Negative test no longer required to visit Aspen as board alters traveler program
Pitkin County now asking visitors to sign “pledge” that they know the local pandemic rules
Pitkin County’s Board of Health heeded recommendations by Aspen’s business community and tweaked the local traveler affidavit program Thursday.
While travelers to Aspen and Pitkin County will still be required to sign a “pledge” indicating they understand the COVID-19-related rules for the community, starting March 5, they will no longer be required to obtain a negative test within 72 hours of visiting. In addition, the program will no longer contain the word “affidavit,” which apparently spooked some travelers concerned about the legal implications of the term.
“I like the name ‘Traveler Awareness Program,'” said Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, a board of health alternate. “(We should) get affidavit out of there … (and) make it more visitor-friendly.”
The affidavit program has been in effect since Dec. 14, and nearly 70,000 people have submitted the document. Besides the negative test, the program offers information about how to stay safe in town, facemask requirements, quarantine and isolation rules, and limits on personal gathering sizes.
As of March 5, all of that information will continue to be passed on to travelers when they make lodging reservations, along with a declaration to align with CDC travel guidelines. Those guidelines recommend that travelers receive a COVID-19 negative test before and after traveling but do not require them.
Public health officials also want to work with local hospitality representatives beginning in April to figure out how to adapt the traveler awareness program for the summer season.
Members of the lodging community and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association didn’t like the affidavit program as it previously existed for a number of reasons.
First, they felt that it would create confusion and less compliance after the board of health decided to align with the state’s new COVID dial guidelines earlier this month. They also felt it contributed to Aspen having the lowest occupancy rates in the state, created frustration for travelers who followed the rules but realized there was no local enforcement of them and sent a confusing message regarding safety when local metrics indicated lower risk.
The seven members of the board of health, along with three of the four alternates, unanimously agreed to the new changes.
Travelers who violate Pitkin County’s public health order guidelines, however, will still be subject to a possible $5,000 fine and jail time for violations, though both of those things are highly unlikely unless the violation is extremely egregious.
Local cases of COVID-19 have been in a sharp decline in recent weeks, though that has leveled off in the past few days, said Josh Vance, the county’s epidemiologist. Vance said he expects the county’s incidence rate to increase after a backlog of results from a lab in Lubbock, Texas, which were delayed because of recent winter weather, have begun to come back.
Just before Thursday’s meeting, public health officials received some of those results, which included another 20 positive cases, he said. That will force the incidence and positivity rates to increase, though whether they move into Orange-level restrictions range remains to be seen, Vance said.
“I think we will see an increase,” he said, adding later that most of the delayed results have been received by the county.
Jordana Sabella, the county’s interim public health director, said state public health officials are aware that the large amount of positive results should have been spread out among several days rather than coming all at once. The state will consult with local officials about the metrics and if they feel it’s necessary to move the county to a more restrictive level, that would be done quickly, she said.
The county still has no confirmed cases of any of the COVID-19 variants, Vance said. There have been two suspected cases that couldn’t be confirmed, while one more possible case cropped up this week that has yet to be confirmed, he said.
Hospitalization metrics at Aspen Valley Hospital remain comfortable, said Dr. Kim Levin, the county’s medical officer. In fact, the number of health care workers with COVID-like symptoms has plummeted since nearly 80% of the hospital staff has been fully vaccinated, she said.
Vaccinations in the county are progressing, with 3,372 people having received their first dose and 1,746 gotten their second dose, said Carlyn Porter, a member of the public health team. Approximately 1,170 people received vaccinations at a clinic Thursday, and the county has ordered another 1,170 doses for next week though delivery of those doses has not yet been confirmed, she said.
Public health officials are encouraging all residents to sign up for vaccinations whether they are eligible yet or not. That can be done on the county’s COVID-19 website located at https://covid19.pitkincounty.com.