| AspenTimes.com

Colorado COVID mandates are over: Now, it’s up to you and the county you live in

People walk through downtown Aspen in the mandatory mask zone on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aaron Weiss was 72 hours away from getting his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine when it hit.

He started feeling tired. That soon turned into “textbook COVID,” complete with a hacking cough, extreme exhaustion and what Weiss called the “worst flu you ever had.”

“Just absolutely brutal,” Weiss said. “Aches. Night sweats. Just everything hurt for about a week there.”

He and his family had been super careful for a full year of the pandemic, working from home and avoiding close contact with others outside their family bubble. But that still wasn’t enough for the 43-year-old Littleton resident to avoid two trips to the ER and then a 5-day stay in the hospital.

Weiss said he expects to get his first vaccine shot soon.

“My message to anyone is don’t mess around,” Weiss said the day he was released earlier this week. “This is no time to let your guard down. You don’t want to be a long hauler.”

And as of April 16, avoiding that fate is almost entirely up to you.

With the retirement of the color-coded state COVID-19 restrictions dial, state and local leaders are today steering Colorado toward a pandemic off-ramp. Whether that succeeds or fails will depend mightily on a few more weeks of personal responsibility and restraint from a restrictions-fatigued population.

The COVID-19 dial expires as cases and hospitalizations remain high.

Colorado’s key pandemic metrics remain a vexing mix of promising and worrisome. Cases have stayed persistently high and the state’s positivity rate is above the 5 percent level public health leaders watch closely. Hospitalizations are much lower than the fall surge, but they are near 500, much higher than a few weeks ago.

More transmissible variants continue to spread and are estimated to now make up a majority of new cases in Colorado.

Projections from the team at the Colorado School of Public Health spotlight a few possible routes. If people can avoid cutting loose and partying like it’s 1999 (or 2019 for that matter) and keep up with precautions like wearing masks and avoiding crowded indoor settings while vaccinations multiply, a smoother exit could be just up ahead.

“I think we can hopefully say the end is in sight,” said Dr. Jon Samet, an epidemiologist and the dean at Colorado’s School of Public Health, who directs COVID-19 modeling for the state.

The modeling, which is regularly shared with the governor, his team and local public health leaders, also maps out a much more dire scenario. Assuming rapid growth in COVID variants that are now the dominant strains in Colorado, plus removing the state’s mask mandate, its color-coded dial and a dramatic easing of voluntary precautions taken by the public, then Colorado coronavirus hospitalizations could eclipse early December’s peak of nearly 1,900 by late June.

And at least some, but certainly not all, of those elements are happening now. The state has eased its mask mandate, releasing rural counties with low incidence levels except for schools, government buildings and personal services settings, while the most populous counties keep some form of mandatory masks in indoor public settings.

When the state’s dial expires, counties in Green Level will likely drop it altogether, while most Front Range and rural resort counties maintain their own version of it for at least another month.

So that leaves a key part of Colorado’s trajectory up to the behavior of individuals.

“I think it’s going to be an important month for us ahead. I think that’s the bottom line. I think people, like it or not, just need to hang in a little bit longer, do the right stuff (to protect themselves and others),” Samet said. “Of course the most critical piece of personal action is getting vaccinated.”

What’s Colorado’s best-case scenario — and worst case?

Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health in Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, said Colorado’s pandemic can go a couple of different ways from here.

“Well, I say in the Metro area, the off-ramp is one month of additional capacity restrictions, more and more vaccinations happen,” Douglas said. “Variants don’t create unexpectedly bad headaches, and we get back to fully reopened in the middle of May.”

That’s the best case.

“Worst case is the opposite,” Douglas said. “And, you know, something comes along that makes all the great vaccination work we’ve been doing completely ineffective. And we began to see new infections, new hospitalizations and new illness.”

Douglas also envisions a possible middle route, where people at some point in the future need to get booster shots against coronavirus variants, as the head of vaccine maker Pfizer floated Thursday, and “things get transiently worse for a little while.”

But as more people get vaccinated, local communities and the state are able to keep things under control. Until, “we might have to move back to slightly reduced capacity for a while.”

