Public health officials to open construction, bike repair shops and office supply stores in Aspen area
The Pitkin County Board of Health voted Thursday to allow bike repair shops, office supply stores and construction sites to open as early as next week in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The board unanimously voted to amend the current public health order to allow those types of business activities to begin April 23, with stringent protocols limiting social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Construction activity, both residential and commercial, will have to be approved by the respective government’s community development departments, whether it’s the city of Aspen, Snowmass Village or the county.
Construction companies have to include safety plans that detail how a contractor will take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, limit the number of employees on a job site and having a mechanism like a temperature thermometer to gauge an employee’s health before entering the area.
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said he expects voluntary compliance, based on what other nearby counties have done, as well as what local companies have already anticipated, adding that onsite enforcement will be conducted routinely.
“We are trying not to have as rigorous process upfront but make sure that the plan meets the standards that are established by public health,” he said.
Aspen Mayor Torre pushed back on the quick rollout of the construction activity due to public health safety concerns and local governments’ readiness to process safety plans.
“If we are going to be allowing this construction to go on and we are getting an influx employees from other counties we need to be tracking this,” he said. “What we are talking about is that this continues the transmission of the disease.”
Peacock responded that a daily reporting log for every job site will be in place, as well as tracking locations of workers, if they have any COVID-19 symptoms or have been in contact with anyone with them.
Torre ultimately agreed to the opening of construction sites, but only when governments are ready to do so.
That goes for the Aspen Golf Course, as well.
The board agreed to amend the local public health order to emulate that of the state’s to allow golf courses to be open as long as they adhere to strict social distancing rules — no flags in the holes on greens, the closure of pro shops and restaurants and walking only.
Torre said it will be up to the municipal government, which owns the Aspen course, to decide whether to open.
Landscaping companies and independent contractors also will be allowed to operate, as long as detailed COVID-19 public health plans are submitted and approved.
The board agreed to keep other elements of the “stay at home” public health order in place. The order, which keeps non-essential businesses closed, extends through April 30 the same.
Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said initially not including bike shops — limited to just repairs — and office supply stores as essential businesses was an oversight.
People rely on bicycles as a form of transportation and is one that is encouraged because it allows social distancing from one another.
The order also limits gatherings to no more than five people outside of the immediate family that lives together, and restaurants and bars are limited to take-out and delivery.
Also part of the amended order approved Thursday is that people who are picking up take-out food cannot gather in the restaurant or on its patio.
There still remains no available lodging and non-resident homeowners are not allowed to be here, because an increased population could tax local resources, according to officials.
“I think if we start reopening lodging it means we’re open for business as a tourist destination,” said county commissioner and public health board member Greg Poschman. “But I also believe that … economic activity is the determinant of health in our community and we really do need to look forward to it but I believe it’s too soon.”
Koenemann said she and the local COVID-19 incident management team are waiting for guidance from the governor’s office on whether it will extend its stay-at-home order based on epidemiological data in the coming week. The state’s public health order goes until April 26.
All of the local limitations are part of the public health department’s epidemiology strategy of going from a “hammer” to a “dance” when it comes to suppressing the spread of the disease by limiting people’s movements.
Dr. Kim Levin, the medical officer for the county health board and an emergency physician at Aspen Valley Hospital who’s been tracking epidemiological data since the local public health orders have gone into effect, said slowly reopening different sectors of the economy needs to happen to move forward, but must be done cautiously.
“I know that there will be a bump in cases from this, we will clearly see it,” she said, adding the goal is to not tax the local health care system and prevent a surge of sick people. “This is the dance that we’re all talking about, and where is that fine line to move between going ahead but doing it very carefully?”
Peacock said opening construction sites is a good test case for re-entry to a new normal.
“In terms of a policy direction, I think what public health is saying is that we’re ready to take an incremental step, and why construction makes sense is that it’s something that can be clearly monitored,” he said.
The development in the wetlands won’t move forward until the town does more digging into the environmental impacts.