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Guest commentary: Eagle County commissioners see need to up rules on wearing mask

Learning by doing. It’s the way of life when working on big water projects — or in small 4-H clubs.

It’s the process of being adaptable when faced with changing situations and new knowledge. It’s a way of learning from best practices, making adjustments midstream and collaborating with partners to achieve the best outcome. And it’s how we’ve been working at Eagle County since the first COVID-19 case was reported on March 5, learning from science and public health, working with our peers, testing strategies — learning by doing.

When we checked in, last week we reported that we were relying on the community to maintain the “Five Commitments of Containment”: staying 6 feet apart, washing hands frequently, wearing a face covering in public, not going to work if sick and getting tested immediately when symptoms appear.

However, the only constant during this pandemic has been change, and we believe circumstances have changed enough that we must take stronger measures. As we move into the black diamond phase, we are continuing the same mask guidance (face coverings to be worn in public spaces indoors and outdoors if 6 feet of social distance can’t be maintained), but making that direction mandatory instead of recommended. This action will bring consistency to all towns (including Basalt and El Jebel) and unincorporated areas of Eagle County on these protective measures and will better align with most of our neighboring communities.

Based on the rapid rate of disease spread nationally and regionally and the large influx of visitors to our area, this is the direction we must go to protect the health and welfare of our residents. In the big picture, we need to get successfully to the fall and reopen schools, keep our businesses running, and gear up for ski season.

What we don’t want, and can’t afford, is to go back to the stay-at-home phase with businesses shuttered. The economic, social, and mental health toll is too high. Our priorities are to maintain testing capacity, protect our supply chains, ensure robust contact tracing, contain known infections, and enlist the community to work together for long-term success. We feel we’re positioned well in Eagle County to achieve those priority goals.

We’re also rolling out a huge visitor education campaign, instructing people how to “Come Well, Stay Well, Leave Well.” Messages will be at the airport, on bus transit, in hotel rooms, on door hangers, on variable message boards, and on sandwich boards within towns and communities. These messages will reinforce our “Five Commitments of Containment” and let people know what the local culture and expectations are.

On this Independence Day weekend, we ask you all, residents and guests, to honor our communities by taking these simple steps to protect our neighbors and our businesses.

It’s not a political statement, it’s for our physical and mental health and our economy. Our freedoms are founded on sacrifice for the greater good, and by continuing to move forward together we will learn to meet every new challenge with knowledge, courage and strength.

The Eagle County commissioners are Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney and Matt Scherr.

Guest commentary: If you can’t commit to our 5 containment requests, please come back another time

To our guests and community members,

This year’s observance of the Fourth of July happens in the throes of a global pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 (also known as COVID-19). We are in a battle with COVID-19, and our jobs, local businesses and lives are at stake. Like our forefathers who declared independence precipitating the Revolutionary War, now is not a time to second-guess our fight against COVID-19.

Our community’s initial efforts to suppress the virus involved huge sacrifices, with businesses required to close, people put out of work, and families required to stay at home. Our community was successful — the virus was largely suppressed with very few cases in May and early June, and most importantly, lives were saved. This success allowed us to build supplies of personal protective equipment, build testing capacity in partnership with the hospital, and build our case investigation and contact tracing capacity.

We have cautiously begun to reopen businesses, put people back to work and return to a “new normal.” Like everywhere else in the world as we have emerged from the shutdown, we are seeing an increase in positive cases of COVID-19 in our community. The virus is still among us, and we the people, locals and visitors alike, must continue to take responsibility for ourselves and each other — we are all enlisted as leaders in the battle against COVID-19.

Fortunately, what we ask of our guests and community members to overcome COVID-19 is relatively simple and easy to do. We need you to promise that you are symptom-free before going out in public, and that you will join our community in embracing the “Five Commitments of Containment”:

1. Maintain 6 feet of distance from anyone not in your household;

2. Wash your hands often;

3. Cover your faces in public;

4. Stay home if you are sick;

5. Seek testing immediately if you experience symptoms.

We believe this is a small price to pay for freedom from the virus and freedom to resume more normal activities. If you are a guest and the price is too high for you — if you cannot commit to all of the five commitments of containment — then we ask that you consider visiting us after the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

We all long for a return to the normal lives we had before the pandemic struck our community, and we can all be a part of the solution. The heroes of this time will be those who take the steps necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 from person to person; honoring the “Five Commitments of Containment” are simple acts of courage we all need to take during these unprecedented times. As always we thank our community members for your continued vigilance, commitment and sacrifice in containing this virus.

