VRBO, Airbnb asked to stop Aspen rentals

Local public health officials sent a letter Tuesday to two international short-term rental websites asking them to cancel upcoming reservations and stop accepting new ones.

The request — to VRBO and Airbnb — was prompted by the appearance recently at Aspen Valley Hospital of people from out of town with “symptoms,” according to Alex Burchetta, one of the commanders of the team managing the Roaring Fork Valley’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This is not a place of refuge (now), as we are for most of the rest of the year,” Burchetta said Tuesday. “We need to focus on our full-time residents.”

Burchetta said doctors at Aspen Valley Hospital told public health officials Monday that they’ve had people who have presented to the hospital recently and indicated they were from out of town. The people — Burchetta was unsure how many or exactly when they showed up at AVH — “had some symptoms” though he was unsure if they were COVID-19-related.

Dave Ressler, AVH CEO, said Thursday he had no information about the incident or incidents.

Burchetta said an incident team staff member was able to book a short-term rental in Aspen on Monday using VRBO.

Indeed, online requests made Tuesday to book short-term rentals on both VRBO and Airbnb for Aspen this weekend brought up scores of options. Both websites prominently displayed COVID-19 travel warnings on their home pages, though those warnings did not come up on the Aspen rentals page.

A Pitkin County public health order issued March 23 expressly forbid short-term rentals during the COVID-19 outbreak. Violating the order is a misdemeanor criminal offense punishable by jail time and fines, Burchetta said.

The order did not forbid second-home owners from coming to Aspen and Pitkin County, though it encouraged them to stay at their primary residences or return to them as soon as possible.

The bottom line is Pitkin County has limited health care resources that need to be used to care for people who live here full time, Burchetta said.

“If you’re leaving a major metropolitan area … you’re leaving a higher level of care than we can offer here,” he said, while praising the small number of doctors and nurses who tend to county residents. “You’re coming to a hospital with limited capacity.”

Aspen Valley Hospital has not yet seen a surge of COVID-19 patients, though patients who are arriving are very ill, Ressler said.

Pitkin County had reported 30 positive cases to the state health department through Monday, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment update Tuesday.

The state also reported the largest single-day increase in deaths in Colorado from Monday to Tuesday, when that number rose from 51 to 70, according to the CDPHE website. The state also said more than 2,900 people have tested positive in the state so far, with more than 500 hospitalized, The Colorado Sun reported.

El Paso and Weld counties have reported the most deaths in the state, with 13 and 12, respectively, followed by Denver with seven. Pitkin County has reported two COVID-19-related deaths, while Eagle County has reported four and Garfield County one, according to state statistics.

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