| AspenTimes.com

President Trump approves disaster declaration for Colorado amid virus

DENVER (AP) — President Donald Trump on Saturday approved a disaster declaration for Colorado, allowing additional federal assistance for the state, tribal and local response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“This declaration ensures that Colorado can be on a level playing field with other states that already have this status like New York and Washington when it comes to federal disaster funding and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a news release. “I thank the members of Colorado’s federal delegation who advocated for this funding to recognize the seriousness of this public health crisis unfolding hour by hour in our state.”

The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Colorado jumped by 13 Saturday for a total of 44 deaths, while more than 2,060 people have tested positive, state public health officials said. Two Pitkin County resident died in the past week.

Also, survey results released Saturday by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show a large majority of Coloradans are “very concerned” about COVID-19 and are taking extra precautions to keep the community healthy.

About 72% of the nearly 45,000 polled said they were very concerned, officials said, although that number dropped to 59% among 18- to 29-year-olds. Nearly 90% of respondents, however, think it’s somewhat or very likely that they would get sick from the coronavirus.

More than 95% overall said they are washing their hands more frequently and avoiding large gatherings.

“This survey shows what we already knew, that Coloradans are strong, and we are all in this together,” Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a news release. “We’re relieved to see that so many people are doing their part to slow the spread of this deadly virus. If we keep this up, we will protect our health care system from being overloaded with critical cases and countless lives will be saved.”

Survey results also showed nearly half the respondents have had symptoms indicative of generalized anxiety over the last two weeks.

The survey was conducted before Polis ordered people statewide to stay home.

Officials said those who took the survey may have been more concerned about COVID-19 and may have been more likely to have made behavior changes. The survey link was shared widely after the survey’s release, officials said, “so that bias may have been reduced.” Officials also said although people of all racial and ethnic groups took the survey, Hispanic and African American participants were underrepresented.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

55-year-old man second reported death in Pitkin County related to COVID-19

A 55-year-old man confirmed Friday as Aspen’s second COVID-19-related death lay dead in his home for two days before he was found by police officers during a welfare check, an official said.

Pauli Laukkanen was found Tuesday and “had reported minimal symptoms of night sweats and fever several days before his death” but died Sunday, according to a news release from Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers. Confirmation that Laukkanen died of COVID-19 complications came Friday, the release states.

“(Laukkanen) was from Sweden but has lived in Aspen for many years,” according to the release.

A 94-year-old man who died at his Aspen home Tuesday was confirmed Thursday as Pitkin County’s first death related to the coronavirus. The man’s identity was still not available Friday pending notification of next of kin, Ayers said Friday afternoon.

Pitkin County officials are awaiting COVID-19 test results on one more recent death in the county, though they don’t believe it’s related to the virus, he said.

Through Thursday, Colorado public health officials reported 1,734 total cases in 42 of the state’s 64 counties, with 31 deaths and 239 people hospitalized, according to the agency’s website. Pitkin County had 25 positive COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, according to the state’s website.

Much of the county’s population — including Aspen — is under orders from the Pitkin County Public Health Department and Gov. Jared Polis to remain at home in an effort to control spread of the virus. Officials have asked visitors and second homeowners to return to their primary places of residence during the pandemic.

Along those lines, all short-term rental businesses, including hotels and lodges, were ordered to cease operations, to comply with local and state health orders requiring all persons to shelter in place and limit transmission of coronavirus in the community, according to a news release Friday from the city of Aspen.

The city forbade further bookings or occupancy of short-term rentals in Aspen until public health orders have been lifted, the release states.

Short-term rentals are classified as lodge and residential properties that are available for occupancy for a period less than 30 consecutive days.

The announcement includes hotels, motels, lodges, condo-hotels, bed and breakfasts, and any other lodging types as defined by the city. Privately-owned residential property within the city limits being used as a short-term rental, whether through an online booking service, local property manager, or any other means, and with or without a valid city vacation rental permit also was included.

Exemptions are limited to local residents using short-term rentals as a permanent residence, anyone in quarantine or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and self-isolating, or anyone able to demonstrate good cause for maintaining residence in a short-term rental to comply with public health orders.

RFTA will cut Aspen-area bus service further on Monday

The region’s public bus system will scale back to “bare bones” service Monday after a proposal to cease operations altogether failed Friday.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s staff already decreased service once March 23 due to declining ridership. CEO Dan Blankenship was preparing a second service cut to what he called phase 3 or bare bones service. Before implementing the cut, he asked the board of directors if they wanted to suspend operations during the coronavirus health crisis.

The board voted 4-3 in a special meeting Friday to suspend service, but the motion failed because it required supermajority approval. RFTA has eight member jurisdictions. Many issues require supermajority approval of six votes.

A spirited debate Friday morning showed the division on the issue. RFTA held a virtual meeting so staff and directors didn’t have to physically gather. The public was able to listen to the remote meeting.

“I’ll be the fly in the ointment. I don’t think RFTA is an essential service at this time,” said Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes.

