possibility of increased contagiousness,” the release said.

The CDC and CDPHE have requested additional contact tracing and testing for impacted individuals. Public Health is working directly with those families, according to the release.

Also in response, the staff at Sopris Elementary received their COVID-19 vaccinations on Friday, the county health release said.

“We know this news may raise additional questions and more information will be shared as soon as it is available,” the release stated.

Parents who have concerns can call 970-625-5200, extension 8135.

On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis announced that, beginning the week of Feb. 8, all in-person school staff and licensed child care providers are eligible to be vaccinated. All three school districts in Garfield County have submitted a list of those staff members, according to the release.

Summit County officials to change public health order, giving short-term lodging companies more leeway

Townhomes at the base of Peak 8 in Breckenridge are pictured Nov. 20. Many of the residences in Breckenridge are used as second homes and for short-term rentals. Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

Summit County officials will be releasing a new public health order next week to clarify how short-term lodging companies should go about confirming the number of households in one reservation.

Summit County Manager Scott Vargo announced the change at a Board of Health meeting Thursday, Jan. 14. Vargo said the new order likely won’t go into effect until Friday, Jan. 22, to allow for lodging companies to adjust.

The current order states that “owners and/or entities responsible for the booking and renting of short-term lodging units must confirm the identity of all renters upon arrival” to ensure that the group doesn’t violate the state’s public health order, which limits gatherings to two households under level orange restrictions.

The proposed language for the new order says short-term lodging companies must “confirm renters are aware of and are in compliance with gathering size limits” mandated by the state’s public health order.

The goal of the change is to simplify the process for confirming customers’ identities. Under the current order, short-term lodging companies are liable if a guest breaks public health rules. The change will put that liability on the guests instead.

“The change is trying to clarify what the expectation is and simplifying how property managers, property owners, are able to verify or confirm the folks that are renting those properties are aware of the rule and in compliance with the rules,” Vargo said.

The county also created a sample form for short-term lodging companies to give to guests ahead of arrival. The form requires the person who made the reservation to certify that they have reviewed the local and state public health order and are aware that a violation could mean a fine of up to $5,000 or up to 18 months in jail.

“They don’t have to use this form, but I would suspect that most will take advantage of something that’s been prepared or take the language from this form and plug it into whatever electronic system that they may be using or other check-in model that they’re taking advantage of,” Vargo said.

At a Board of Health meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo presented a sample form for short-term lodging owners and managers to use to confirm that guests are aware of COVID-19 rules.
Screenshot from meeting

Commissioner Tamara Pogue said the goal of the change is to make the process as easy as possible for lodging companies.

“The idea is they’ll not be required to look for any more form of ID from their guests,” she said. “By asking their guests to sign the affidavit, it limits and mitigates some of the liability to the personal company if folks choose to misrepresent what is actually happening.”

County officials also hope the change will create some parity between what the county is doing for lodging companies and the rules for restaurants, which are not required to confirm the identity of guests unless they are five-star certified.

At the meeting, Vargo also said the county will not be making adjustments to alcohol-consumption rules for restaurants that are in the 5 Star Business Certification Program for at least a week.

Currently, all restaurants must cease the sale and consumption of alcohol at 9:30 p.m. However, some restaurant owners are pushing for the county to allow alcohol to be on a table until 10 p.m. at five-star certified restaurants.

Because the county is in the midst of a bump in cases due to the holidays, officials are putting a pause on making that change.

“Our recommendation from staff and from (Public Health Director Amy Wineland) is that we push and wait and see where do those numbers go?” Vargo said. “Do we start to settle back down? Or do we start to see that trend continuing to go up?”

Wineland said the county should know by Thursday, Jan. 21, whether the bump in cases has been suppressed.

Pogue said she hopes the county will be able to make the change sooner rather than later.

“I really don’t want to drag this on,” Pogue said. “I don’t think there’s great data to justify the change from the state’s restriction in this space.”

Free Covid-19 testing coming to Glenwood Springs starting Monday

A new free Covid-19 testing site is being set up in the Roaring Fork School District office parking lot in Glenwood Springs, and is to open Monday, Nov. 23.

