Pitkin County lengthens stay-at-home order to April 30, limits gatherings to 5 people
Pitkin County public health authorities increased social-distancing restrictions for residents Wednesday because of the coronavirus and lengthened the amount of time they will be in place until the end of April.
“This public health order is changing people’s lives,” Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said. “It’s changing the economy. We know this is impacting people long-term.”
Aspen Mayor Torre put it more succinctly during a Wednesday meeting of the Pitkin County Board of Health: “Boy, this sucks.”
The most meaningful change made Wednesday afternoon by the Board of Health was reducing the number of people allowed to gather in any one place from 10 to five. The change does not include households of more than five people and comes with repeated pleas for residents who do gather to practice safe social distancing of at least 6 feet when outside of the home.
“(A group of) 10 just seems like too much,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman, who suggested limiting groups to just two to three people.
The board also voted to extend the length of the county’s public health order requiring people to stay home, except for essential tasks and jobs, from April 17 to April 30. That puts it in line with similar state public health orders and an announcement Wednesday from the Aspen School District extending its closure until then.
However, it was clear Wednesday that the stay-home order will almost certainly be extended beyond April 30.
State models indicate that the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado may not come until June, Koenemann said, citing what the county’s been told by state officials.
“We’ve only just begun,” she said. “I believe we’ll need to go longer than April 30.”
Board of health officials debated waiting until next week and perhaps extending the deadline even further out than April 30 at that time, but decided to keep it in line with state orders for now.
Aspen City Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she believes it will be “devastating” for some in the community to learn that restrictive public health orders might be extended into May or June.
“I don’t think people in town quite realize what’s been happening,” Mullins said. “It would really help people prepare for this mental challenge … if we present (the orders) in increments.”
Finally, the board voted to require that any “non-resident homeowners,” otherwise known as second-home owners, who arrive here after Wednesday self-quarantine for 14 days at their Pitkin County residence before moving around the community.
“Any necessary travel must be coordinated and approved by Pitkin County Public Health in advance,” according to the order passed Wednesday by the Board of Health.
The order applies to second-home owners’ family members and guests, as well.
“I want to let you know that (the issue of non-residents coming here) is happening,” Dr. Kimberly Levin, an emergency room doctor at Aspen Valley Hospital, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “We are one of those communities people are fleeing to.”
She told board members a story about a man from Chicago who recently drove to Aspen and developed COVID-19 symptoms the day he arrived. He was examined at the hospital, admitted and used a bed meant for a local resident, Levin said.
“Aspen will not have the capacity to take care of these people,” she said. “Quarantine is the best way to take care of these people.”
Levin also painted a stark picture of what the COVID-19 outbreak might eventually look like in Pitkin County, which has a population of about 17,000 people, based on general models of how the virus has behaved elsewhere.
That would assume an infection rate of about 40% of county residents, which translates to about 6,800 people, Levin said. She called that “a really, really high and frightening number.” Of those 6,800, around 80% — or about 5,500 people — will experience mild symptoms.
About 10% of those infected have generally required hospitalization, Levin said. That puts around 680 Pitkin County residents in the hospital with about 68 people in need of ventilators, she said.
Thirty-four county residents will die based on those numbers, Levin said. Two Pitkin County residents already have died from COVID-19.
Aspen Valley Hospital has been able to handle the patients it’s seen so far, though it’s seeing sicker patients lately, she said. The real unknown is how effective social distancing measures have been against the spread of the disease and when the hospital might get hit with an influx of patients.
“We don’t know what’s coming,” she said.
Besides sicker coronavirus patients, AVH’s emergency room is seeing younger patients, which she characterized as people in their 40s and 50s.
Levin also agreed with her colleagues and said the outbreak, which she said the hospital is projecting could peak in mid-April, is going to get worse and last longer than the public health orders currently stipulate. In addition, she said the virus is unique and that doctors are learning more about it every day.
“It is a different beast,” Levin said. “It’s different from anything we’ve ever seen.”
A pitch led by Theatre Aspen’s executive director to expand the organization’s facilities and create a permanent underground venue got mixed reviews from officeholders and board members Monday.
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