Guest commentary: Aspen-area restaurants push Pitkin County board of health to stay open

Jimmy Yeager and Jessica Lischka
Guest commentary

If you knew we were only seven days from a sustained decline in our COVID-19 incidence rate, would you vote to shut down Pitkin County businesses?

The Pitkin County Situation Report from the Public Health Department on Thursday states: “Projections were not originally made for dates beyond Jan. 16, 2021. This is because if cases trended as expected to a high of 400 to 500 cases in a two-week period, cases may begin to naturally decrease at that time as the number of susceptible persons will be limited (i.e. there will be fewer people susceptible to infection as many of them will have already developed immunity from past infection).”

If there is a saturation point where critical mass is achieved and the rate of infection naturally declines, as stated in our local epidemiology report, then sometime in the next seven days our incidence numbers will turn downward. Three weeks ago when our Board of Health agreed to take further action if our incidence numbers did not go down, we did not have this information available. Why would we incur the incredibly high economic and psychological cost of another shut down when we are so close to seeing a change in our trend?

We are doing an outstanding job at identifying our citizens who are infected with the virus. The result of this success is a recent and significant rise to our incidence rate. When brought to a state standard of per 100,000, the rate seems insurmountable. But is this really a failure?

In March, we closed because overrunning our health care system would have been catastrophic, but over the past 10 months we have learned that our incidence and positivity rates are not leading indicators of serious illness/death nor of our health care system being overrun. The state established this metric and has set arbitrary water marks because they, like everyone else who is trying to protect human life, need some sort of framework. This is not to say we shouldn’t be proactive in protecting the vulnerable but it does mean that living with the virus is inevitable, and we are doing it successfully.

We have had a total of four deaths, two of which were individuals in their 90s. That is 0.022% of our population and one-third of 1% (0.32%) of all cases. Only 35 COVID patients have been admitted to AVH since March, eight of whom were moved to lower elevation care units, and 19 of 20 hospital beds are available including all four ICU beds. Gov. Jared Polis moved counties from Red to Orange because the state’s ICU bed capacity moved down to 73%. We are able to take care of those requiring urgent care.

Our incidence rate may be in the range of normal when you consider the total cases per population of other counties at around +/- 6% to 8% and we are just over 7%. Without a vaccine we may not be as powerful as we want to think at containing the spread.

Shutting down is a last-ditch effort and should only be considered if we were in a situation where we had to choose who lived and who died. We are far from that crisis situation.

If you choose to shut us down, then shut everything down. What is clear is that the incidence rate will be lower if there is no tourism, and then it will rise again once we reopen. If this is what you choose, then choose it with your eyes wide open and recognize the human cost of fixing a metric that has not shown itself to be the problem.

Stand with us if that is your choice and go on unemployment alongside us and thousands of Pitkin County employees.

Accordingly, the following restaurant owners are in support of this: Craig and Samantha Cordts-Pearce of Wild Fig, SteakHouse 316, Monarch, CP Burger and Woody Creek Tavern; Ed and Anna Zane of Zane’s Tavern; Ryan Chadwick of Nakazawa Aspen, Aspen Pie Shop and Escobar; Chris Lanter and Brad Mosier of Home Team BBQ of Aspen; Jodi and Chris Lanter of Cache Cache; Elizabeth Plotke and Dave Ellsweig of Campo de Fiori; Wendy and Kevin Harris of New Belgium Ranger Station; Marcus Braley of Daly Diner Snowmass; Mark Reece of Pussyfoot Steeps; Wendy Mitchell of Meat and Cheese and Hooch; Heather Huber and Stacy Forster of Taster’s Pizza and Daly Diner; Adam Malmgren of Mi Chola; Paul Dioguardi of Hickory House Ribs; Rob and Beth Mobilian of Pinons; Mary Blankenau and Jason DeBacker of The Edge Restaurant and Bar; Raphael and Karin Derly of French Alpine Bistro-Creperie du Village; Deryk Cave of Mezzaluna; Fletcher Duke of The Stew Pot; Alia Joonas and Bridger Smith of Bear Den and Joonas; Mary Lynn and Chris Casper of Su Casa, Eric’s and Cigar Bar; Tiziano and Enrica Gortan of L’Hostaria Ristorante; Laurent Cantineaux, Juan C Perez-Febres and Carlos Febres-Mazzei of Betula Aspen; Charles Ford of Clark’s Oyster Bar; Trent Castleberry of Stubbies; Greg Jurgensen of Brick Pony; Steve and Robin Humble of Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar; Andrew Hopp and Claire Clarke of The Tipsy Trout; Vladan Djordjevic of Grub Thai and Wienerstube; Scott and Tammy Picard of Sure Thing Burger; Barclay Dodge of BOSQ; Alan and Jennifer Giaquinto of Tatanka and The Ranch Room.

Jimmy Yeager and Jessica Lischka are the co-owner of Jimmy’s Restaurant in Aspen.