Two major hurdles to fully vaccinating the population, both in Colorado and nationally, are a lack of access in some communities and a reluctance of some populations to get inoculated.

According to state-by-state data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the vaccination rate for Hispanic, Black and Asian Coloradans trails the white population. Some national polls have shown COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy dropping among all Americans. Still, another group is showing up in surveys as not yet ready to get vaccinated: Republican men.

Current hospitalization data shows some signs of vaccine hesitancy in the state. People 60 and older have been eligible for the vaccine for weeks, but still represent more than 40 percent of new hospitalizations for COVID-19 treatment. Some of those people may have been unable to get appointments before catching the disease or were deemed high risk for taking vaccines. Others may have simply chosen not to get a shot and then failed to adequately protect themselves.

In recent weeks, glitches in distribution appeared. Most prominently, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a pause on the usage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The move came after the agencies said they were investigating six reported cases — none in Colorado — of blood clots in patients who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That’s out of about 6.8 million doses administered across the country.

The J&J vaccine was administered to just 133,315 people out of 3.4 million total doses delivered in the state, so the pause is unlikely to impact Colorado’s timeline for getting everyone 16 and older access to the vaccine by Memorial Day or sooner.

Entering a pandemic era where personal responsibility is more important than ever.

Dr. Comilla Sasson looks at the state of pandemic in Colorado with a mix of hope and trepidation, and wonders how the rest of the nation will fare.

Sasson has had the kind of up-close, frontline pandemic experience few can match. She’s an emergency medicine doctor working for Kaiser Permanente, Centura Health and the Veterans Administration Hospital, but also volunteered in a number of states over the last year, including New York, Texas, and California.

Sasson likes to use a skiing analogy. About eight weeks ago, with hospitalizations and community spread dropping she thought Colorado was easing down the pandemic curve. It seemed like working down a green run, “somewhere near Easy Street, where ‘hey if we can just coast down the catwalk’ and everybody gets vaccinated and we do everything right.”

Now, with Colorado’s numbers plateauing, and even increasing in some places, and the statewide color-coded dial going away, Sasson said there’s a lot more variability.

“It’s probably somewhere between a black and a blue right now,” Sasson said. “I think that we’re unfortunately kind of choosing the harder path for ourselves.”

With many older people getting vaccinated, a greater percentage of COVID-19 patients arriving in hospital ERs are younger, 20 to 50 years old, Sasson said. They may not die at the same rate as older people, but still run the risk of developing “long hauler” syndrome, with often-debilitating symptoms that continue long after they get released.

Plus, she said, even those under 16, who aren’t yet vaccinated, can and do get sick with coronavirus.

“That, to me quite frankly, as a parent, is probably the part that makes me most nervous,” Sasson said.

Sasson echoes the admonitions from the governor, Samet and other local public health leaders and agrees Colorado is entering a phase of the crisis where individual and collective behavior matters as much as ever.

“I do think we’re headed in the right direction,” she said, “if people still do the things we know work,” like wearing a properly fitting mask in public, especially indoors, keeping a distance and “making sure you’re fully vaccinated before you start hanging out with others without a mask.”

“I think it’s a huge amount of personal responsibility,” Sasson said. “I think it’s a huge amount of how much do you care for others and how much do you think your actions impact others?”

After getting vaccinated, some say they will continue wearing masks no matter what.

The scene playing out at vaccination locations around the state in recent weeks is downright upbeat. At the mass vaccination site at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City one recent weekend, Billy Wheelock and his wife Berna were pleased to have gotten their shots.

“Great, it was great. It was a good experience. It wasn’t bad,” said Billy Wheelock, a Denver resident and senior leader at a local fulfillment center. “I work as a central worker, so I felt it was necessary for me to do it. So I didn’t hesitate to do it.”

Both said even after getting their shots they’d continue wearing their masks in public just to be safe. And that’s whether government officials advised them to or not.

“You have to do the necessary things to make sure that you’re more safe,” Wheelock said. “Because everybody’s not going to take the vaccine, you know what I’m saying? So you have to be aware of those people.”