For more information about the Five Commitments of Containment, or information about how to get tested and self-quarantine in Pitkin County, please visit our website at covid19.pitkincounty.com or call our COVID-19 information line at 970-429-6186.

We hope everyone will be able to stay healthy or regain your health, continue to enjoy the great outdoors here in our beautiful valley, and participate in all of the creative, socially distanced events and activities that are the “silver lining” of the COVID-19 health crisis in our community.

Steve Child is the chair of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.

Guest commentary: Scott Tipton plans to continue to work for rural voices in Washington

Colorado’s vast Third Congressional District is blessed with the most beautiful and productive land our state has to offer.

Our diverse industries produce goods and services that reach around the world and our welcoming communities make this the best place to live in the country. Expansive public lands, forests, energy resources, agriculture and recreation provide unparalleled opportunities, and also present unique public policy challenges that require thoughtful leadership. I prefer to focus on getting the job done for the people who put their trust in me to represent this special place.

As a result, I was recognized as the eighth most effective GOP lawmaker overall in the last Congress because of our work to advance legislation opening the door for opportunities in our communities while protecting our Colorado way of life.

I am running to continue my work in Washington on behalf of the people of the Third District to ensure rural voices are not forgotten or left behind in important policy discussions and federal dollars sent to our state make it to our communities and not just Denver. With your support, I will continue to lead as the lone rural voice on the powerful House Financial Services Committee and as Vice Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus to shine light on our issues and advance policies to provide economic opportunity, defend our Constitutional freedoms, uphold property rights, protect public lands and responsibly develop all of our energy resources.

As COVID-19 reached Colorado I reached out to our rural medical facilities, including health clinics, hospitals and small providers to listen to their concerns and regional public health officials and the governor’s office to ensure rural Colorado was included in all planning and that our needs were being met. We immediately began to address any potential shortages of Personal Protective Equipment, hospital beds and ventilators. Our response was focused on keeping our most vulnerable safe while using federal relief to ensure temporary and immediate support was provided to small businesses, families and health care providers all facing lost revenue and wages as the state ordered businesses temporarily closed.

In an effort to get support and resources to our communities I supported the CARES Act, which provided over $2.2 billion to Colorado for relief efforts. A portion of those resources was supposed to be distributed to smaller communities across the state to help cover COVID-19 response efforts. I fought Gov. Jared Polis as his administration attempted to keep all of that money for the state budget. Ultimately the governor was caught in a web of contradictions that have yet to be cleared up, however, on a positive note, a portion of those funds are now going to go to our communities as intended — though not enough as far as I’m concerned.

As we continued to address the economic fallout of COVID-19 I worked to widen access to the Paycheck Protection Program, ensuring small businesses have the resources they need.

My continuing efforts are focused on creating Opportunity Zones, responsible all-of-the-above domestic energy production, access to capital and increased manufacturing. One major lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that our country must reduce our reliance on China for medical supplies and essential goods. As we work to increase American manufacturing, the Third District is an ideal location to bring these new jobs and opportunities.

My record is one that reflects the priorities of our diverse communities and addresses the issues we are facing as a district, state and country. With your support, we can continue to forge a path toward expanding American innovation and prosperity right here in the Third District. It has been an honor to serve as a voice for rural Colorado, and I hope to continue this work with your support.

Editor’s note: The Aspen Times has offered the four candidates in the U.S. House District 3 primaries a guest column of 600 words. Scott Tipton is the Republican incumbent and running against Lauren Boebert in the June 30 primary; for more information, his website is votetipton.com.

Guest commentary: Lauren Boebert standing for core conservative principles in CD3 race

Last fall, I told presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, “Hell no, you won’t take away our guns!”, which quickly became a national rallying call to protect our Second Amendment rights.

When Governor Polis and Denver’s liberal legislature passed the National Popular Vote Compact, I volunteered months of my time and effort to make sure we could stop the Democrats from stealing our votes for President.

