Aspen Times editorial: This is not the time to let down our COVID guard

Aspen Times Editorial Board

Most of us in Aspen, either as residents or visitors, are here to escape the realities and stresses of the real world. But when we are living in a pandemic, it’s impossible to escape it.

Aspen is not Shangri-La in the era of COVID-19, and especially not now with the surge of the delta variant and an increase in cases of the virus locally and across the country.

As the rest of the world comes here to visit this month for myriad events like the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience concerts or the Food & Wine Classic or Aspen Ruggerfest, they carry the risk of bringing COVID-19 with them, particularly the unvaccinated.

For the past year and a half, this community has worked extremely hard at containment with mask mandates and business closures and all of the not-so-fun stuff to keep residents and visitors healthy.

Sixty-four percent of Pitkin County residents are fully vaccinated and more vaccination clinics are being planned in coming weeks.

Yet the county is at a high level of community transmission, and local cases are continuing to rise.

As of Thursday, Pitkin County had 58 new cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days, including 47 county residents and 11 from outside the county, according to the county’s online case and testing data dashboard.

Of those, at least 27 were breakthrough cases of people who are vaccinated but got infected anyway.

That equated to a seven-day incidence rate of 265 per 100,000 residents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that any community with an incidence rate of more than 100 per 100,000 residents means a high rate of COVID-19 transmission.

The local board of health voted last month to follow the CDC’s guidelines regarding mask wearing. On July 27, the CDC issued interim guidance that all individuals, fully vaccinated or unvaccinated, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas with substantial or high risk transmission rates.

While that is only a recommendation, the county took it a step further last week and is now requiring face masks to be worn in all Pitkin County facilities regardless of vaccination status.

The goal of this requirement is to bring transmission levels down and ensure our hospital capacity is not maxed as we enter the 2021-22 school year and winter tourism season.

The city of Aspen has not implemented such a policy in any of its facilities, leaving it up to individuals to choose whether to wear a mask.

We would hate to have to report next month after everyone has left the party that COVID-19 cases among residents are still on the rise, not just from a health standpoint but also from an economic one.

If we remain at a high level of transmission, it complicates how businesses will plan to be open in the winter months. Let’s not be the reason businesses are forced to implement expensive and inconvenient solutions to problems that we have some control over.

We have to get the surge under control now so it doesn’t affect another ski season, because nobody likes the prospects of making reservations to go skiing or snowboarding and not being able to go out to dinner.

Last fall, during the offseason months, our COVID case counts got higher because the community got too relaxed.

We recognize that was before vaccinations were available, so while we are more fortified now, we aren’t out of the woods given the breakthrough cases we’re seeing among even vaccinated people.

Festivals, concert tours and events are being canceled throughout the U.S., but that’s not the case in Aspen, and that is due in large part to community vigilance at keeping the virus at bay and having restrictive environments.

We need to remain diligent in protecting ourselves, our neighbors and our guests by following CDC guidance in wearing masks indoors and at large public gatherings, staying at home if feeling ill and getting tested. Even more importantly, go get vaccinated if you aren’t because otherwise this pandemic will linger and more people will get sick, or worse, die, and life will not return to normal anytime soon.

Thankfully, event organizers for JAS Aspen and Food & Wine are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter their venues.

We wish there was more public messaging for what our expectations are of residents and visitors when it comes to all things COVID: when and where to wear a mask, where to get tested and vaccinated and other pertinent information.

It does all live on the county’s website, but even some Aspen elected officials didn’t even know that when they expressed frustration last month during a public meeting that they were uninformed.

Can we really expect a guest to know to go to to find out where to get tested or vaccinated? Do concierges and property management companies know to tell their guests that the county’s website is the center of the COVID universe here?

We urge officials in the county, the city of Aspen and the town of Snowmass Village, along with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association to reignite their public information campaigns.

The county took a step in the right direction Thursday when it announced that its new weekly newsletter will include a summary of the seven-day COVID-19 data trends.

As long as our transmission rate is high, or even substantial, which is the next level down, our community leaders should not be lackadaisical about this.

We are of the position that you can never have too much information when it comes to life safety. Knowledge is power.

We are nearly 550 days into this pandemic, and we will keep banging the COVID safety protocol drum, or in some cases, hitting people over the head, until the madness stops.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.