Aspen Skiing Co., Pitkin County health officials working on ski plan, awaiting word on state guidelines

People wear masks on the walking mall in Aspen on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Pitkin County public health officials are working collaboratively with Aspen Skiing Co. to come up with a winter plan that allows for skiing while also tempering the spread of COVID-19, officials said Thursday.

“We have a couple of different groups that have been meeting (with Skico),” said Public Health Director Karen Koenemann after announcing the partnership at Thursday’s county Board of Health meeting.

Leadership, including Koenemann and County Manager Jon Peacock, has been meeting with Skico leaders, while operations crews also meet to hammer out details on a winter plan for the last month to six weeks, Peacock said Thursday.

Once the plan is completed, Skico will submit it to the Pitkin County Public Health Department, which will then forward it on to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Koenemann said.

That isn’t likely to happen for several weeks, however, because the state probably won’t accept the plans until it has specified ski industry guidelines, Peacock said. Those guidelines aren’t expected to be issued until late October at this point because the state is putting together an advisory committee to make recommendations on the issue, he said.

The meetings between county public health officials and their Skico counterparts have centered on the county’s coronavirus containment strategy known as “Box It In,” Koenemann said. That involves getting an outbreak under control, isolating positive cases, quarantining possible cases and tracing contacts with positive cases.

Skico’s plan will be unique to the company and area and might possibly rely on ski pass scans in contact tracing investigations to determine where a person went, she said.

County public health officials plan to meet with Skico representatives next week to talk specifically about the company’s plan to test employees for the virus, Koenemann said. Skico has been talking to a company that can run a testing system for 3,000 employees it usually hires during a winter, she said.

In other news from Thursday’s Board of Health meeting:

• The Labor Day holiday caused an expected spike in cases in Aspen and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, said Josh Vance, a Pitkin County epidemiologist.

Pitkin County’s positivity rate, which had been hovering at between 2% and 3%, jumped to 5.4% in the past 14 days, he said. That includes the city of Aspen’s rate increasing to 3.1%, Carbondale’s positivity rate coming down to a more manageable 5%, though Basalt’s rate jumped to between 8% and 8.5%, Vance said.

The Basalt increase is partially related to virus cases linked to Basalt Elementary School, he said.

Overall, the number of COVID-19 cases in Pitkin County doubled from four last week to eight this week, said Vance and Dr. Kimberly Levin, the county’s medical officer.

“We saw a Labor Day spike,” Vance said. “People visited and some brought COVID with them.”

However, Aspen Valley Hospital remains within comfortable levels in all metrics, Levin said.

• Pitkin County has scheduled an Oct. 1 hearing with the owners of Scarlett’s restaurant/Bootsy Bellows nightclub in Aspen, Koenemann said.

The hearing in front of Koenemann will allow the owners to present information they think the county needs to have in relation to the county’s closure of the business for violations of the public health order.

“The hearing is the next step in our process,” Koenemann said.

Public health officials have repeatedly had to warn the business about serving alcohol.

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