Most recently, I have been in the fight for our collective livelihoods as one of many small business owners in our country who are dealing with the devastating economic fallout from the global pandemic.

In each of these examples, my motivation was and will continue to be clear: we must always stand on the right side of freedom and keep our Constitutional rights secure.

Too often, in too many ways, we are too quick to concede these core conservative principles based on fear or incomplete facts. Too often, our leaders fail to stand up for our freedom.

That’s why I am running for Congress.

As your Representative, I will always put individual freedom first, and I will never forget the government is supposed to both defend our individual rights and our collective safety.

What does this mean in practical terms?

In Congress, I won’t vote in favor of any budgets unless they balance in a reasonable amount of time; our national debt is unsustainable.

I will never support amnesty that allows law-breakers too much incentive to continue breaking the law. I support comprehensive immigration reform as long as it first includes securing the border.

I will hold those in government accountable that refuse to abide by the laws of our country.

I’ll fight to eliminate the Federal Department of Education because education should be done at the most local level possible.

I won’t bail out irresponsible state and local governments.

And I will never appease the liberal socialist agenda on the false hope that it will somehow support a conservative policy down the road.

I share the examples above because my Republican primary opponent, Congressman Scott Tipton, has failed on all of the above. During Mr. Tipton’s 10 years in Congress he has shown a consistent instinct to run from core conservative positions, including:

• Voting for a 2,200 page, $1.4 trillion spending bill filled with waste and debt last fall when our economy was running on all cylinders.

• Joining AOC’s Squad to co-sponsor a $250 billion federal bailout of cities like Boulder, without constraint on their liberal-spending ways.

• Instead of demanding a secure border first, Scott Tipton undermined President Trump’s efforts by voting alongside Nancy Pelosi and every other Democrat to hand amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and spend a billion of our taxpayer dollars to pay for their housing.

A sober look at the Tipton Record shows a back-burner representative that has failed to live up to his conservative chops that he touted on his Tea Party-inspired campaign trail. If his record lived up to his campaign rhetoric, I wouldn’t feel so compelled to run.

As your Representative, I will proudly make the case for our shared conservative values: to stand up to the lunatics on the left, to help craft and send better bills to President Trump and to honor my oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

I’d appreciate the opportunity to show you what that type of leadership can achieve for all of the hard-working, God-fearing wonderful people that call our district and nation home.

Editor’s note: The Aspen Times has offered the four candidates in the U.S. House District 3 primaries a guest column of 600 words. Lauren Boebert is a Republican running against Scott Tipton in the June 30 primary; for more information, her website is laurenforcolorado.com.

Guest commentary: James Iacino ready to move country forward amid tough, difficult times

Last Friday, June 19, many white Americans celebrated and recognized Juneteenth, the day that the last slaves learned of their emancipation in Texas in 1865, for the first time. An event that should have been the beginning of a new chapter in our country’s history instead turned into a short-lived period of reconstruction, followed by decades of devasting Jim Crow laws targeted at preventing black Americans from participating in our civic, social, and economic processes. By 1964 President Johnson was able to sign into law the Civil Rights Act, and soon after the Voting Rights Act, enshrining that everyone is created equal, regardless of the color of their skin.

Despite these protections, the nearly 60 years since of the passage of the Civil Rights Act have been wrought with violence and prejudice against Black Americans. We celebrated last Friday not because our society has championed justice, but because we have failed to. It’s devastating that it took the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others for us to publicly reckon with our dark history of oppression, but this is where we are today.

Moving forward we need to have tough but important conversations on policing and the entire criminal justice system, and we need to implement policies that end the cycle of hate that we have yet to rise above.

Maybe fittingly, the discourse around these issues has arisen during what may be the largest period of economic unrest our country has seen since the Great Depression. Even with marginal job growth in May, over 40 million Americans are still without work since the onset of the global pandemic. Now is the time to make the fundamental change that our country needs to transform our society and our economy. We have the ability to correct the course Colorado and our country have been set upon, but we need leaders to guide us there, not politicians who have proven they are more interested in personal gain and partisan interests.

