Eagle Co hopes Labor Day not a repeat of July 4
The last time Eagle County was in a good position relative to COVID-19 spread and headed into a holiday weekend, things didn’t turn out so well.
Public health officials don’t want to repeat the events that happened in the aftermath of the July 4 holiday as locals and visitors celebrate the summer’s finale during Labor Day weekend.
“Events on Fourth of July and around that weekend led to a scary increase of cases, not only in our community but in the state,” said Birch Barron, Eagle County’s emergency management director. “The biggest thing that we learned from the Fourth of July was that during that week, and even a couple of weeks leading up to it, people started to let their guard down. I think that people really felt, honestly, that it was no longer necessary to be vigilant.”
Barron noted that after months of relative isolation, the warm days of summer meant more time outside and less perceived risk of disease spread. But there were faults in that reasoning, he said.
“When people were outside, they wouldn’t be thinking about sharing the car on the way to somewhere. When they were camping, they weren’t thinking about sharing a tent,” he said. “What we saw in July was just collective exhaustion that led to a bunch of little choices that on the whole, led to a lot of disease spread.”
Visitors in town
Local public health officials have repeatedly noted that visitors to the community are not powering the local COVID-19 spread. Barron acknowledged that it is difficult for people to understand, particularly when they have seen so many people coming in from outside the community, many times from virus outbreak hot spots.
Barron said that yes, some visitors likely are COVID-19 carriers and they may introduce the disease to local residents. But it is then the people who live here who spread the disease to family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers.
“A very large amount of our disease is local disease spread,” he said. “Eliminating travel into our community, even if it was an option, wouldn’t eliminate disease spread because we already have disease in the community.”
But keeping visitors out would decimate the local economy, Barron said, which would leave financial and social scars.
“What is in our control and is within our focus is what we are doing with those visitors once they are here,” Barron said. “We need to find a balance with our tourism economy where people can visit the area and we can keep spread to a minimum.”
To that end, Eagle County has launched an information page specifically aimed at visitors. Additionally, tent cards have been placed in all local hotel rooms to let visitors know about COVID-19 expectations and local businesses are clearly communicating the mask-wearing expectations.
“There is no expectation that we are going to get the spread number to zero,” Barron said. “We have to start focusing on solutions that will get us through the long-term realities of this virus.”
The long haul
Barron said he understands people are tired of COVID-19. They are tired of reading about it and tired of practicing the five commitments of containment.
“It gets really hard to sustain this whole lifestyle change,” he said.
But when the population as a whole does a better job limiting spread, containment challenges aren’t as difficult, Barron noted. Right now, Eagle County is in the green phase of its COVID-19 risk meter where small social gatherings are acceptable and kids are going to school. That is a workable way to live, Barron noted, and we can remain there “if everyone is just always aware that the potential for disease spread is there.”
School opening, on top of the holiday weekend, means local health officials are anxiously awaiting the COVID-19 data for the next few weeks.
“We are dealing with a time when there are a whole lot of new variables,” Barron said.
He noted that cases typically spike one to two weeks after a concerning event. Elevated case numbers could continue for three or four weeks afterward, representing second and third generation spread.
“We are going to be looking at everything very carefully over the next month,” Barron said.
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