Grand tightens COVID-19 rules
On Monday, Grand County Public Health closed restaurants to in-person dining, forbid indoor gatherings and imposed further limits short-term lodging in an effort to stem rising COVID-19 infections.
The changes in local restrictions are designed to reduce the spread before Christmas and New Year’s and come from a temporary amendment to the Grand County Public Health director’s standing order. The director announced her resignation Tuesday morning.
While Grand Public Health explained in a Friday night news release that the new restrictions “will reflect CDPHE’s dial framework for Level Red: Severe Risk,” Grand County Commissioner Rich Cimino clarified Saturday that the county isn’t actually moving into the Red category. Instead, the county is only installing some of the Red provisions while others will not be implemented.
The changes took effect Monday and will continue until Dec. 18, unless extended by the health department. The amended order contains provisions mandating:
• indoor events, including private gatherings, must cease unless operating under strict protective measures and approval through Grand County Public Health;
• short-term rental properties and lodging be limited to one household for private gatherings and stays;
• restaurants must move to takeout, curbside, delivery or to go options. Up to five people are allowed onsite to pick up food or place an order, given specific precautions are taken to maintain a six-foot distance. Indoor dining shall be closed and outdoor dining is limited one household per group. Bars will remain closed.
“It is important to acknowledge that many restaurant owners are willingly implementing these protective measures to help ensure less burdensome restrictions during the holiday season,” local officials noted as they announced the changes. “These protective measures are targeted at mitigating disease spread occurring indoors during prolonged gatherings with more than one household.”
Worship and life rites were not included in the gathering limitation. Also, Grand County Public Health is planning to start a new program acknowledging businesses that implement the county’s protective measures to the fullest extent once the temporary amendment order expires.
The county’s tightened restrictions are local officials’ best efforts to ward off state intervention, Cimino said. Seeing Grand’s case count at more than three times the threshold for Red (severe risk), he said the state told the county it had to do more.
“We don’t have the freedom to sort of say, ‘we’re going to stay yellow, we think we’re safe enough, the virus is just going to spread,’” Cimino said. “The state has the ability to shut us down, and so we’re trying very hard to demonstrate as much as we can do, yet still try to save our businesses.”
With Grand’s heightened measures, two of the restrictions mirror those found in the Red category, including shuttering restaurants to in-person dining and forbidding gatherings. Missing are more stringent 10% capacity limits on offices and gyms, as well as the 8 p.m. curfew, neither of which have been implemented in Grand.
Grand County also has limited guests staying at short-term rentals and lodging to only one household. The state’s COVID playbook doesn’t mention lodging in Red or Orange.
“The level Red is kind of like a frame work, but we’re not going along with exactly what a level red would be,” said Alexis Kimbrough, the county’s communications manager.
Lacking a better name for the newest level of restrictions in Grand County, Cimino has coined it, ‘Orange Enhanced.’
Orange, tangerine or peach, whatever color the county’s assigned — or assigns itself — Grand’s caseload fits in the Red (severe risk) after the state labeled anything above 350 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week period as severe risk.
On Tuesday, the county’s rate was 1,038 per 100,000 people. The county has been well above the threshold for Red for weeks now. Not adjusted for population, Grand has seen 161 new cases over the past two weeks.
Five people with COVID-19 were hospitalized in Grand County on Tuesday, and one person has died from the virus. Public health is investigating two other deaths tied to Grand County as possibly COVID-19 related.
To try to slow the spread, Dr. Darcy Selenke, the county’s medial director, said she went through the state’s framework sector by sector comparing Red and Orange restrictions, while considering where the county is seeing the highest risk of transmission. Ultimately, she determined the highest instances of viral spread were connected to different households sharing the same indoor spaces, especially without wearing masks.
“That’s why we looked at restaurants first, because you can’t eat with a mask on,” Selenke said of the newest restrictions.
Looking further into the data on transmission, she continued, the county saw higher rates of infection coming from personal gatherings, which is why Grand has moved to shut down large gatherings.
What’s the difference?