Scott Tipton has failed to bring real representation for southern and western Colorado to Congress for the past decade. He has been an empty voice for special interests and a rubber stamp for the current administration. We have some of the highest health care costs in the entire country, yet he has voted consistently to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and defund rural hospitals. On Tipton’s watch we have seen the economy shift away from coal, but no plans or contingencies put into place to help communities like Craig and Nucla transition their economic base. Rather than fighting to end racial inequity and help Colorado recover, Scott Tipton has spent the last three months investigating Chinese leadership and playing the blame game.

This failure in representation combined with the systemic inequities that have left minorities and rural America behind is why I am running for Congress.

Under my leadership we tripled the size of our family business and put 200 Coloradans from communities across the state to work with good union jobs, and we made Seattle Fish a global leader on sustainability and environmental protection, which earned us the recognition of Green Business of the Year.

We need a representative who will stand up for us, who will work with like-mind leaders to start fixing these problems, lead us out of this crisis, and build an economy that works for everyone. I’ve been endorsed by leaders like Ken and John Salazar and Phil Weiser because they know that I have the background to beat Scott Tipton. I ask that you join us with your vote on June 30.

Editor’s note: The Aspen Times has offered the four candidates in the U.S. House District 3 primaries a guest column of 600 words. James Iacino is a Democrat running against Diane Mitsch Bush in the June 30 primary; for more information, his website is jamesforcolorado.com.

Guest commentary: Face masks will benefit our entire community, doctor says

The recent uptick in Pitkin County is concerning. With reopening and an influx of visitors, we are seeing more COVID-19 cases and had our first hospitalization in three weeks. Many of our new arrivals are from virus-stricken states where reopening was more political than sensible.

The virus needs to take over our cells to make more of itself. Spread by close contact and droplets, it infects lung cells and causes cough, fever, diarrhea, pneumonia and shortness of breath in two to 14 days after infection. Before you have symptoms, your cells are virus factories, and you are expelling virus-laden droplets by the simple act of talking.

If we can prevent the spread of the virus to others, our bodies will fight it off, and the virus is gone. If not, the virus wins. We may have to wait months or years for a vaccine or for more than 60% of the population to get the disease — i.e. herd immunity. The suffering caused by only 3% of Coloradans being infected is already immense. I can’t imagine the pain of getting to 60%. Also, following guidance from the state, if we reach 18 new cases in one week, we will have to halt reopening efforts.

How do we keep our town open? Wear masks. Masks are effective at catching droplets. There are numerous studies that back this up. Countries that have endorsed masks and social distancing are returning to a sense of normalcy. In March, the Czech Republic was the first European country to require masks. In May, it was able to lift most restrictions — including its face mask requirement. It has had only 336 COVID-19 deaths, while Sweden with same population but no mask mandate has had 5,053 deaths.

Contrary to popular belief, COVID is worse than the flu. Healthy young people can be disabled for months after infection. Do you really want to spend two weeks in beautiful Aspen fighting this virus with fatigue, fever, cough, pneumonia and feeling like you are drowning in your own lungs? You can spread it to others before you have symptoms. Almost half of the primary spreaders are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic young adults.

The United States has far more COVID cases and deaths than any other nation. Big cities such as Phoenix, which resisted imposing mask requirements, are now requiring masks in public indoor spaces, but it is too late. Their hospitals are being overwhelmed. This could happen here if we are not careful.

Pitkin County’s public health decisions are driven by data — balancing a desire to boost our economy while not overwhelming our health care system. Please follow our five commitments of covering your face in public spaces, washing hands, socially distancing, staying home and getting tested if sick. Don’t be responsible for someone else’s illness, death or loss of employment. With the five commitments, we can defeat this virus.

This is our new normal until the virus burns itself out, or we have immunity through widespread vaccination.

Dr. Jeannie Seybold is an at-large member of the Pitkin County Board of Health.

Aspen Board of Education: respect and equality for all

We are heartbroken over the unnecessary and appalling loss of lives in our country at the hands of police officers charged with protecting our citizens. The recent public outcry in response to such events has created a stirring conversation around race and justice in our country.

