Pitkin County likely moving to Yellow-level restrictions on Saturday; indoor capacities would increase to 50% | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County likely moving to Yellow-level restrictions on Saturday; indoor capacities would increase to 50%

Board of Health votes to align with state’s new dial; restaurants, other businesses able to up indoor numbers

Provided the current downward trend in COVID-19 incidence rate continues Friday, Pitkin County will move to Yellow-level restrictions starting Saturday morning.

That’s according to a unanimous vote Thursday by members of the county’s Board of Health, who decided to align Pitkin County with the state’s newly configured COVID-19 dial. The Friday cut-off would mean the county has been within Yellow incidence rate metrics for seven consecutive days, which meets the state’s new parameters.

“To me, following the state dial makes a lot more sense,” said Board of Health Chairwoman Markey Butler. “We are now clearly in Yellow.”

Yellow-level restrictions will mean 50% capacity for indoor restaurant dining, offices, gyms, retail stores, personal services and indoor and outdoor events. Last call for alcohol at restaurants will be at 11 p.m. under Yellow restrictions, an increase from 10 p.m., according to the state dial.

Yellow also may soon allow spectators at sporting events, though those exact parameters have yet to be worked out, said Kurt Dahl, county environmental health director.

The size of personal gatherings, however, will remain at as many as 10 people from no more than two households, which is the same restriction as the Orange level.

Bars must remain closed under Yellow restrictions.

Once Friday’s incidence rate is confirmed to be within Yellow restriction guidelines, the county will consult with state public health department officials and likely receive the go-ahead to move to Yellow on Saturday, said Jordana Sabella, interim public health director.

The county’s incidence rate — based on the number of cases per 100,000 population — has decreased dramatically since the third week of January, when it was in the thousands, said Josh Vance, county epidemiologist.

“We really dropped off pretty quickly, and now we’ve leveled off,” he told health board members Thursday. “We’ve been averaging significantly fewer cases per day.”

Pitkin County averaged around 40 cases per day in early January, though that number has fallen to about four per day as of Thursday, Vance said. The county’s incidence rate must be below 300 for it to remain in Yellow, according to the new state guidelines. That number dropped from 281 on Saturday to 135 by Thursday, according to local epidemiology data.

In addition to the incidence rate remaining below 300 for seven days, the county’s positivity rate, which was 2.8% Thursday, must stay below 7.5% and the hospitalization rate locally and regionally must remain stable or be decreasing to continue under Yellow-level restrictions, according to the state’s new dial parameters.

However, Vance cautioned that once more visitors begin coming to town, the number of COVID-19 cases is likely to rise. He provided Board of Health members with a graph showing that the number of cases among Pitkin County residents rises seven days after the number of visitors increases.

“This shows a significant correlation (between the two),” Vance said.

According to data analyzed by Vance, Pitkin County experienced a large increase in cellphone activity around Valentines Day and President’s Day weekend in 2019, so those increases may be forthcoming this year.

That’s important because the state’s new COVID-19 metrics allow Colorado public health officials to move a county into more restrictive color-coded levels “swiftly” once the county’s incidence rate surpasses metric levels, Sabella said. The one caveat is that no one yet knows what “swiftly” means, she said.

“We’re still waiting for more direction from the state on that,” Sabella said.

State public health officials have not yet moved any of Colorado’s 64 counties to a more restrictive level yet because the new dial metrics are only about a week old, she said.

The incidence rate is now the new key metric in the equation, though, because it is the leading indicator of rising infections and will be used to move counties to more restrictive levels even if the other two metrics tracked by the state — positivity and hospitalizations — remain at lower levels, Sabella said. Counties with ski resorts tend to have higher incidence rates than counties without them, she noted.

The county also is waiting for more information about communities like Pitkin County that, at least officially, contain populations of less than 30,000 residents. Those communities would likely have more elastic incidence rates because the difference of four cases one day and 12 another would have a more significant effect on the incidence rate, Sabella said.

And while the incidence rate is the main metric now, hospitalizations and positivity are still important, she said.

As of Thursday, no one with COVID-19 was hospitalized at Aspen Valley Hospital, said Dave Ressler, hospital CEO. In fact, only one hospital employee was out with COVID-19-like symptoms, while just one other was in quarantine, he said.

“I have to tell you how relieved we are,” Ressler told health board members. “It’s such a weight off our shoulders.”

He chalked up the low numbers to the community’s declining incidence rate, the fact that health care workers strictly follow masking and social distancing rules and that 77% of AVH employees have now been vaccinated. Ressler said he wanted to assure members of the community who are reluctant to receive the vaccine that it is safe and effective, and is providing strong protection for his employees and others who already have gotten it.

“The benefits we’ve seen will likewise accrue to the rest of the community,” he said.

Amy Behrhorst, physicians assistant in employee health at Aspen Valley Hospital, talks with a person before administering the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in Aspen on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

With nearly 1,400 vaccine doses set to be injected into arms Friday at the Benedict Music Tent, Sabellla said Pitkin County is making significant progress on that front. Friday’s vaccination clinic will include all remaining county residents 70-years-old and older, all remaining health care workers who need the vaccine, all pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers and early child care workers, and several hundred residents 65 to 69 years old, she said.

After residents 65 to 69, the next phase will tackle frontline workers. That group includes employees of restaurants (both front and back of the house), grocery stores, public transit, the post office, public health, essential human services, faith leaders, those who work directly with the homeless population and frontline journalists.

It is not yet clear how many doses of vaccine Pitkin County will receive next week, Sabella said. However, state officials have said they expect that with other vaccines coming online — like one from Johnson & Johnson — the number of doses available should double each month, said Jon Peacock, Pitkin County manager.

Vaccinations also will impact the county’s traveler affidavit program, Sabella said. A current COVID-19 test will not be required for those who have waited two weeks after the second vaccination shot. Quarantine also will not be necessary for those people if they are exposed to a positive person, she said.

International travelers, however, will be required to take a COVID-19 test upon returning to the United States whether they have been fully vaccinated or not, Dahl said.

Pitkin County’s 5 Star Business Certification Program also came up during Thursday’s Board of Health meeting. The program allows approved businesses to operate under the next lowest level of restrictions currently in effect in the county.

None of the 71 Pitkin County businesses that have applied have yet been approved, Sabella said, though 29 are scheduled for the required pre-approval inspection. However, approved businesses won’t be able to operate under Blue-level restrictions until 70% of the state’s residents ages 70 and older receive at least their first shot, she said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the businesses can go Blue level restrictions once 70% of the state’s residents 70-older have their first shot.


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