Berna Wheelock said she’s a cancer survivor so she plans on being cautious, as the pandemic ideally winds down.

“I think that’s a personal decision, but as for myself and being at high risk, I told my husband, I’m going to wear it regardless.”

Stronger together: How Eagle County’s health care workers rose to the challenge of COVID-19

Vail Health nurse Nicole Campbell administers a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Jordon Nicholson of Conifer Wednesday at the Vail Hospital.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

In the thick of the pandemic, in a year that refused to let up, Caitlyn Ngam started running.

An infection preventionist at Vail Health Hospital, Ngam prefers more daring outdoor pursuits: whitewater kayaking, dirt biking, and tearing down the mountain on her skis. But with her professional life bleeding into every aspect of her personal life, Ngam needed a release valve. As the 14-hour days at the hospital stacked up, and the toll of the pandemic weighed on her, she found herself being pulled outdoors for what she jokingly referred to as “jogging on purpose.”

Caitlyn Gnam said she was always able to leave her work at the hospital. That changed with the arrival of COVID-19.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

Running from something? Towards something? Ngam isn’t so sure, but whatever it was, she absolutely needed it.

“I used to be able to leave thinking about infectious disease and masking and hand washing at work,” she said. “And I would go home and go in public and nobody cares about that kind of thing. But now the whole planet is thinking about your work. So it’s harder to escape in that sense.”

Before COVID-19 took over her life, pandemic preparedness was a sidebar in Ngam’s role at Vail Health. It was the “oh, just in case” aspect of a job focused on keeping infections out of the hospital. Name any type of infection — staph, urinary tract, seasonal flu, SARS — and you can be sure that Ngam has, at some point, obsessed over it.

But in early 2020, that “oh just in case” scenario of a global pandemic quickly consumed every waking minute of her life. Protocols and rigorous training are essential to a job that requires constant vigilance, but Ngam said she could always compartmentalize her work. That changed when a mysterious, airborne virus that originated halfway around the world quickly found its way into every corner of humanity, including Eagle County.

The valley’s two largest health care providers, Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical, braced for the arrival of COVID-19 by stockpiling personal protective equipment before supply chains were overwhelmed and launching a system-wide high-level task force to solve logistical challenges as they arose. But when case numbers exploded locally in early March, there was no training to emotionally prepare for the reality of a novel virus that was highly contagious and deadly.

“We see all kinds of infectious disease where we need to take precautions all the time,” Ngam said. “But for something to spread that quickly, we knew that it was something different and that we would be kind of off and running from that point.”

They haven’t slowed down since.

Uncharted waters

Antarctica. That’s where Dr. Brooks Bock was in late January when he first heard about COVID-19. Earth’s least inhabited continent was arguably the safest place on the planet with a global pandemic on the march.

Bock, the CEO of Colorado Mountain Medical, was traveling with his wife on a National Geographic ship to see penguins up close. He first read about the virus that originated from Wuhan, China, in a daily newsletter that rounded up global headlines.

By the time he returned to the Vail Valley in February, he found himself on a voyage unlike any other he’d ever taken in a medical career spanning more than five decades. Over the course of 75 or so days, Bock and Chris Lindley, Vail Health’s chief population health officer, worked out of a command center at the hospital managing the organization-wide response to the pandemic.

What started as a smaller team of high-level managers quickly grew to include as many as 24 different staffers from an array of departments over the months of February, March and April as the first wave of the virus shut down the valley and the state.

The objectives? Keeping the local health care system from buckling under the strain of the virus and protecting health care workers and the community at large.

Vail Health Safety Manager Kimberly Flynn and Vail Health Population Health Director Chris Lindley are joined by Airman First Class Samuel Weber of the Colorado National Guard in receiving the first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Vail Health in early December.
Ben Gadberry/Vail Health

For each member of the team, especially the two men heading up the collaborative effort, the experience was challenging, exhilarating and emotionally draining.

“We got to be good friends,” Bock said. “I have a tremendous respect for him and I enjoyed working with him.”