All of us in the Aspen School District are reminded that our ongoing work to ensure that all children have a place in the world based on who they are and not the color of their skin, is not nearly as close to fruition as most of us thought. We wholeheartedly decry racism that has led to the deaths of far too many people of color. Economic disparity, health-care inequities, and opportunity gaps unfortunately remain part of our national narrative. The killing of innocent men and women simply has to stop. The priority has to be the people. All the people.

​As we grieve the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor — along with the countless others who have experienced violence due to systemic racism — our hearts are heavy. But there is a ray of hope and optimism as well.

James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We are inspired by the young people who are facing head-on the social injustices that for far too long have been a part of this country. Peaceful protests are incredibly powerful.

As a school district, we see our role as an important one to help our students to learn and grow as a result of current events in our nation. We also see our district as a place for our students and staff members to feel safe and comfortable in a culture where we stand up for respect and equality for all. The Aspen School District is committed to providing a world-class education for all of our students in a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment. We are committed to ensuring that every student has equal access to the district’s educational programs and activities. We are committed to partnering with numerous community organizations to create and sustain an environment that supports educational excellence for each individual student.

Our students and staff members are experiencing a range of emotions, and every one of those emotions is justified. This is a difficult time for our community and our country. We urge our students to reach out to their counselors or other trusted adults if they are struggling for help and support, and they will be guided towards resources that can help. We encourage our staff to take advantage of the wellness options and support provided by our human resources department. We urge every member of our community to listen to one another, to be kind, and to take care of one another. We value your voice and we value your input.

Katy Frisch, Susan Marolt, Jonathan Nickell, Dwayne Romero and Suzy Zimet are the Aspen School District Board of Education

Guest commentary: Young people can lead but they need us to invest in them

COVID-19 is having, and will have, an unprecedented impact on the long-term financial health of nearly all Americans, especially the rising generation. Young people who have grown up during the time of the Great Recession are now left to navigate a second unprecedented economic catastrophe. Youth of color from places of longtime disinvestment, a history of racist systems and concentrated poverty are starting from even further back.

Achieving the long-term vision for the America we want will require us to invest in our country’s greatest and most underutilized natural asset: the next generation. At the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, we partner with over two dozen foundations to implement the national Opportunity Youth Forum/Fund (OYF), where we fund and work with community networks and opportunity youth — 16-24-year-olds — who are not connected to education or employment.

At the start of 2020, we were celebrating annual declines in the number of disconnected young people. After years of coalition work — scaling best practice, advocating for systems change, and investing in youth-led efforts — the number had reached an all-time low of 4.5 million opportunity youth, according to Measure of America. We could envision a future where America would have second chance opportunities for every young person who was out of school or work and wanted a better life. That is no longer the case. The latest unemployment data tells us that the estimated number of opportunity youth has likely more than tripled — with some estimates putting that number at 18 million.

The painful reality of what it means to be graduating from high school in the midst of a pandemic and an economic freefall, or the trauma of being 22 years old, recently laid off and struggling to decide between paying for college tuition or basic needs, is only part of the story. These millions of young Americans are our hope for a sustainable future: they are tech-savvy, motivated, filled with talent and untapped potential, and represent the most diverse generation in U.S. history. Most importantly, they are committed to both a belief in serving the greater good and in a more compassionate capitalism. COVID-19 can either represent the barrier that stopped them from being the next “Greatest Generation” or the catalyst that catapults America into a prosperous equitable future.

To invest in young Americans, Congress must prioritize public employment and paid service opportunities in the next recovery bill. The $4 billion increase for existing federal youth pathways that is being recommended by the Reconnecting Youth Campaign and by young grassroots leaders who are part of Opportunity Youth United would be a good start. The proposed expansion of AmeriCorps, the Pandemic Response and Opportunity Through National Service Act will also help, investing in 750,000 service positions over a three-year period and increasing the AmeriCorps living allowance so that low-income Americans are able to serve. For years, AmeriCorps service participation has been predominantly accessed by those who can afford to commit to a term of service, often with support from more affluent parents. These new AmeriCorps opportunities should prioritize and scale up paid service opportunities for youth from low-income communities. For example, some service infrastructure exists in Native and Tribal communities and urban centers with concentrated inequity. New national service resources should target and grow community-based youth employment organizations in low-income communities — shifting the service paradigm from a neo-colonial “helping those people” to one that is anchored in community self-determination and self-reliance.

