Pitkin County’s health order is Orange — plus a bit more
“Plus” part comes as result of efforts this week by business, arts and culture communities
Pitkin County’s new public health order that went into effect Thursday evening is known as “Orange-plus.”
According to a Board of Health decision that came after a more than three-hour virtual meeting Thursday, the pertinent restrictions on the state’s color-coded dial for county residents will be Orange, which restricts most businesses and restaurants to 25% capacity and a 10 p.m. last call.
The “plus” part came as a result of efforts this week by the business and arts and culture communities in Aspen and Snowmass Village to avoid a decision by the board that would have landed the county in the Red level restrictions, which are more restrictive especially for restaurants. It includes pledges by those communities to check guest temperatures, record names for possible future contact tracing and other voluntary measures that are stricter than the state’s Orange restrictions require.
“We’re all in this together,” said Jennifer Albright Carney, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s vice president of event marketing. “We heard willingness from all sectors for mitigation strategies. What can each sector do to stop the spread?”
The new health order also will include a section requiring winter visitors to Aspen and Pitkin County to sign a pledge, which members of the Board of Health have been talking about for weeks. The pledge — which may be disseminated by hotels, restaurants and other businesses — will include promises to adhere to containment strategies such as social distancing, wearing a facemask in public and avoiding close, crowded spaces. Visitors will be required to pay for any quarantine or isolation measures that occur as the result of a positive test.
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Board members also spent much time debating whether to include an affidavit for visitors to sign swearing they have had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of traveling to Aspen and Pitkin County. That proposal, however, needed more analysis Thursday and will be addressed at a future board meeting.
Under the Orange restrictions — which will be in place for 30 days — gyms, restaurants, places of worship and offices move to 25% maximum capacity. Employers are strongly encouraged to allow employees to work remotely if possible. Retail businesses will be allowed to stay at 50%, but personal services and indoor and outdoor events are capped at 25% as well.
Group sports and camps must be held outdoors with a maximum of 10 people or be held virtually.
And while business owners breathed a sigh of relief that health board members did not decide to impose Red level restrictions, a state official said Thursday during the meeting that the “Orange-plus” restrictions might only last eight days before the state requires Pitkin County to move to the Red level.
Carney said the consensus among business owners and leaders was not to go into the Red, which would last for 30 days and require restaurants to shut down indoor dining and rely solely on outdoor dining and takeout.
Jimmy Yeager, owner of Jimmy’s restaurant in downtown Aspen, helped lead the “plus” business effort, and said Thursday it was an “unbearable thought” to think of going from 50% under the previous Yellow restrictions to zero indoor diners allowed.
“It is really catastrophic to consider shutting down restaurants for 30 days,” Yeager said. “In Aspen alone, that’s 700-to-1,000 people (unemployed).”
Instead, the 25% maximum capacity under the Orange restrictions will allow local restaurants to get by for the next four weeks — typically one of the slowest times of the year — though he noted that by the third week of December they’re going to want to increase that number.
The additional measures for restaurants — proposed by Yeager and Michael Goldberg of Matsuhisa and Belly Up — that will appear in the new public health order require restaurants to initiate a “hard stop” on business that ushers dine-in guests out the door by 10 p.m. In addition, restaurants will need to do temperature checks of dine-in customers at the door “to allow entry” and record names and contact information of all parties in reservation groups for possible future contact tracing efforts.
In addition, guests will have to wear masks when interacting with restaurant staff, table sizes would be capped at eight people, instead of the 10 allowed, and employees would need to agree to the five commitments of containment that include social distancing, wearing facemasks, getting tested when symptoms arise, washing hands and isolating when sick.
“Restaurants can help mitigate the problem,” Yeager said.
Arts and culture events would follow similar rules, which will also be codified in the new public health order, including temperature checks, full stop at 10 p.m. and keeping contact tracing information, said Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of Jazz Aspen Snowmass. They would also observe the same table cap of eight people, and limit indoor events to 25% or 40 people instead of the 50 allowed by Orange rules, and outdoor events to 25% or 60 people instead of the 75 allowed, he said.
Lodging remains at 100%. Informal gatherings remain capped at five people from no more than two households.
COVID-19 is rampant now in Pitkin County, said Josh Vance, the county’s epidemiologist, and informal gatherings continue to be the number one spreader of the virus.
“We’re seeing widespread transmission of COVID throughout the county,” he said. “As we get into Thanksgiving, we will see the impact expand even more.”
Vance urged residents to curb Thanksgiving gatherings. Gov. Jared Polis has encouraged state residents to socialize only with their own household.
The county has recorded 96 positive COVID cases in the past two weeks. If the Pitkin County continues on the current exponential growth rate, we could see a “staggering” 450 cases in a two-week period by mid-December, Vance said. Such numbers would overwhelm the Public Health Department in terms of being able to contact trace and investigate all those cases, he said.
“We had hoped by now that we might see some better news,” said Markey Butler, chair of the health board. “But it doesn’t look that way. We’re trending in the wrong direction.”
Based on the recommendations from the community, Pitkin County Public Health will be implementing the following measures in addition to the requirements of the Orange Level:
● 10 p.m. closing of all non-critical businesses
● Visitors required to sign an affidavit
● Businesses to have employees sign COVID-19 commitment & pledge
● Additional mask requirements when seated dining
● Maximum number of people per table reduced from 10 to 8
● Restaurants to collect contact information for all diners
● Events reduced to the following:
● Indoor limited to 25% up to 40 people
● Outdoor events limited to 25% up to 60 people
Source: Pitkin County Health Department
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