Eagle County eyes indoor mask mandate as local COVID-19 cases skyrocket | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County eyes indoor mask mandate as local COVID-19 cases skyrocket

Board of Health meeting Wednesday will discuss mandate as omicron-fueled surge results in 250% increase in cases in a week

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners have scheduled a special Board of Health meeting Wednesday to discuss how to respond to surging COVID-19 case numbers. One of the options for discussion will be a countywide mask mandate.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

On Monday, Eagle County set a disturbing record — 139 new COVID-19 cases were reported.

That number will likely increase as more test data is reported and it is the latest evidence that the new omicron variant-fueled surge has hit the Colorado High Country. Over the past seven days, there has been a 250% increase in the number of local COVID-19 cases. The county is now averaging 700 cases per 100,000 — a high it has never hit in previous waves.

“This one just went from one case to 700 cases pretty quickly,” said Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll. “We skipped all the other hundreds and went right to 700.”

Confronted with the surge numbers, the Eagle Board of County Commissioners set a special board of health meeting for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. According to Shroll, local health officials will present the most recent COVID-19 statistics and the board will consider public health amendments. In particular, the board will debate imposing an indoor mask mandate.

“We had been looking at end game strategies to get out of the pandemic,” Shroll noted, “but this one has gotten out of hand so quickly we think that masks are a useful tool to put on the table.”

Masks don’t carry the economic wallop that capacity limits and other previous public health orders did, Shroll noted.

“It is a good tool we have used in the past,” he noted. “Hopefully with vaccination, masks and other precautions, we can get our numbers down.”

A Mako Medical employee administers a nasal swab COVID-19 test at a pop-up testing location Tuesday outside the Transportation Center in Vail. The site will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day as needed. It will be closed Christmas Day and New Years Day, as well as shortened hours Christmas Eve from 8 a.m. to noon. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily)

Work force hit

The omicron surge is hitting at a particularly inconvenient time and spreading in a particularly impactful population. With the Christmas holidays looming, the valley’s population has boomed and the omicron variant is hitting a younger demographic than previous COVID-19 strains.

“We went from 50,000 people to 80,000 people in the valley with the holiday,” Shroll explained. “Even without the pandemic, we are rolling into the height of the ski season with a pretty significant worker shortage across all industries.”

The most recent data shows that 38% of the new cases in Eagle County are people in their 20s. Another 26% are people in their 30s.

“That’s a big bite of our workforce,” Shroll said. “We are hoping for some less severity with the disease but with this rapid spread, absenteeism is going to be significant.”

Shroll noted as the current surge rolls through the valley, local public health workers want to make sure residents know where to find COVID-19 resources, including early testing information.

“We really think that is the key, getting tested as soon as possible,” he noted. For information about COVID-19 including testing locations and vaccination options, visit eaglecountycovid.org.

Hospital capacity

During the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns mounted about overwhelming hospital resources. That concern has reemerged with the omicron surge.

“This surge is really going to stress out our hospital system,” Shroll said.

Combined with the increase in COVID-19 patients at the facility, Shroll noted that like other local employers, Vail Health has a number of employees out with COVID-19.

This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.

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