Aspen officials share COVID concerns
Aspen City Council members worried about high transmission rate of the virus locally
A few of Aspen’s elected officials are sounding the alarm bell on the surge of COVID-19 in the community, which is experiencing a high rate of virus transmission.
Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards said during board comments at Tuesday’s meeting that the increasing positivity rate is concerning enough to her that she plans to attend future gatherings virtually and wants Pitkin County public health officials to reinstate mandatory indoor mask wearing.
“I really do think the board of health needs to talk about imposing the mask indoor ordinance again across the county,” she said. “This is the time to start protecting our school kids and start protecting ourselves from these other hospital disasters. … Colorado now has some of the highest numbers it has since last January in terms of people hospitalized so these things I think should be very concerning to us.”
The board of health, comprised of elected officials in the town of Snowmass Village, Pitkin County and Aspen, along with medical professionals and citizens, is scheduled to meet on Sept. 9.
Mayor Torre, who sits on the board as the city’s representative, said on Tuesday that the conversations he has had with local public health officials signal that there won’t be an indoor mask mandate coming from the board of health.
“The direction that they are wanting to go right now is to support local businesses and organizations and their desire of what level that they want to put in because they want to require a vaccination card such as the Belly Up is doing or some of our arts groups or get tested within the last 72 hours,” Torre said. “There is a large push to encourage people to get vaccinated.”
As of Thursday, 64% of the local population has been fully vaccinated and 84% have received the first dose.
It’s the visiting population that Richards said she is concerned about.
“Our community swells from 8,000 people to 30,000 every week and we have no idea what the percentage of vaccination of those 20,000 new people between us, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County,” she said.
Councilman Ward Hauenstein said the breakthrough rate among vaccinated people getting COVID-19 is pretty high and concerning.
“Even though we are all double vaccinated that doesn’t mean we are safe because as you say we have visitors from Texas and Florida with some kind of statement of their individual liberties instead of health,” he said. “So when you are in line with someone who has no vaccination even though you are fully vaccinated doesn’t mean you’re safe.”
Torre said if City Council wants to enact an indoor mask ordinance it can but it shouldn’t rely on the county board of health to do so.
“What this council needs to think about is our role in the city of Aspen,” he said. “If we want to have conversations about doing any mandates in the city we are going to have to do that ourselves.”
The county board of health last month recommended that community members and visitors follow the Centers for Disease and Prevention’s guidelines to wear a mask indoors in high transmission areas.
Richards on Tuesday pushed the importance of public messaging that reinforces the CDC’s guidance.
“How are we actually getting this information to the 5 to 10,000 new arrivals we have almost every week in terms of our guest?” she asked. “I just don’t believe it’s happening and I don’t think we are doing enough to protect our children or our population.”
As of Thursday, Pitkin County had 58 new cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days, including 47 county residents and 11 from outside the county, according to the county’s online case and testing data dashboard. That equated to a seven-day incidence rate of 265 per 100,000 residents.
The CDC says that any community with an incidence rate of more than 100 per 100,000 residents means a high rate of COVID-19 transmission.
“Maybe you want to keep it secret from your guests that you have a 7.4% positivity rate in your community, or that the New York Times tracker says you have a very high rate of transmission and danger of catching COVID in Pitkin County,” Richards said.
Torre said the resort community will be bustling this month with numerous events happening, including ones that are drawing thousands of people like Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Experience.
“We’re still trying to stay open and active so we need to think about this next month and if there is anything that we think could increase our community safety,” he said.
Torre added that he’s concerned about winter and people moving indoors with COVID still present in the community.
“If we don’t see a change in the direction with what we’ve got going on now we will be back into different restrictions that we have experienced in the last year and a half,” he said.
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Officials from Eagle County Health Department and Cornerstone Christian School in El Jebel plan to meet this week to come to terms on mask requirements for students.