The challenge of slowing the virus put all of Lindley’s education and experience to the test. A former unit commander and environmental science officer of preventive medicine in the 793rd Medical Detachment of the United States Army Medical Reserves, Lindley served in Iraq and received a Bronze Star for saving multiple lives during a suicide bomber attack. He holds master’s degrees in public health, epidemiology and business administration.

His first job after getting his master’s in epidemiology was working with bioterrorism preparedness for Denver Health Medical Center.

“It was the first in the country training for pandemic influenza or large scale biological warfare attack,” he said. “These things, I’ve been thinking about them my whole career.”

If Lindley had been prepping for a global pandemic for years, Bock represented the opposite end of the spectrum.

The challenge of slowing the virus put all of Lindley’s education and experience to the test. “I think that finger pointing this year has started to decrease and go away,” he said. “And our challenge is, how do we stay in this community collaborative effort going forward?
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

“I certainly never planned to live in a pandemic,” he said. “And hopefully there won’t be another during the rest of my lifetime.”

Working together on the same problems, with the same goals in mind, often times with different approaches, brought the two together — and the two organizations they represented. Colorado Mountain Medical’s merger with Vail Health in July 2019 had, on paper, already created a valley-wide health care network — but Lindley, Bock and Vail Health CEO Will Cook insist that it took a pandemic, of all things, to truly make the two providers inseparable.

“There were lots of moments of concern and doubt,” Bock said. “The amazing thing was that everyone was very supportive. Everyone was very collaborative. There was no one who was trying to run the show. It was a group effort to figure out what we needed to do.”

Each day brought new challenges, and with those challenges came spirited debates, brainstorming sessions and swift innovation.

How to ramp up testing and keep the virus out of the hospital and clinics? Create the state’s first drive-thru testing facility, in Gypsum, and install a testing trailer at the hospital in Vail — both of which were in place by March 7. Also, create a system of “clean clinic” safety protocols to ensure the safety of patients and staff as clinics eventually began seeing patients again for well visits.

How to reach the valley’s Spanish-speaking communities? Partner with the MIRA Bus to begin offering free testing.

Yazmin Almanza with Vail Health tests a patient for COVID-19 Friday at the Dotsero Mobile Home Park in Dotsero. The Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance (MIRA) bus through Vail health provides free COVID-19 screenings in select neighborhoods where transportation is an issue.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

How to solve the riddle of a lack of available tests and delayed results from outside labs? Work to develop an in-house test that could be turned around quickly.

How to counter the slow-rolling behavioral health crisis that was engulfing the valley as residents struggled with isolation, joblessness, food and financial insecurity, and the stress of kids learning remote? Provide telehealth training for all behavioral health providers, hire 40 new behavioral health specialists and roll out a community-wide scholarship fund to provide those in need who are struggling financially with free access to services.

“We learned a lot about what it means to be resilient, and I think even before COVID, we were already dealing with a lot of those problems,” Cook said.

He described the response to COVID among his staff like any response to a traumatic event: First there was denial, then a sense of sorrow and being overwhelmed.

“I think that actually the initial phases bonded us together and really helped us respond the way that we did,” he said. “What I’ve liked the most, is, you know, Chris and Dr. Bock and even Amanda Amanda Veit, our COO, and so many others, were spending countless hours in that command center. But they were collaborating, making decisions, moving quickly and avoiding that bureaucratic sort of hierarchy that can sometimes make people feel like I’m not going to even bother to make this decision because I’m going to have to go through three channels above me.”

Bock said he enjoyed becoming a bit of a local celebrity by filming a number of informational videos with Lindley and others early on in the pandemic that helped soothe some of the fears of the community.

“We would call each other the day before and say, ‘OK, let’s make a video on this. Or let’s make a video on that,’” he said. “It was the topic of the moment that we were trying to educate the community on, and they were effective, remarkably effective. I can’t tell you how many people I would see when I was out and about at the grocery store, or wherever I ventured to, not often, but whenever I ventured out for the needs that I had, people would comment on how much they appreciated that and the personal touch that it brought to their lives and the assurances that they received from them.”