The stay-at-home orders that have been issued by the state of Colorado and a stronger version approved by Pitkin County reduce the need for bus service, Godes said. Hospitals urge their employees to avoid taking public transportation at this time because of the risk of being infected with the virus, he said.

In addition, Godes said it appears the Roaring Fork Valley is headed toward exponential growth of COVID-19 cases, so RFTA would be better off shutting down bus service now rather than waiting for 10 days or so and risking playing a part in the spread.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt concurred.

“We cannot be screwing around with this when exponential growth can knock this valley down,” she said.

Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman agreed with the shutdown.

“We are in a state of emergency,” he said. “This virus will surge. We need to do everything we can to slow this surge down.”

Even with a first phase of reduced service, RFTA is still hauling about 2,000 passengers per day systemwide, he noted.

“That’s still a big number,” Newman said.

On the flip side were local elected officials who felt the reduced service should be maintained for workers trying to reach essential businesses such as grocery stores and people who do not have a personal vehicle to get to the grocery stores or pharmacy. That includes some elderly folks.

Aspen Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she would like to see some level of service maintained, if RFTA is confident of its efforts to keep drivers and passengers safe from the spread of the virus. She said there are currently about 50 businesses still operating in Aspen that have been deemed essential.

“I think it would be a mistake to curtail all public transportation,” she said.

Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler also supported maintaining a level of service for those who depend on RFTA.

Ed Cortez, a RFTA driver and president of the local chapter of a union representing the drivers, said he hears a mix of comments from the members.

“Yesterday I received seven calls from drivers who, frankly, are freaking out,” Cortez said. On the other hand, other drivers are willing to stick it out.

“Our drivers are ready to do the job if that’s your decision,” Cortez said.

The union and RFTA worked about four weeks ago to create protocols designed to prevent the spread of the virus on buses and facilities. The buses in operation get fogged with a virucide every day. Facilities such as bus stops are getting extra cleaning. Seats nearest the drivers are roped off to create social distancing. And lately, buses with doors farther back in the passenger compartment are being used to promote the distancing.

RFTA has reported 17 employees, including nine drivers, have recently reported having symptoms consistent with COVID-19. It’s not known where they were infected. One driver was taken to the hospital last weekend because of severe symptoms.

Suzuho Shimasaki, deputy director of Pitkin County Public Health Department, said department officials feel RFTA is taking appropriate precautions to keep people safe while still operating. The health order crafted by Pitkin County specifically deemed RFTA an essential service, she noted.

After about 60 minutes of debate, Whitsitt made a motion to temporarily cease all service as of Monday and review the decision April 17, when Pitkin County’s stay at home order is currently scheduled to end. Whitsitt was joined by Newman, Godes and Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson to cease service. Opposing were Mullins, Butler and New Castle Mayor Art Riddile.

Once that motion failed for lack of a supermajority, Blankenship confirmed with the board that he would proceed to phase 3 service reductions Monday.

His memo to the board outlined the cuts and said the remaining service as of Monday will be:

• Valley service once an hour each direction beginning at 4 a.m. from Glenwood Springs and ending at 11:15 p.m. from Aspen. Last upvalley trip from Glenwood is at 9:00 p.m.

• No Express service.

• Only 6:15, 6:30, 6:45 and 7:15 a.m. upvalley BRTs will operate in the morning

• Only 4:00 p.m., 4:30, 4:45, 5:00 downvalley BRTs will operate in the afternoon.

• Only two trips to and from Rifle in the morning.

• Only two trips to and from Rifle in the evening.

• Snowmass service once an hour from Brush Creek Park and Ride from 6:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.

• COA service modified starting at 8:00 a.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m.

• Burlingame service reduced to once an hour.

The service reduction will reduce the need for drivers to 48 per day, though more bodies will be needed to cover all shifts, seven days per week.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Aspen man, 94, is Pitkin County resident who died of COVID-19, officials confirm

The first death of a Pitkin County resident attributed to the COVID-19 outbreak was confirmed Thursday.

The 94-year-old Aspen man with underlying medical issues died at his home in town Tuesday, according to a press release from Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers. 

“He had been suffering from COVID-like symptoms, but had not been diagnosed prior to his death,” the release states. “Confirmation of the infection was received early Thursday by the Pitkin County coroner.” 

Meanwhile, Pitkin County officials sounded the alarm both Wednesday and Thursday asking people in the community with connections to companies that can procure or produce medical equipment to please give them a call as soon as possible. 

“More people are getting sick every day,” Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said. “Please consider helping Pitkin County first. Pitkin County will take care of you.”

McNicholas Kury announced the 94-year-old man’s death at the beginning of an afternoon virtual community meeting about the COVID-19 virus

“We’ve learned today that Pitkin County suffered the first death in the community due to the COVID virus,” she said. “Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.”

The man, who was not identified, had been ill for three days. His cause of death was complications from COVID-19 and the manner of death was natural, the release from the coroner’s office states. 

Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann also recognized “the significance of this loss.” 

“Our hearts are heavy having learned of this first death in our community’s struggle against the spread of COVID-19,” she said in the release. “We especially want the family of the victim to know how sorry we are.”