At face value, there might not seem to leave much left in Orange with restaurants and personal gatherings affected.
There is some relief for gyms, fitness centers and offices, which can remain at 25% capacity, whereas they would all be required to drop to 10% under Red. The county also didn’t reduce it’s 10 p.m. curfew to 8 p.m., which is another one of Red’s protocols, but given that restaurants and bars are closed to in-person patronage, the curfew is largely moot.
By remaining in Orange opposed to Red, the county also salvaged some outdoor gatherings, including allowing for groups of 10 or less to come together for an outdoor event. With that, Cimino said the new framework established in “Enhanced Orange” will allow for winter tourism to continue in a reduced capacity without going into strict Stay at Home orders.
Beyond Red, there is a Purple designation on the state’s COVID-19 dial, but it’s not based on case counts. Rather, Purple is warranted based on capacity at the local hospitals, or when the health care system starts to get critically overwhelmed.
Three days after opening for the season, Winter Park Resort experienced a few kinks working under pandemic guidelines with a crowded line for the Gondola Saturday morning.
Resort spokesperson Jen Miller said staff realized early on in the day there was an issue with guests not distancing in line for the gondola. Selenke said the county also was made aware of the large crowds at the resort on Saturday.
Within an hour, Selenke said, she was on the phone with resort COO and president Sky Foulkes, and Winter Park Resort was making adjustments, “so (the resort is) very much tied to reaching to public health every time they see things aren’t going right.”
To address the issue, Miller said the lines were reconfigured to help with efficiency and spacing.
“We made adjustments as it was happening,” Miller said.
By Sunday morning, the lines were much better with resort workers posted at the base asking skiers and snowboarders to put on their masks and pull up their buffs.
Feeling the pinch
For some local restaurant owners, seeing large crowds at Winter Park Resort while the county moves into tightened restrictions for restaurants and personal gatherings has been hard to stomach.
Sharky owner Ted Fisher wondered openly on Facebook why restrictions allow hundreds of people at the resort while nixing indoor dining across the county.
Jeff Williams, owner of the Winter Park Pub, said that restaurants have been struggling under pandemic restrictions, which has made it extremely difficult to retain staff and make payments. Seeing crowds at the resort puts those challenges in stark perspective.
“We can’t absorb much more,” Williams said. “It’s not fair to our employees and I worry we’re going to lose the working class in Winter Park.”
If restaurants or bars closed, the resort would be negatively impacted as well, Williams added, emphasizing the importance of being able to loosen restrictions by the Dec. 18 deadline the county set.
“We might see doors shuttered if we can’t (reopen indoor dining),” Williams said.
Responding to a question about perceptions the county is picking winners and losers, Selenke disputed that analysis, saying the county has only taken “a targeted approach” to try to limit activity where Grand is seeing highest rates of transmission.
Also, the resort is working closely with local officials.
“Here’s the thing,” Selenke said about Winter Park Resort continuing to operate. “The ski resort had to file a strict mitigation that was multi-pointed. I mean it was a very long, arduous process for them to be able to operate within the framework and public health had to bless it and CDPHE had to bless that, so they went through a much more robust vetting process (than other businesses).”
Selenke said the newest regulations were closely detailed to reduce the spread while allowing as much to remain operational and open as possible.
“We’re not necessarily seeing transmission from workforce to patrons or customers and we’re not seeing transmission within our recreation district facilities,” Selenke said. “There are a lot of businesses that have done a lot of mitigation work and are very successful, and we wanted to make sure that we allowed them to continue to be successful, continue these strict measures and continue to operate. If we saw a problem in these sectors that would be a different story.”
Local officials emphasized that in addition to working with the ski resorts, they’ve also been giving people a pathway with Grand County Public Health to see if there’s a way for local events to occur safely.
“That’s also why we didn’t want to go to the level Red because had we done that our hands would have been tied, and we wouldn’t have been able to have the flexibility to allow for these events to happen and do them in a safe way,” Kimbrough said. “It also allows us the flexibility to release these restrictions, so that when we move into the holiday season, we can guarantee that we’re able to be open.”
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