Added Lindley: “You always kind of look at the big health care systems, the big hospitals with all they can do,” he said. “Many of them have great resources, very talented people, great financial capability. But I got to see firsthand what this health care system is for this community and what it can do. And without question, I’m 100 percent certain the Vail Health system has done more in this community than any health care system I’ve heard about or ever dreamed about.”

‘This test sucks’

Mark Joffrion parachuted into a crisis. He started his job as the director of Vail Health’s laboratory in March, smack in the middle of the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the valley.

A soft-spoken Southerner who came to the Colorado after stints in labs all across the country, working in Louisiana, Indiana, Texas, Alaska, Oregon, California, Florida and North Carolina, Joffrion described his first weeks and months in his new role as an “everyday scramble” to find solutions to problems that were largely out of his control.

How could the lab get more tests? How could it avoid the growing backlogs for results from state and private labs?

“There was just that need to get results out immediately,” Joffrion said. “We kind of had our hands tied with the testing available and the turnaround times that we were dealing with.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Joffrion and Vail Health officials targeted in-house testing as a solution to both of those problems. Developing a test that worked, however, and being able to turn it around quickly to deliver results in a 24-hour period was a challenge that pushed every tech working in the lab to the brink over the summer and into the fall. As Joffrion and his staff worked tirelessly to find a reliable test, not to mention a manufacturer that could supply it, they coped with the stress that came from repeated phone calls looking for results that too often weren’t available.

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine wait to be filled into syringes Wednesday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

The waiting was excruciating.

“It’s tough when we’re not the owners of that answer,” he said. “You know, we know when the results come back to us, but we had no control over when it came. And we were dealing with sometimes two, sometimes three different laboratories to get these results out or get them back to us.”

The lab received a test it could perform internally in April, but the supply was extremely limited, creating the need to horde the tests for the most symptomatic patients. Tests for asymptomatic patients were still being sent to an outside reference lab, with turnaround times taking as long as 10 days.

In May, the lab picked up another test it could perform internally, but again, the volume was extremely limited. Joffrion said he checked the FDA website every day to see which tests had been approved for emergency use and if his team could actually run them in the lab.

By October, he finally found a test that looked like it was doable, and would supply the large testing volume that his team needed to drastically reduce turnaround times.

Stress levels reached a peak, however, in the final weeks of October as techs worked their way through the delicate process of making sure the test actually worked. Joffrion said at one point, in a moment of frustration, one of his techs walked up to him in the lab and pronounced, “This test sucks.”

“But she came and we talked about it and I go back there and she’s just running them like a true professional,” he said, smiling. “She said what she wanted to say, but she got back there and she was running, you know, 60, 80, 100 of these tests at once and just doing an amazing job. That just speaks to the quality of individuals here in this laboratory. They were pushed to that limit, but they knew what we wanted, what our goal was.”

By November, with the test dialed, the lab was finally able to complete all testing in-house, and started receiving samples from collection sites in Summit County and Vail, as well as the Aspen area, becoming a regional testing center.

In November, the lab performed a total of 4,061 COVID tests, compared to just 835 in October and a little more than 200 in September. The lab has since performed more than 20,000 tests since November, often turning over a result in 10 hours or less.

“There were some days it was really doubtful if we could do it, but these are true professionals just stepping up to incredible levels to do what they did,” Joffrion said. “What’s happened in this laboratory is really amazing.”

Coming full circle

Julie Scales is uncomfortable with people making a big deal about her story. During the past 13 months, so many people have gotten sick, she said. So many have died.

Julie Scales, a respiratory therapist at Vail Health, spent seven days on a respirator in a Denver-area hospital after catching COVID-19 in March, 2020. She returned to work a few months later and was the first Eagle County resident to receive a shot of vaccine in early December.
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

There have been 22 Eagle County locals who have succumbed to the virus and more than half a million Americans. But talking to Scales’ coworkers at Vail Health, where she works as a lead respiratory therapist, her recovery from the virus is the narrative that often emerges when they talk about the turning points in the pandemic.