A coalition of community partners, including Garfield County Public Health and the Roaring Fork School District, plan to bring free Covid-19 testing to a designated site in Glenwood Springs starting on Monday, Nov. 23.

The new Roaring Fork Valley drive-up Covid testing site is being set up in the parking lot between Glenwood Springs High School and the District Office, 1405 Grand Ave. (east of the student lot).

Hours are slated from 7–11 a.m., Monday through Friday, until further notice. No doctor referral is required, but appointments are necessary to be tested. Schedule an appointment here [www.rfvcovidtest.com].

The testing site is being organized by the same coalition of community partners that have been operating the free testing site in El Jebel at the Eagle County Community Center.

Testing turnaround time is approximately 48 hours.

“This is a service in collaboration with our state and local community partners to increase access to Covid testing in the Roaring Fork Valley,” reads a statement on the rfvcovidtest.com website. “Please remember that testing is not a substitute for an examination by your own primary care provider.”

According to the website, partners include the school district, the public health departments of Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Dr. Brooke Allen of Roaring Fork Neurology, the town of Basalt, Basalt Mayor Bill Kane, the Eagle County Community Center and MicrogenDx.

jstroud@postindependent.com

State steps in to move Garfield County to ’high risk’ orange level on Covid dial

Tighter restrictions on business activity and public and private gatherings are now in effect in Garfield County, after the state acted Thursday to move the county to the “high risk” category on the Covid-19 dial.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) formally moved Garfield County into the orange, or “high-risk” category, based on the state’s metrics tool to determine pandemic restrictions.

County commissioners, in a special meeting with CDPHE Chief of Staff Mara Brosy-Wiwchar on Tuesday, made an appeal to remain in the yellow, or “concerned” category, saying it more accurately reflects the situation in Garfield County.

Not all of the restrictions that would normally come with the state’s orange level will be in effect for Garfield County, though, according to a news release from the county announcing the new limits.

Current variances will remain in place, including those for the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort and Iron Mountain Hot Springs, as well as the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

Restaurants and retail shops are still allowed to operate at 50% capacity, though outdoor seating for restaurants is limited to 10 people, 6 feet apart. Places of worship may also continue to operate at the yellow level of 50% capacity, or up to 175 people, depending on building space.

However, restaurant liquor sales must end at 10 p.m. under the new restrictions.

The orange-level restrictions also limit public and private gatherings to no more than 10 people from no more than two households; in-person office occupancy of no more than 25%, with remote work encouraged; indoor and outdoor events are limited to 25% of posted occupancy, or 50 and 75 people, respectively, whichever is less.

Personal services are also limited to 25% occupancy, or 25 people, whichever is less.

And, organized recreational youth or adult indoor sports are not allowed. However, outdoor events may proceed with groups of 10 or less, as long as participants are practicing safe social distancing.

New variance requests are also prohibited until the county is back at the yellow level, according to the release.

Municipalities may also implement more stringent measures, but none less strict than those at the orange level.

County commissioners had argued that Garfield County has worked with the public and with businesses to promote the practices of mask-wearing, maintaining a safe distance from other people, hand-washing and using good hygiene.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky warned that further limiting economic activity would be both financially damaging and unduly punitive.

“It is not right to put this on small businesses” he said. “Our public health department has done a good job of mitigation.”

Further, Jankovsky said there’s a psychological impact from being asked to roll back to tighter restrictions.

“We are having a mental health crisis,” he said.

Garfield County, with a population of roughly 58,000 people, on Thursday reported 395 new positive cases (equates to 659 per 100,000 people) from Nov. 5 to Nov. 18, and a test positivity rate of 12.4%. Orange status is in effect if a county experiences more than 175 to 350 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period. or a test positivity rate of no more than 15%.

Hospital capacity also remains at a comfortable level in the county, though hospital officials warn that can change quickly.

“Limiting the disease’s spread is encouraged by having residents practice safety guidelines of wearing masks, washing their hands often, limiting travel as much as possible, and above all, staying home when ill,” the release states.

The full list of restrictions and variances under level orange as it will be applied in Garfield County can be found on the county’s public health orders webpage, at www.garfield-county.com/public-health/executive-orders.