Pitkin County traveler affidavits set for an overhaul
Pitkin County leaders aren’t quite ready to swear off the traveler-affidavit program, but they expressed a willingness Tuesday to make it less restrictive and more hospitable to visitors.
Responding to Aspen business leaders’ concerns that the affidavit requirement keeps driving away potential visitors and will continue hurting the tourism trade, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock told commissioners he and staff will recommend to the board of health at its Thursday meeting to consider a revamp of the program.
“It would be a change or modification of the travel affidavit to make testing optional,” Peacock said.
Peacock is proposing the county no longer require travelers 10 and older to submit an online affidavit acknowledging they haven’t had symptoms for 10 days and have either been fully vaccinated or have received a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving in Pitkin County. The program also requires visitors to quarantine for 10 days if they are not tested before arrival.
Under Peacock’s suggestion, the revised program would align with travel suggestions — not requirements — from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that eligible people get fully vaccinated and wait two weeks before they travel, and others get tested one to three days before traveling and bring along their test results. The CDC also says no traveling for people who test positive.
Pitkin County introduced the program, which applies to travelers spending at least one overnight, on Dec. 14. Through Monday, 69,964 affidavits had been completed, according to Peacock.
The affidavit requirement is the only program of its type in the state, and it has gotten push back from the business community since its debut. Operators of hotels, Pitkin County’s primary partner in the program in terms of informing and reminding visitors about the affidavit requirement, have said they appreciate its intentions but it also creates confusion for travelers.
One point of confusion is that while the county says participation is voluntary, the affidavit program has requirements that if not adhered to could net a $5,000 fine for the rogue traveler. The county also does not enforce the program. Hence the confusion for travelers, as well as their being turned off by the affidavit requirement and booking a ski trip elsewhere, business people have maintained.
At their monthly meeting Tuesday morning, members of Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s board of directors agreed the program is deterring visitors even when the county’s COVID-19 seven-day incidence rate — the number of positive cases per 100,000 individuals — has plummeted from December and January when it exceeded 2,000 and even 3,000 at one point. That figure has been below 200 since Feb. 10 and stood at 107 on Monday, according to county data.
Also Tuesday, ACRA President Debbie Braun provided a letter to Peacock and Jordana Sabella, the county’s interim director of Public Health, on behalf of ACRA members and the lodging community urging for the program’s suspension.
“Today, the cases are significantly down, and within the next six weeks we are about to move into the off-season, not high-season, this is the perfect time to remove the barrier created by Public Health and let the local hospitality and service workers get back to what they do best – providing top notch services and experiences for our visitors, instead of being enforcement officers,” the letter said. “Allow our hospitality partners and service providers a chance to finish the season with some momentum.”
Braun also previewed the letter to the board, and it was accompanied by a separate letter to the county board of health saying there is no data showing the affidavit program works. That letter, from the ACRA board, noted the state’s Feb. 6 release of a new COVID-19 dial giving counties more flexibility in making their public health orders. The county’s board of health voted Feb. 11 to align with the dial.
“One reason the state released this new dial was because they realized that none of the counties who voluntarily added mitigation tactics avoided the move to a more restrictive level, despite additional measures, such as the traveler affidavit. This is a strong case, made by the state to eliminate the affidavit,” the letter said.
The letter also noted that Aspen, a traditional front-runner among Colorado resorts for ski vacation bookings, posted the lowest lodging occupancy rate among ski towns in January.
With a 35.1% booking rate, Aspen bottomed out among resorts in the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report, commissioned by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association. The same survey from January 2020 showed Aspen had a 79.8% reservations rate, which was the state’s second highest overall, and also second among resorts, as the ski town Steamboat Springs’ 80.4% rate was tops in all of Colorado that month.
County Commissioner Greg Poschman, also a board of health member, said he would be agreeable to revising the program so long as it conveys how seriously the Aspen area takes the pandemic. He pitched replacing the traveler affidavit with a traveler pledge of sorts.
“I’m OK with that for now, as long as our messaging is very clear that this is what we expect from our residents and visitors,” he said. “We invite people to take the pledge that they will get tested or they will get vaccinated before they come.”
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Responding to concerns from Aspen business leaders that the traveler-affidavit requirement keeps driving away potential visitors and will continue hurting the tourism trade, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock told commissioners Tuesday he and staff will recommend to the board of health to consider a revamp of the program.