March 14, 2020, is the day when COVID-19 became jarringly personal to them. It’s the same day that the local ski resorts shut down and the hospital saw its highest number of patients admitted. One of those admitted was Scales, whose work often brought her into the emergency department.

“It came home pretty hard,” said Ken Stephen, the charge nurse in Vail Health’s emergency department who oversees the intake of patients.

Earlier that week, Scales had been convinced she had a sinus infection. She had a pounding headache but no respiratory symptoms. Working in a hospital, over the course of a winter, everyone deals with colds and gets run down, and Scales just pushed on with her work. But by Saturday, she was experiencing respiratory symptoms and was admitted to the hospital. A day later, March 15, with her condition worsening, she was transported to the Medical Center of Aurora.

Stephen said seeing Scales being prepped for that ambulance ride down to the Front Range was similar to watching a patient go into the operating room for the last time for organ donation. Scales’ coworkers were legitimately frightened that it would be the last time they’d ever see her.

“It was really, really hard. Of all my ER staff, all of us that worked in the ER the whole time, none of us got COVID that we know of,” he said. “She’s the only one that worked in the ER intermittently, and after she got it, it was like, ‘OK, people, let’s make sure we buddy up.’ We were very, very careful with each other. We protected each other, we had each other’s back and made sure nobody was put at risk if somebody was really sick. We do not rush into that room.”

“It was definitely very scary,” Scales said. “I’m a respiratory therapist. I’ve intubated people on ventilators my whole career, and knowing that that’s where I was headed, I was very scared when I was headed down to Denver.”

Scales spent 10 days in the Aurora hospital, seven of them on a ventilator. She doesn’t remember much. Her daughter, 34, was with her.

“I had my phone, but I didn’t have a charger, so my phone would die,” she said. “My friend told me that I just texted her, and I just said, ‘I’m just going to try and live, OK?’”

After coming off the ventilator, Scales pleaded with doctors to discharge her. She returned home with the help of supplemental oxygen. From the beginning, she was determined to return to work. It took her nearly two months to get back on the job, and it was slow going at first.

“It was very emotional, and still is at times to take care of COVID patients,” she said. “My first ventilator patient that I took care of when I came back was super-emotional. I held it together in the patient’s room. But I had to take the tube out and it was very dramatic.”

Equally dramatic: the scene of Scales being the first Eagle County resident to receive a shot of vaccine on Dec. 16, 2020. That’s when many of Scales’ coworkers said they could finally see the fog start to lift.

Since recovering, Scales has climbed a 14er and marked the one-year anniversary of when she was admitted as a patient by going skiing with some of her coworkers. Gnam was among those who were excited to get out on the hill with her.

Ken Stephen, the charge nurse in Vail Health’s emergency department. He said hospital workers “saw things that would terrify most people every day without batting an eyelid.”
Chris Dillmann/cdillmann@vaildaily.com

“I just made a comment to my daughter that I would like to ski down the hill instead of go down the hill in an ambulance on the 15th,” said Scales, who spent more than three decades working in hospitals in her home state of Indiana before moving to Colorado a few years ago to be closer to her daughter. “I feel really humbled by everything and I feel bad for the people that didn’t make it because when I was sick, we had a lot of people in the valley that were sick.”

Getting to the other side

How does this story end? Vail Health CEO Will Cook isn’t so sure.

Too often, the COVID-19 pandemic has been referred to as a race. A race to save lives. A race to develop effective vaccines. A race to get back to normal.

Cook said Eagle County, as a whole, has run that race better than most places around the country and the state. The collaboration between the valley’s health care providers, local governments and the community at large has been at the center of that.

The county never plunged into the Level Red restrictions that were a crushing blow to neighboring counties. Shools have managed to remain open for the current academic year while other districts around the state struggled to open and stay open.

The pandemic forced innovation, collaboration and created an opportunity for leaders to emerge, Cook said. But that success story doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the national tragedy of a pandemic that is still killing as many as 1,000 Americans a day, and has claimed more than 500,000 American lives, continues to overshadow the local narrative.

