Regis outbreak shows need for business-backed testing, owner says
Stephane de Baets is among the affluent people who have uprooted their families and relocated to Aspen in 2020 because of the global pandemic.
“The pandemic has forced everyone to look back, to do an inventory of your life, to decide what’s important to you, and I was living in New York and New York has been hit badly,” de Baets said Friday.
De Baets also is the founder and president of the investment firm Elevated Returns, which has controlling ownership of the St. Regis Aspen Resort, the most recent establishment in Pitkin County to be investigated for an outbreak in COVID-19 cases.
Pitkin County health officials did not have updated information readily available Friday on the number or St. Regis interns under quarantine or in isolation. Earlier this week, 25 interns were in isolation because they’d either tested positive (22) or were presumed positive (three); another 35 were under quarantine.
The collegiate interns came to Aspen in November to gain experience in the luxury hospitality industry, and went through orientation from Nov. 16-19 in the hotel’s 9,146-square-feet ballroom.
Elevated Returns does not run the St. Regis Aspen. That’s the job of Marriott International, sponsor of the internship program.
On Friday, St. Regis employees were tested for COVID-19, confirmed Pitkin County health officer Kurt Dahl, as the hotel works with the health department to manage and sort through the situation.
“If we become aware that an employee has tested positive, we take appropriate steps immediately, including reporting this to Pitkin County Health and following their guidance,” said St. Regis general manager Heather Steenge-Hart in an email to The Aspen Times.
An intern in quarantine also said Friday the hotel is requiring all staff to get tested before returning to work.
Aspen’s business community could do better when it comes to addressing the virus, De Baets said.
At a meeting of Aspen hotel owners and operators Nov. 16, he floated the idea to set up a privately funded testing center for workers and guests. De Baets said Friday that Elevated is behind a campaign aimed at rallying Aspen’s business community to support the concept. The money is there while support for the private testing is slowly gaining traction, he said.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said, “but we really shouldn’t be afraid of testing because the numbers will go up. We should embrace testing because we can reduce (the spread).”
In a commentary published Friday in The Aspen Times, de Baets wrote that Marriott brushed off his plea for the St. Regis Aspen to regularly test employees and guests.
“My repeated call, however, was dismissed again and again by concerned parties and we are now seeing the result,” de Baets wrote.
De Baets said he could not comment on the outbreak among the St. Regis interns because they are part of the Marriott operation. He also said confidential arrangements between Elevated and the Marriott preclude him from talking about what the hotel will do moving forward regarding the testing of staff and guests.
“I think Marriott is well aware of our position, and I’m happy to report we’re having a productive discussion,” he said.
Pitkin County officials said at a media briefing Friday that they are not opposed to a privately supported testing center, but they would need to know more about it.
“We’re certainly not discouraging the private sector’s enactment of testing,” said Jon Peacock, county manager.
De Baets said ideally he’d like this bubble of sorts to be up by mid-December. Dec. 14 is when the county’s travel plan takes place requiring overnight visitors to complete an online affidavit and provide confirmation they don’t have COVID-19.
“I think it’s our duty to do everything in our power to at least having the highest chance of containing (the virus),” he said.
Testing won’t be the panacea for Aspen, but it’s yet another layer to prevent more spread, De Baets said.
He also said the recipients would not be charged because the business community would pay for it.
“People enjoying their week or holiday shouldn’t have to pay for it,” he said.