Nineteen deaths in Colorado have so far been attributed to COVID-19, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment database. The Aspen man’s death was included in that total, said Bill Linn, spokesman for the Roaring Fork Valley team managing the local virus response. 

 According to the CDPHE, through Wednesday there were 1,430 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state in 39 counties from 10,122 people who have been tested. In Pitkin County 23 people had tested positive for COVID-19, as of Thursday afternoon’s update from the CDPHE. 

Aspen Valley Hospital had two patients Thursday with confirmed cases of COVID-19, one of whom was critical, CEO Dave Ressler said. The hospital has handled a total of 10 admissions of patients with COVID-like symptoms, two of whom have tested positive, four negative and four are still pending, he said during the virtual community meeting Thursday. 

And while Ressler said the volume of COVID-19 cases has been light so far, one disturbing trend has come to light recently.

“We are starting to see sicker patients,” he said, noting that officials are sending those who need ventilators to hospitals at lower altitudes for the time being. “We are in the calm before the storm.”

The 25-bed hospital has five ventilators and needs to keep the numbers of critical patients with the virus below it’s maximum capacity for as long as possible. The good news, Ressler said, is that the social distancing and stay-at-home mitigation efforts to slow the spread are bearing fruit. 

“My message is that it’s working,” he said. “If we can maintain our efforts and keep the (patient) levels low … we’re going to save lives.”

He said he also spoke recently to a colleague at Vail Health Hospital in Eagle County, where just a week ago officials were reporting “surge demand” among COVID-19 patients. That is back down to “manageable levels” this week, which the person attributed to Eagle County’s mitigation efforts, Ressler said.

Live Pitkin County Incident Management Team (PCIMT) Public Meeting Update at 2:00pm, Thursday, March 26th.

Dr. Catherine Bernard, president of AVH’s medical staff, seconded Ressler’s sentiments Thursday and noted that the staff voted unanimously earlier this week in support of Pitkin County’s public health orders. Those orders, the latest of which require residents to stay home with a few exceptions, have so far prevented a local surge of COVID-19 cases, she said. 

“But this is no time to become complacent,” Bernard warned. The AVH emergency room physician also said she’s seeing sicker COVID-19 patients. 

The feeling that the virus is going to get worse was implicit in the calls for help procuring medical equipment Wednesday and Thursday from McNicholas Kury and Commissioner Patti Clapper.  

Fed up with a lack of help from state and federal authorities, the two commissioners on Wednesday asked local residents with connections to medical supply companies to call them directly if they can offer help. 

 “Don’t hesitate to contact the (board of county commissioners),” Clapper said. “We can help channel any opportunities people might give us to the proper places.”

The comment came after Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said Wednesday the county had asked for support staff from the state and been denied or ignored. The county will have to contract with local epidemiological and other staff to get those jobs done in the near future, which will be paid for out of an extra $350,000 approved Wednesday by commissioners.

“I’m very dismayed some of (these requested positions) haven’t been filled,” McNicholas Kury said.

She noted that working individual sources to get a leg up on medical and other supplies — which will also come out of the same $350,000 pot — constituted “an extraordinary channel of how to get supplies.”

Peacock said  anyone with supply connections or connections to companies offering COVID-19 tests can email the team managing the Roaring Fork Valley’s COVID-19 response at pcimt.liaison@gmail.com. He noted that employees from local dentist offices that have been closed because of the virus donated personal protective equipment Wednesday to the incident command, while Ressler thanked retired physicians who have volunteered to help. 

“Our community has stepped up,” Peacock said.

In addition, anyone who wants to make a donation to the local coronavirus efforts or volunteer to help with them can go to the Aspen Community Foundation’s website, he said.

Pitkin County is asking residents to participate in two community surveys accessible on its website at pitkincounty.com/COVID-19. One survey is a symptom tracker to provide better information on the infection locally, while the other is meant to gauge residents’ emotional health. 

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Aspen government to tighten budget belt in response to COVID-19 pandemic

City of Aspen officials are bracing for a steep decline of revenue as the resort community adjusts to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sales tax is very elastic; you feel it very quickly when it’s not coming through so we are updating those revenue forecasts,” City Manager Sara Ott told City Council during its Tuesday meeting. “We are evaluating capital and operational expenses going forward this year.”

She said she is working with department heads to assess revenue projections, and deliberate and balance the needs of the community before coming back to council with recommendations.

“There are some things that we’re going to have to talk about sooner rather than later,” Ott said of the city’s $112.9 million budget. “Even though we are in these elastic times and making these changes, there are some things that don’t change for the city.

“We have to pay on our debt obligations and we have to continue projects that we have acquired debt for,” she continued, adding that payroll and supplies are necessities. “I’m concerned about supply chain interruption with some of our capital projects as this becomes more unpredictable globally.”

The Pitkin County Public Health Department‘s order this week that all non-essential businesses close and last week’s order that restaurants and bars be shuttered except for delivery and takeout to slow the spread of the virus has taken what would be a booming resort during spring break to a ghost town.