“I’m still waiting for the impact of this to my management team,” Cook said. “In some of the front-line staff, we’re worried now about what we refer to as hero syndrome, which is that you get so caught up in being on the front lines of dealing with this and being in there for vaccinations where people are emotionally elated and overwhelmed and excited and happy. How do you go back to being the H.R. assistant after that? It’s understandable, though. I don’t think we’ve even seen the end of the impact of this.”

Residents give thumbs up while waiting in line at a vaccine clinic at Vail Health. The county is rapidly approaching 30,000 total dose of vaccine being distributed.
Special to the Daily

Lindley, an eternal optimist, said the last year has flown by for him, and that in a time where charged national debates over the virus, masking, and reopening created deeper fractures in American society, he has been inspired by the community spirit that has carried the day here.

“I think that finger pointing this year has started to decrease and go away,” he said. “And our challenge is, how do we stay in this community collaborative effort going forward? Because we’re going to have other challenges right now. We have a lot of things we have to address. But if we can do it in this response mode I think we’re all in, it’s unbelievable.”

Stephen said hospital workers “saw things that would terrify most people every day without batting an eyelid.”

Making it to the other side of the pandemic, with the county rapidly approaching 30,000 total doses of vaccine distributed, is the light at the end of a tunnel in a trying year.

“They showed up for work and got it done,” Stephen said. “They’re team players, the best team in the land. You could have called in sick. You could have asked not to do it. But not a single one of them did that. We rose to the challenge. We were resilient and we stayed here for the community and took care of them.”

Kimbo for Aspen City Council

Vote for Kimbo Brown-Schirato for council. She’s the right choice at the right time for Aspen. She listens, works extremely well with others, and she’s effective.

If you don’t know her, you’ll enjoy meeting her. She’s approachable, genuine and passionate about improving Aspen. Her background having served on several boards and consistently giving back demonstrates her commitment to the community. Be sure to vote and vote Kimbo.

Peter Grenney


Evicting employees not the answer for Aspen Skiing Co.

Kudos to Michael Depamphilis for speaking up on behalf of the “imprisoned” lifties who are the lifeblood of our ski fields! (“Aspen Skico workers getting unfair shake,” Jan. 23, letters, The Aspen Times).

Being threatened with eviction, especially now that they’ve likely reached “herd immunity” in their community, is not only counter-productive but illogical. What they should be doing is isolating them when sick, facilitating testing, monitoring symptoms and ensuring they have medical supervision, supplies and open communication during all phases of exposure.

My son is a liftie who was sent “home” to isolate when exposed — sent home to the employee housing he shares with that infected kid! Four days later my son tested positive. He caught his virus inside the home; he is now told he could lose if he leaves! There was no assistance offered to these 19-year-old kids.

Luckily, I could get a test and a thermometer and deliver both with essential supplies as my son was doing as instructed: “Go home and do not leave.” Go home to your infected roommate to be sure you catch it too. And don’t leave that sanctuary or you’ll be evicted! Really?

The Commons is their household. They should be able to enjoy their communal home safely without fear of eviction. There’s enough fear of this raging pandemic. This is not the answer, Aspen Skiing Co. I agree with Michael: Shame on you if you evict any of them. Help them protect themselves in a productive, preventive and empowering way.

You owe these loyal, hardworking, active kids a duty of care, not eviction!

Manuela Rathey



Meridian Jewelers’ generosity inspires us to move forward

On behalf of Tatanka, I would like to sincerely thank Meridian Jewelers for the generosity extended to restaurants during this difficult time. We’re beyond grateful for their support of local businesses and the various acts of kindness that have reignited that special sense of community unique to Aspen.

We are one among many restaurants and small businesses trying to make it through this uncertain time, and the experience has been largely negative so far. But such acts of kindness turn this time of isolation and division into an opportunity for collaboration and camaraderie.

Now more than ever, we have no choice but to be innovative. I have adopted a personal motto: “Don’t panic; pivot.” Every day, I try to motivate myself and my team to remain calm and channel their energy toward creative outlets. I encourage those experiencing doubt and hopelessness to do the same.

