New COVID-19 cases bring Pitkin County to 13; state urges those in mountain counties to ‘minimize all contact with other people’ | AspenTimes.com

New COVID-19 cases bring Pitkin County to 13; state urges those in mountain counties to ‘minimize all contact with other people’

Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman listens to a presentation Wednesday about the COVID-19 virus from Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, left, Deputy Public Health Director Suzuho Shimasaki, Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy of Operations Alex Burchetta and Aspen Ambulance Director Gabe Muething.

county community meeting

What: A virtual community meeting with the Pitkin County Incident Management Team and Pitkin County Public Health Department.

When: 3 p.m. Monday

Where: Participants can watch on Zoom video conference online at zoom.us, meeting ID is 571-198-559.

Why: The meeting will address the community spread of COVID-19. People can send in questions to a Google document via the link http://bit.ly/2TMyPvN. Question will be accepted until noon Monday. Live questions will not be taken during the meeting.

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Two more people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Pitkin County, making the total now 13 local cases, the Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment announced Sunday.

The state agency also recommended that due to the “extensive spread of COVID-19 in a number of mountain resort communities,” anyone who lives in or has visited in the past week minimize their contact with other people.

“Anyone who has been in Eagle, Summit, Pitkin or Gunnison counties in the past week should minimize all contact with other people, whether or not they are experiencing symptoms,” reads a statement from CDPHE on Sunday.

That announcement prompted Colorado Mountain College to close campuses and central services to students and staff until 6 p.m. Monday while leadership assess the college’s response to the CDPHE’s alert. The closure is precautionary and not in response to known COVID-19 exposure on any CMC campus, according to a news release issued Sunday night.

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The 13 COVID-19 cases in Aspen include 10 Australian visitors who have been in isolation since March 8.

A local woman learned Saturday she tested positive.

Officials with the local incident management team could not confirm details of the new cases with the CDPHE on Sunday night.

“We’ve been in touch with the CDPHE to get clarity on the discrepancies in the case numbers,” and that information is expected to be released Monday, according to Bill Linn, an Aspen assistant police chief and public information officer on the incident management team.

Aspen-Pitkin County Airport Director John Kinney said Sunday he was close to shutting down the facility because it was in violation of a tri-county public health order that prohibits more than 50 people in one place.

“Once the announcement that the ski areas were closing, on short notice, everyone is really scrambling to get home,” Kinney said.

Because outbound flight loads are between 85% and 100% through Wednesday, Kinney was able to get the order lifted from Pitkin County’s Public Health Department.

“Probably by Wednesday we will go back to social distancing,” he said, adding that the county health department understood the necessity of moving people through Sardy Field and out of the community expeditiously.

“I applaud the health department to see that strategy,” he said.

Kinney said he has heard no plans from the federal government to close the airport.

“We are business as usual,” he said.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock asked travelers to practice personal responsibility and not go to the airport if they experience COVID-19 symptoms.

As part of the social distancing effort, the CDPHE encourages people to use their vehicles instead of taking buses, ride-shares and other transportation modes that put them in contact with others.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority announced Sunday that it was reducing bus service this week.

“We are doing this as we are monitoring the condition of the outbreak and ridership and ensuring the safety of the employees and riders,” said Jamie Tatsuno, communications manager for RFTA.

She noted that ridership declined 11% between March 4 and 11.

The current reduction is the first phase of RFTA’s pandemic response plan. People are asked to log onto http://www.rfta.com to see the revised schedules.

The changes include Buttermilk and Highlands skier shuttles ceasing service completely.

Service reductions have occurred with downvalley Express buses, with the 4:15 p.m. route from Aspen cut completely, and the rest are now only traveling to El Jebel/Blue Lake.

Three upvalley direct-to-Snowmass buses also have been cut.

Five Snowmass direct service buses to downvalley have been cut, leaving only two — at 3:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m., and the Hogback service to New Castle has had three morning runs cut in both directions. The only one running is at 6:08 a.m. from Glenwood.

RFTA closed the lobby of the Rubey Park Transit Center on Sunday. RFTA will continue to serve Rubey Park with its bus services, and public restrooms will remain open.

“These measures are intended to help protect RFTA’s passengers, as well as its frontline employees who are faced with tough choices as they balance work with their family priorities, including caring for children who are home from area schools,” according to a news release issued by RFTA on Sunday.

The city of Aspen announced Sunday it was suspending its car-share and the free Downtowner ride-share programs beginning Tuesday.

The Galena Street and the Highlands direct shuttle also will be suspended beginning Tuesday.

The city is offering free parking everywhere in the downtown core and residential areas beginning Monday. Time limits will still be enforced; limits are four hours maximum in the downtown core and 72 hours in residential zones.

“The city is making this change in recognition that some public transit services are being temporarily reduced or suspended and some vulnerable populations may not be able to utilize mass transit at this time,” reads the city’s press release. “This temporary waiver of parking fees will be reviewed again by March 31 to determine if it will continue, be modified, or if fees will be reinstated.

“These suspensions are in order to promote the recommended social distancing between parties and ensure vehicle cleanliness.”

Peacock also said Sunday the Pitkin County Library will close this week, and commissioners Tuesday are expected to approve a resolution declaring a disaster and appropriating $500,000 in emergency funds to pay for costs associated with the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

The county is following what most employers are doing in the valley by having employees working remotely, or separated.

Pitkin County is practicing social distancing by urging employees to work remotely, which it suggests for businesses in the valley.

“We are all in this together as long as we stay 6 feet apart,” Peacock said.

Dave Ressler, the chief executive officer of Aspen Valley Hospital, said the facility has not tested anyone for COVID-19 in the past couple of days.

AVH will only test those who are at highest risk and have been prescreened through the county’s public health hotline at 970-429-6186.

People did go over the weekend to AVH to try to get tested but they were told to self-isolate if they were experiencing symptoms.

“If it worsens call your physician or the hotline,” Ressler said, adding the hospital and the county public health team are emphasizing they are in the mitigation phase of what is now a community spread in Aspen.

“We can’t emphasize enough the social distancing and hygiene,” he said.

The CDPHE, in its Sunday statement urging people to minimize contact with people, offered advice on what to do if they are experiencing the COVID-19 symptoms of cough, fever and shortness of breath.

“You must be isolated for at least seven to 10 days after the onset of symptoms,” according to the news release. “It is only safe to leave isolation if your symptoms are improving and you don’t have a fever for 72 hours immediately prior to the end of your isolation. Isolation may be longer for individuals who have more severe illness or who work in high-risk occupations like health care.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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