Ott told council it will be millions of dollars that will be lost among the city’s 863 businesses and the city’s revenue sources.

An informational packet is being distributed to those businesses, guiding them on how to navigate for help and relief and access to resources.

“This gets things rolling while we’re waiting for state and federal packages,” Ott said. “We want to let folks know what they can do immediately.”

Council members have agreed to act as liaisons to different sectors of the business community to keep the lines of communication open.

“It’s important to get accurate information on the ground to inform our strategies in the weeks and months to come to deal with the situation we are facing,” Ott said.

The city has paused non-essential hirings and operational expenses.

Ott also told council that staff is working on conducting virtual town meetings with various sectors of the business community for question-and-answer sessions and to connect with one another.

Parking will remain free through the end of Mary to encourage social distancing for those who are vulnerable populations or co-habitat with people who are vulnerable and therefore public transportation is not an option.

Plus, there’s no reason for high-season pricing with hardly anyone in town, Ott said.

The city also is making child care available for essential employees like those in the health care and food service industries and emergency workers.

That’s being carried out by the city’s Kids First program, in partnership with Pitkin County Human Services, Eagle County Human Services and Aspen Valley Hospital.

To know whether they qualify, people can call Kids First at 970-920-5363 or emergencychildcare@cityofaspen.com.

Ott said the city’s role right now is to support the county’s incident management team with personnel, as well as preserve health and safety for the public and maintain essential services to residents.

“Our staff is a humongous asset to our organization and community in making sure the water still runs, the lights come on, there’s a friendly officer when you need help,” she said. “Those are the sorts of things we’re not going to step back on.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

Aspen City Council’s Q&A with the Pitkin County COVID-19 incident command team

The local incident command team for the COVID-19 spread fielded questions from Aspen City Council members during their regular meeting Tuesday night. The team includes Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann, Sheriff’s Deputy Alex Burchetta and Gabe Muething, director of the Aspen Ambulance District. Here are some excerpts from the Q&A session:

Councilman Skippy Mesirow: If we do a really good job of containing this spread within our community, we’re a one-entrance valley at this point of the year, we’re a relatively small population versus other communities. We acted early. And so it stands to reason that we may be in a situation where we have curtailed this spread before others, and yet we’re a resort community. So how do we think about that long-term avoiding a second or third spike?

Karen Koenemann: What we have seen in the research and the modeling right now and looking at other countries and what happens is that if you take for this active suppression pretty restrictive, and that it can, it can help with really tamping down the spread of the virus. What we also know is that if you release those restrictions, what’s going to happen is you’re going to see that peak again.

What we also know is that the most effective strategies work when it’s like a whole country doing it, or a whole state doing it, or a region doing it. I think it’s really hard if we are this little piece of the state of Colorado that has a more and more restrictive kind of strategy. We’re still going to have some sort of movement within our community and if we lift some of the restrictions, more people will probably come back to the community. So really the kinds of strategies are most effective when they’re done over large geographic areas. If there is a way to advocate at the state level this would be much more effective if we were doing it across the state with more restrictive strategies.

We would hope that the suppression strategies would allow us to flatten the curve and with this locally, maybe a little bit in a shorter amount of time. But because we’re not isolated, I would guess that the suppression strategy will have to last certainly longer than the current public health order, which goes through April 17. We are using that as the timeline for right now; we will be revisiting that.

I will put money on it, but we will be extending it at some point, we really need to make sure that we’re suppressing for a significant amount of time and we’re asking for some epidemiological modeling right now from the state health department and the School of Public Health to really get a sense of what’s happening here. And with the symptom tracker, we may be able to model that out a little bit.

And if we did, if we did more broad-based testing, we can do more modeling out around that, as well. But I’m not an expert of that out there. But we’re trying to tap into experts to have a better sense of what’s happening in our community.

Skippy Mesirow: As we’re thinking about appropriations and the duration of financial or economic support, and hoping that we can still have a relatively successful summer but it remains to be seen if we are able to control the contagion here and stop the spread, but it is still going out elsewhere, from our current understanding of the virus. Are there screening mechanisms we could implement at our two or three entrances with the airport to reduce the reintroduction or is our belief that the asymptomatic spread is as such that those would be irrelevant?

Gabe Muething: We can have the tightest restrictions in the world, but if those around us and other parts of the country still don’t have those restrictions, and it still flourishes in those communities, we would always have the chance of inviting that back into our community. So what we’re hoping for collectively around our table is a national solution to this, a state solution to this, where everybody really realizes that we’re all part of a community — local, state, nationwide — and we work hard to control this. Are there places we can stop people and put up barriers to not allow the virus back in? It would just be a very difficult prospect to do. I don’t know if it’s possible.

Mayor Torre: Why is there testing in San Miguel County and Telluride?

Gabe Muething: As you can imagine, as soon as we heard about it we immediately reached out and said we’re looking for rapid testing, we’re looking at anything that can help our community. We reached out to San Miguel and had a fantastic conversation with their public health officials to understand exactly what it is they’re doing. And it’s really important to understand that what they’re doing is essentially research on a new way to test. They are actually having to draw blood from an IV site on patients, on people in their community.