Elected officials and government agencies must find other ways to channel resources to those young people who represent the hardest hit communities. The pandemic has exposed what happens to communities that have lived with structural inequities for generations. Recovery must target those who have been stifled by racial inequity and poverty for generations.

Additionally, donors must invest in youth-led strategies and in approaches that harness youth civic engagement and activism focused on systems change. We can all support young people to seize the opportunity to end mass incarceration, including the school to prison pipeline, and finally achieve sustained juvenile justice and police reform.

Our country has a history of turning profound challenges into societal advancement. Creating the environment for the next generation to lead the rebuild will set the country on a course to a new, more inclusive definition of greatness. It is the only way we will achieve our highest promise and in the words of the poet Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again, post-pandemic.

Stephen Patrick is vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Forum for Community Solutions. He has previously held senior leadership positions at three foundations, most recently leading a portfolio focused on disconnected youth at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is the co-founder of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Northern New Mexico and started his career as a youth worker in the northern pueblos of New Mexico.

Guest commentary: We need to work together to close opportunity, achievement gaps in education

I chose education for my passion project because I have been interested in education and education equality. I saw the faces of Valley Settlement (an organization that helps immigrant families) kids when we delivered activity bags and knew I wanted to make a difference. The other main reason I chose education for my passion project is that my parents are very involved in organizations and schools to help lower socioeconomic families with their future educations. I am inspired by my parents’ passion and commitment. The essential question that I wanted to learn as a result of my research was how to improve education for lower socioeconomic families.

From my research and interviews, I have concluded that we need to ask ourselves why there is an “opportunity gap” as Rob Stein (superintendent of Roaring Fork School District) and Tony Kline (superintendent of University Academy Charter School) both said. We need to make education equal for all socioeconomic statuses and races. In other words, all students are capable of achieving at the same level, but not all students have access to equal opportunities.

One thing that is helping lower socioeconomic families, and could be a way for more improvement, is providing wraparound services. Wraparound services are services that help provide lower socioeconomic families with whatever they need at home. For example, there are many lower socioeconomic families with broken homes. Maybe they need counseling. There are also many homeless families and maybe they need food services or help with money and a place to stay. Home situations are directly related to a child’s education because they are not ready to learn and focus if they are hungry or tired. Overall, I think that wraparound services are already improving and could keep improving education for lower socioeconomic families so that they are ready to learn when they get to school.

Another great solution or improvement to making education equal for everyone is providing equal funding and equally qualified teachers for all schools or giving kids or schools more funding. Some teachers at public schools don’t have the same level of education or experience, and to help fill the opportunity gap, we need to make sure all teachers are qualified to teach. Lower-income schools need more funding than higher-income schools. If we gave funding based on how much the school needs, that would make tremendous improvements. As Stein said, “Our school system is pretty much designed so that the rich get richer and the poorer get less.” This quote means that richer schools are getting funded better than poorer schools, and poorer schools need more funding.

Finally, qualified teachers and funding given to poorer schools would make amazing improvements because it would fill a lot of opportunity or achievement gaps.

The last main improvement that would be very beneficial is supporting the whole family. We are responsible for all the world’s children, not just our own. Like I said before, there are a lot of broken homes which make children not ready to come to school and learn. Supporting the whole family will give the child a better education by decreasing stress, hunger, fatigue and many other things. One thing that families could do is take 20 minutes to read with their children or help with their homework, although that is not possible in many families because of time and work, as Farihide Rodriguez (Valley Settlement teacher) said. Educators can help the whole family by getting to know the whole family and their situation at home, communicating with the family, providing wraparound services, finding more learning resources at home, and many other things. Supporting the whole family would not only be very beneficial to the child’s education but also could help further the whole family’s education. In summary, supporting the whole family would be a vast improvement for lower socioeconomic families.

In conclusion, wraparound services, equally qualified teachers and funding, and supporting the whole family would be great improvements for the U.S. school system. Personally, I have packed activity bags for Valley Settlement children and created a website to spread awareness. I also wrote this essay to spread awareness. I want to be more involved with organizations that help lower socioeconomic families with education, and want to keep learning more about this subject. My main takeaway from the research interviews I have done is that we need to figure out how to close the opportunity and achievement gaps in education today. We need to make high-quality education available to everyone, not just high-income places. Overall, I have learned so much through my passion project and can’t wait to learn more. How do you think education for lower socioeconomic families can be improved?