We need to take steps forward, not backward. That’s why I’m saying hats off to Meridian Jewelers for introducing some positivity into the predictably unpredictable ecosystem that we all love, food and beverage.

We will get through this — and we will do it together.

Taylor Clayton

Director of operations, Tatanka Hospitality

States didn’t apply the law in November elections

In law school I was taught the law was to be enforced, not ignored. Decades later came the 2020 election. It’s undisputed that Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other swing states refused to apply their election laws.

The media, progressives and even courts said the law should be ignored, not enforced. Put aside demands for evidence of fraud. The November election was illegitimate because the law was ignored.

Maurice Emmer


This aggression will not stand

Bruno Kirchenwitz, where is the love? Most of Americans are either Republicans or Democrats, but first and foremost Americans. There are many good people on both sides trying to make our country better, but some like you who are just promoting hate and divisiveness should try to be more positive about our government .

As far as Rep. Lauren Boebert’s claim to fame, carrying a pistol is why she went to Washington, D.C. What good did that do for us? You had an earlier letter that looked like you had seen more peace and love. Get rid of the anger and think positive.

Tom Marshall


‘Welcome Strangers’ showing Sunday

Two Rivers Unitarian-Universalist Church, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork Valley’s Interfaith Council and Sanctuary Unidos, is showing a Zoom presentation of the documentary “Welcome Strangers” at 10 a.m. Sunday.

“Welcome Strangers ” is a compassionate look at the trials and tribulations faced by immigrants and asylum seekers released temporarily onto the streets from the Aurora Detention Center. They have no idea where they are, often don’t speak English, as they wander around in an unfriendly industrialized district.

There’s hope there’ll be some humane immigration reform with the new administration in Washington, but the wrath heaped upon those who’re only seeking a better life for themselves and their families by the previous federal government persists. “Welcome Strangers” describes how bad the situation is and suggests a path to reconciliation.

Sarah Jackson, founder of Casa de Paz, a Denver-based immigrant support group, searches the streets for these people and invites them into her home. Jackson will speak following the screening. The Zoom meeting ID is 828 7946 5444 and the pass code is chalice.

Fred Malo Jr.



Brown-Schirato for Aspen City Council

I am writing to enthusiastically endorse Kimbo Brown-Schirato for Aspen City Council in the forthcoming election. She is a working mother as a client service manager and planner with one of the most respected financial firms in Aspen and helps her husband run a small local business. I met Kimbo many years ago when she helped form the Next Generation Advisory Commission.

She is thoughtful, knows how to listen and is willing and able to make good decisions once all the relevant information has been presented. Those skills have been honed through her role as a member of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission, the Aspen Community Foundation board of directors and a host of other local organizations. She will bring meaningful experience on day one of being a City Council member, and I encourage you to learn more about her and support her candidacy.

John Sarpa


Making sense of it all

I was sitting down to write a scathing letter about Donald Trump, and how through his lies and deception he had led us to where we are. I wanted to castigate and attack those who had the audacity to believe him and attack our Capitol.

I, luckily, watched a documentary on Apollo 8. I was reminded of the bravery of Frank Broman, James Lovell and William Anders, and the inherit bravery that they represented. I was spell bound at William Anders’s photo, “Earth Rise,“ taken Dec. 24, 1968, as the Apollo 8 capsule rounded the moon during their epic journey, they, the first people of Earth to be under the influence of a heavenly body that was not Earth.

I had forgotten the power of the image. As I viewed it again, I was reminded and transfixed by both its beauty and symbolism. Our fragile beautiful blue planet, the planet that we call home, our Earth shown rising above a desolate and inhospitable lunar surface, and in the background, the vastness of space.

This, this is the way we must view our home, our place in the universe. We float together in the void of space; we have nowhere to go. We have to, and we must, work together to solve our differences. We are in this together, like it or not, we must, no, we have to rely on each other. What choice do we have? “Earth Rise” is an image that should be looked at every day; it should be our screen saver, it should be the image we carry in our minds, always, of where, and whom we are. I look at “Earth Rise “ and am reminded that I call Earth home and how fragile my home is and how important it is to save it.

Richard Hampleman