There are three different types of testing, with the first being taking a swab and putting it up the nose, grabbing some virus. The second one, which is what we’re going for, is a pinprick on a fingertip. And then the third is what San Miguel is doing, which is actually drawing blood. And as you can imagine, drawing blood is the one procedure out of the three that takes the most (personal protective equipment), takes the most effort, it’s very labor intensive.

They are doing research. Their goal is to test the test and to see if it’s even valuable to do. They are working with a biotech company, or the owner lives in their community and trying to get as much data as they can. It is important to note that it is not an FDA-approved test. The data that comes from it will be used to determine if the test works, but it will not go into the database of the (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) as of right now. It may eventually when the test is proven. They have not started testing yet. They had hoped to start testing later on this week in a mass fashion.

Mayor Torre: How are we collecting data?

Karen Koenemann: We just launched that symptom tracker survey (Tuesday) morning. If you go to the www.pitkincounty.com website and the hyperlink on the COVID-19 banner there, it takes you to a new website that has different hyperlinks, but you can do at the very top different buttons. One of the buttons says “community engagement.” When you click on that it will take you to two different surveys. One is the symptoms tracker survey. It’s a subjective survey that we’re using to have people self report around COVID-like symptoms.

It is an interesting kind of strategy to see how symptoms might be moving through the community.

We also have a survey on there that I want to alert people to which is like, “How are you doing around social distancing and this whole new world that we’re all in?” Two weeks ago I couldn’t even imagine that we would be in this world right now. I’m really wanting to touch base with people around their mental health, how they’re dealing with social distancing, any amazing creative things that they’re doing that they can share with others, because we really want to get a pulse on the mental health of our community, as well.

Skippy Mesirow: Who should be filling this out? Do you want all 6,000 residents? Do you want only sick people? What does that person looks like?

Karen Koenemann: We want everyone to fill this out. We really want to have a true representation of what is happening in our community. Having a little bit of basic demographic information. I think age is really an important component right now, as we’re starting to see some shifting thought around high-risk populations, and having a better understanding of what symptoms people are experiencing and a geographic understanding of where COVID-19 symptoms are in our community, and all allow us to better understand if we started to see a rise of symptoms in certain community.

Alex Burchetta: We want everyone in the county to use that symptom tracker from Redstone to Thomasville, Meredith, all the way up to Aspen, Snowmass and Basalt. It’s a tool that we want to use and gather data countywide.

Rachel Richards: I work in City Market. I see dozens and dozens and dozens of community members every day. I’m just not seeing it by a lot of people taking it as seriously as they could.

I have tried to explain that a negative test would only be a snapshot in time and you might be exposed the very next day, and that we’re not really going to return to normal just by identifying and tracking some individuals and quarantine them. But it doesn’t help that people are really wondering what the magnitude of the term “community spread” is. So people are like, “Are we really overreacting horrendously?” Because we have no idea what the magnitude of the community spread is.

So the decision when you made it or the statement “we have community spread” and we’re moving away from testing and into containment. We just have had this counter-repeating message between the federal government, Nancy Pelosi, the World Health Organization, all saying testing, testing, testing. And yet, we’re trying to tell people it’s at least at this point in time, a little too late for testing to be effective use of resources, shelter in place, and we’ll move on from there. But do you have any idea of the magnitude? How much should people take it seriously? I think half the community thinks we’re overreacting. The other half thinks we’re underreacting.

Karen Koenemann: What we’re going to say to you is stay at home and to really isolate yourself. I think from it from that bigger, epidemlogical standpoint of understanding that the spread of the disease, the subjective symptom tracker is one way for us to better understand what’s happening in our community.

We also have some data points with the hospital, what their ER doctors are experiencing. The hospital is kind of a canary in the coal mine as far as the most severe cases. I don’t want to say that there’s not value in testing from an epidemiological standpoint. There’s great value in that as we move forward through that testing cycle to the point where we can get to the rapid testing we can make this an easier, less rigorous or less resource intensive process.

Gov. Jared Polis issues statewide ‘stay at home’ order until at least April 11

DENVER — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday he is issuing a statewide stay-at-home order in an attempt to stem the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Polis said he is taking this “extreme measure,” effective Thursday until April 11, because the restrictions taken to date haven’t been enough to reduce the spread of the virus.

“If we don’t take these actions that we are taking today, and frankly, if you don’t stay home, this will create a much worse economic disaster with greater disruption, greater loss of jobs for a longer period of time,” he said at a news conference.

People should only leave home when they absolutely must, he said, for grocery shopping, to seek medical care or to care for dependents, for example.

Polis said state officials have measured the effect of social distancing restrictions by tracking people’s cellphone location data, real-time traffic information and other such metadata sources.

“The bottom line is, I don’t have the comfort level that the existing extreme measures that we’ve taken to date are enough to buy us the time we need to save lives here in Colorado,” he said.