Amelia Helzberg is a sixth-grader at Aspen Country Day School and her essay was submitted to The Aspen Times by one of her teachers. The Passion Project was an extended assignment for Tyler Valtin’s class.

Scott Bayens: Reopening the real estate market and the interesting road ahead

It’s been a long, strange trip the past two months for our family and nearly everyone we’ve been talking to. Many we know have been out of work, laboring instead to secure unemployment or emergency funds, yet others have been working 50 hour weeks.

This week, a slow and cautious reawaking starts in the Roaring Fork and Aspen areas and more aggressively around the country.

We’re all anxious to come out from behind our screens, get back to the office and enjoy some real face time (albeit masked). But polls also show most of us are nervous about our re-emergence as we watch the national death toll approach 100,000 souls and continue to rise. Here in the Roaring Fork Valley it’s clear we flattened the curve.  We did see our share of cases and tragically we lost lives too, but at this point, unless we’re all symptomatic, it seems for now, we’ve got this thing under control.

As hard as hunkering down was, these next few weeks might provide another level of anxiety as we begin to see second homeowners return, some without face coverings, and tourists beginning to arrive.

In the meantime, it’s back to work for local real estate brokers and for some, it’s been game on. The past two weeks since the first restrictions were lifted, we’ve seen a frenzy of activity. As Aspen Times reporter Scott Condon wrote last week, homes in the midvalley between $500,000 to $750,000 are going under contract in two or three days and in some cases with multiple offers. The reason? Pent-up demand, record low interest rates and the everyday need for housing.

There is a window of significant activity in the primary housing market, not just here but around the country. For now, at least downvalley, it remains a seller’s market as inventory remains tight and in high demand. But it’s the higher priced stuff that might take a little while to shake out.

Sellers in luxury markets like Aspen-Snowmass typically take the longest to come off their prices as many can afford to hang on to their assets through tough times. But at the end of the day, not even the wealthy need another second home, so with fewer buyers knocking down doors, those who want or need to liquidate will eventually need to adjust to the market.

And with more than 30 homes at $20 million or higher in the upper valley, you can bet there is incentive to sell in these uncertain times. Toward that end, brokers report an increase in low-ball offers, and my guess is as the summer goes on, we’ll see a few of these monster homes close for 15% to 20% off asking price. Expect to see more homes sold via auction in the near future as well.

Meanwhile, there’s another new phenomenon playing out. There’s been an influx of interest for more private, rural and remote offerings; so-called COVID compounds. The number of inquiries for acreage and raw land away from town is up significantly, including calls for out-of-the-way offerings in the eight-figure range that haven’t seen interest since 2019.

This interest should not come as a surprise to those following the news of the crisis in major metropolitan areas. There was already a shift underway from cities to more rural areas like the Roaring Fork Valley.

A recent survey cited by Axios.com indicated 39% of urban dwellers said COVID-19 has prompted them to consider leaving for a less crowded place. Also, 43% said they had recently browsed real estate websites looking for homes to buy or rent. And 77% said they were very or somewhat concerned their current living situation might expose them or their loved ones to the virus.

Yet another survey, conducted by the National Association of Realtors, showed a whopping 77% of potential sellers were preparing to list their homes after stay-at-home orders were lifted. Experts are even speculating formally fit-to-be-tied down millennials will begin to enter the market as they are beginning to settle in, have children, and are most likely to have jobs that allow them to telecommute. As a result of all these factors, keep eyes out for what could be a historic migration the likes of which we haven’t seen since 9/11.

In the past few weeks, many of us have been reminded of the Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” It’s not actually a Chinese proverb and in fact is meant as a curse. As its real meaning is antithetical, it’s obviously best used ironically as “uninteresting” times relate more to peace and tranquility. Trying to determine which we are in is just part of our “new normal.”

Scott Bayens (GRI, ABR, CNE) is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Learn more about him and view listings at www.aspendreamhome.com.