Aspen dialing back pandemic team

City of Aspen’s COVID-19 consumer and environmental protection to end this year

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.”

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