The order comes after six Colorado counties issued stay-at-home directives affecting nearly 3 million people to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by patients. The Denver, Aspen and Telluride areas had previously issued stay-at-home orders.

As of Wednesday, 1,086 people in Colorado have tested positive for the coronavirus and 19 have died. The number of people hospitalized by the disease doubled overnight, and about 15% of people who were tested after showing symptoms have the coronavirus, said Polis, who has submitted a formal request for President Donald Trump to declare Colorado a major disaster area.

The governor also said he supported the $2 trillion economic relief deal that was moving through Congress, which would be the largest in U.S. history. The measure would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and help small businesses pay employees who are forced to stay home.

“When Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump agree, you know that it’s important,” Polis said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

People did not seem to be taking previous warnings and actions, like the closure of restaurants, seriously, and false information, such as COVID-19 being akin to the flu, has persisted, Jefferson County Public Health executive director Mark Johnson said. He hopes the orders help make people realize how serious the outbreak is.

“This is truly the greatest public health crisis this nation has seen at least since 1918,” he said.

Meanwhile, medical staffers based at Colorado’s Fort Carson are being deployed to Washington State to back up doctors and nurses treating coronavirus patients in one of the nation’s hardest-hit areas. More than 300 members of the 627th Hospital Center will head to Washington to provide supplemental routine and emergency medical care to help free up Washington providers to focus on detecting and treating patients believed to have been exposed to COVID-19, Fort Carson announced Tuesday.

Within hours of deploying, the unit is capable of establishing a 148-bed full-service hospital even in the most austere conditions, according to The Colorado Springs Gazette. The hospitals can be in customized tents or repurposed civilian buildings.

Aspen Ideas Festival cancels 2020 event because of coronavirus

The Aspen Institute announced Wednesday the cancellation of the 2020 Aspen Ideas Festival and Aspen Ideas: Health, which had been scheduled to run June 24 to July 3 in Aspen.

The announcement cited the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

“The Aspen Institute is prioritizing the health and safety of attendees, speakers, staff, and volunteers, and this decision was made with their well-being in mind,” the announcement stated. “While organizers are hopeful that the current situation will have stabilized by the summer, the Institute does not want to ask participants to plan on visiting Aspen before it is considered safe to travel.”

Aspen Ideas Festival executive director Kitty Boone and her team are already in the process of producing a virtual Ideas Fest.

“We are going to pivot to produce content from the festival in other ways,” Boone said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “It’s going to be different, but with a lot of the same players, I think.”

When the team informed speakers of the cancellation on Wednesday morning, Boone said, they heard back immediately from many who are willing to still take part.

“Some are reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, I can do anything you want,’” Boone said. “But we need to make sure the public wants that.”

The Institute sent a survey to passholders and past attendees on Wednesday morning to gauge interest in programs at an alternate virtual festival for 2020.

Boone and her team spend the full year working on the Ideas Fest and its programming, which was expected to include more than 300 speakers and some 400 panels, talks and events.

Given the ongoing public health crisis and the cascade of canceled events worldwide, from Aspen’s Food & Wine Classic to the Summer Olympics, Boone said it was clearly the right thing to do and the right time to make the call for the Aspen Institute.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to try to create a festival,” she said. “Even if we get past the peak (of COVID-19 infections), which I seriously hope we do, in our effort to flatten the curve we have to make this call. It was not an easy call to make, obviously.”

The Institute’s event insurance will not cover the financial losses from cancellation due to pandemic. Boone declined to give an estimate of those losses.

“It’s big,” she said.

Boone and Institute officials explored avenues for postponing, rather than outright canceling, Ideas in recent weeks. They looked at late July – in the slot traditionally held by the previously canceled Aspen Action Forum – but found that Aspen hotels are still booked up for that period, meaning the massive room blocks required for Ideas guests were unavailable. In September, likewise, they found, the town is nearly filled with advance bookings.

Later in the fall, Institute officials decided, simply didn’t fit the Ideas model.

“Our conclusion was that the Aspen Ideas Festival is a summertime, on-the-ground event that isn’t easily transferable to a different season of the year,” Boone said.

Produced in partnership with The Atlantic – which on March 10 published a widely circulated piece “Cancel Everything”  calling for public events to shutter to stem the spread of coronavirus – the 2019 lineup included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the rapper Common and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. Aspen Ideas: Health last year included National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci.

The nonprofit Aspen Institute, founded in Aspen and based in Washington, D.C., expects to announce plans “in the coming weeks and months” for the alternative programming.

“The Aspen Institute would also like to express its appreciation to its partners, staff, sponsors, volunteers, and attendees who support the Aspen Ideas Festival and Aspen Ideas: Health,” the statement concludes. “Organizers look forward to staying in touch during this challenging time as they make new plans for 2020 programming.”

Events and festivals scheduled for later in the summer on the Aspen Institute’s West End campus have not yet been canceled. The Aspen Security Forum (Aug. 3-6) as well as the McCloskey Speaker Series, Hurst Lecture Series and Murdock Mind, Body Spirit Series are still on the books.

“We’re taking that day-by-day,” Boone said. “We really hope that this social distancing people across the country are being asked to do works, and that this passes. If so, people may be at ease to come together. It’s going to depend on the public mood to come together as this pandemic moves through the world and our valley.”

atravers@aspentimes.com

At home in Aspen: Brain candy from Aspen Ideas Fest

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was a guest on the Aspen Institute’s “Ideas to Go” podcast in early March when there were about 100 novel coronavirus cases in the United States. Fauci discussed the new virus with public health experts and gave a sense of what was to come in the absence of an aggressive global response.

“Is there a risk that this is going to turn into a global pandemic?” he said in the March 3 episode. “Absolutely, yes.”

The Institute’s online resources — including its podcast, blog and archived videos from years of conferences in Aspen — are a trove of material for the home-bound as the pandemic now keeps us all inside.

The Institute also has been regularly sharing recommended video and audio sessions to dig into during stay-at-home orders through the Ideas Fest Facebook page here.

The Ideas blog last week included the post “Four Mental Health Tips for the Socially Distanced.” Its suggestions: meditating; practicing joyfulness; exercising; and embracing boredom.

The archives of Institute conference sessions are deep and diverse. This is a selection of the best, from the coronavirus-relevant to soothing and escapist fare about art, astronomy and dogs.

PUBLIC HEALTH

  • Anthony Fauci and five public health experts on a “Preventing Pandemics” panel from Spotlight Health 2017.
  • U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, with Federal Reserve Bank official Patrick Harker at the 2019 Aspen Ideas: Health conference, discusses the connection between physical and economic Health.
  • Many have had their first experiences with telemedicine in recent days. At Spotlight Health in 2018, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt led a panel with experts on how technology would change health care delivery in the years to come, from virtual doctor visits to drone supply deliveries.
  • From Aspen Ideas: Health 2019, experts discuss and compare the American health insurance system with international universal health care models like those in the U.K and the Netherlands.

NEWS YOU CAN USE

  • For keeping your head during this fraught moment in world history, from Aspen Ideas Fest 2018, the session “Unafraid: Living with Courage and Hope in Uncertain Times,” with pastor Adam Hamilton and CBS News’ John Dickerson. “It takes as much energy to imagine the worst as to imagine the best,” says Hamilton.
  • For parents and guardians at home with kids during public health restrictions, some context from the panel “It’s Not Just the Hormones: Unpacking Teen Emotions” with psychologists and experts from Aspen Ideas Fest 2019.
  • For planning meals while you’re at home, “Foods for Protecting the Body and Mind,” with Dr. Neal Barnard from the 2015 Murdock Mind, Body, Spirit Series.
  • For a reminder of why you need to try to have fun, even now: “The Neuroscience of Play,” from Ideas Fest 2010, with Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play.

ESCAPE

  • “The Mysterious Mind of a Dog” with dog cognition scientist Alexandra Horowitz from Ideas Fest 2018. “The thing that dogs do for us is they really increase empathy,” she says on this panel with Duke University professor Brian Hare and The Atlantic’s Ross Andersen.
  • “From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” with astrophysicist Janna Levin. “Is time something that exists only momentarily, or is it there behind us and in our future?” Levin asks.
  • Beloved American soprano, Aspen Music Festival alum and 2016 Aspen Institute Artist in Residence Renee Fleming discusses artists’ impact on society.
  • Cellist and 2013 Aspen Institute Artist in Residence Yo-Yo Ma performs and discusses the concept of the “citizen artist.”
  • Artist, memoirist and 2019 Aspen Institute Artist in Residence Edmund de Waal on how he works. “Objects for me are akin to words, so I think I am making poems,” he says in his conversation with the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik.
  • The brilliant Susan Orlean on the joys of not knowing things in “It’s OK to be Clueless,” an intimate conversation at Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar (audio only) from Ideas Fest 2017 when she was writing “The Library Book.” Listen here.

atravers@aspentimes.com

Public land managers around Aspen say comply with social distancing or trails will close

Crowds won’t cut it these days, even in the great outdoors.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Gary Tennenbaum warned Tuesday that if people ignore social-distancing requirements and hang out in crowds while recreating outside, they will leave public land managers no choice but to take drastic actions.

The open space program was forced to do that Sunday when rangers called Pitkin County deputy sheriffs to disperse crowds congregating at the Penny Hot Springs in the Crystal River Valley. The hot springs have been closed until further notice.

“They disregarded it because they didn’t feel it was as important to practice social distancing outside,” Tennenbaum said.

He doesn’t want to see the same action taken in other high-use areas such as Smuggler Mountain Road or the Prince Creek Trail system outside of Carbondale. Trails, parks and other public lands are vital amenities that will help people keep their sanity while contact is restricted during the health crisis, Tennenbaum said. So it is vital that people follow the guidelines so those facilities remain in use.

“If we do it responsibly, we can keep it going,” Tennenbaum said. “Closing public access is such a big step that we don’t want to take.”

The open space and trails program had new, special signs printed that explain the importance of spreading apart and limiting group sizes. While the sign says limit groups to no more than 10 people, that was outdated by a new health order issued Monday night by Pitkin County. Tennenbaum said people should only recreate with their immediate family or one partner rather than groups up to 10 people.

Rangers were posting the signs on open space trails and lands from Redstone to Smuggler Mountain trailhead on Tuesday. Tennenbaum said he worked on the wording with other public land management agencies for consistency.

The city of Aspen and the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service will use the same signs. The Forest Service will post the signs at the Independence Pass winter closure gate, Maroon Creek Road closure gate, Castle Creek Road closure gate, Hunter Creek trailhead, Difficult Campground gate, Sunnyside Trail access points, Avalanche Creek Road kiosk, Coal Creek Road outside of Redstone, Four Mile snowmobile parking lot and Williams Peak skier parking.

“We understand the desire for people to exercise and seek solace in the outdoors right now,” the White River National Forest posted on its Facebook page. “The White River National Forest asks the public to please recreate responsibly.”

The Forest Service stressed that law enforcement and search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 response.

“High-risk activities such as backcountry skiing that increase your chance of injury should be avoided right now,” the Forest Service posted.

A 32-year-old Aspen-area resident had to be rescued Tuesday off Richmond Ridge when his snowmobile struck a tree and he sustained head injuries. The man was transported by a Flight for Life helicopter to Aspen Valley Hospital.

That is exactly the kind of incident local authorities want to avoid while so much focus is on the coronavirus.

The Forest Service also stressed the importance of social distancing on national forest lands while coronavirus remains a threat.

“With almost 2.3 million acres to explore across the White River National Forest, we think there’s plenty of room for you to spread out responsibly while protecting yourself and your community,” the White River staff posted.

Tennenbaum said rangers have witnessed “pretty good” social distancing practices among hikers on Smuggler Mountain Road. Cross-country skiers also have kept their distance pretty well, he said.

His next big concern is the opening of the Prince Creek Trail network outside of Carbondale on April 16. The network is immensely popular with mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers. Most of the network is on property managed by the Bureau of Land Management. However, the large parking lot along Prince Creek Road is owned by Pitkin County.

Once riders get moving, they disperse pretty effectively, Tennenbaum said. He is concerned about people congregating in the parking lot, particularly post-ride.

“We really need to discourage that,” he said. “We don’t want big parties at the trailhead.”

David Boyd, public information officer for the local BLM region, said the agency plans to stick to its usual spring openings. As more public lands open, it will be easier for people to spread out for their recreation pursuits, he said.

There is no sign the BLM or Forest Service plans to close trails or property in the Roaring Fork Valley, at least not anytime soon. However, public lands aren’t immune to closure. The National Park Service closed Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Greay Smoky Mountains parks Tuesday. They join Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and many smaller parks in closure.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced Tuesday it is “diligently working to keep state parks open so the public can enjoy the health benefits associated with being outside.”

With the lifts closed at the ski areas, many Roaring Fork Valley residents are regularly skinning up the closed slopes and skiing down. Parking lots at Tiehack and Snowmass have overflowed on many days. Uphilling will remain open at the four Aspen Skiing Co. resorts as others in Colorado are shutting off access because of large crowds gathering during the state’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement Monday night, Skico asked uphillers to be mindful of crowding and encouraged people to practice social distancing in all areas of the mountain.

Skico vice president of media relations Jeff Hanle sent a statement urging skiers to adhere to social-distance practices of 6 feet and avoid crowds while on the mountains.

“It is vital that you exercise good judgment on the ski areas and not put yourself or others at risk,” he said in an email. “Do not gather in groups anywhere on or around the mountains. If a parking lot is full, please choose a different ascent or a different time.”

Sunlight resort near Glenwood Springs cut off uphilling as well as Vail and other Front Range resorts because of overcrowding. Hanle said Skico will follow the guidance from the state and the White River National Forest, and that skiers should treat the mountain as they would in preseason and postseason when the ski area is closed.

There are no ski areas services, and people should treat their time on the hill “with the same thoughtfulness and care as you would if you were in the backcountry,” he said.

Pitkin County, Skico and other officials have been reminding people that on-mountain incidents as well as those going into the backcountry will take away resources from the current fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the county.

Also, Hanle reminded that snowmobiles are not allowed at the four resorts, and the USFS regulation will be enforced.

“Please do not jeopardize or risk the access for everyone through your disregard for these regulations,” Hanle said in the update. “We ask the uphill community to help us in spreading the word on these regulations and to report those who continue to ignore these rules.”

The state’s ski resorts were shut down by the governor starting March 15 and the closure has been extended until at least April 6. Skico officials said last week that if the order was lifted they would consider opening Aspen Highlands for limited use, but it would depend on mountain conditions and safety. Skico will not reopen Aspen Mountain, Snowmass or Buttermilk for skiing this year, officials stated earlier this month.

Aspen Times editor David Krause contributed to this report. scondon@aspentimes.com