Targeted restrictions draw ire in Fraser Valley
Public health’s actions focus on two local businesses
Following a COVID-19 outbreak of more than 100 employees at Winter Park Resort, Grand County Public Health has closed indoor dining for restaurants and bars at the resort, as well as two small businesses in Fraser and Winter Park.
This is the first time Grand has implemented COVID restrictions confined to specific parts of the county and at individual businesses. Businesses not targeted in these restrictions can continue their operations in accordance with Level Orange restrictions.
The targeted approach to implementing new health guidelines has led to confusion and drawn anger from at least one of the two businesses, as well as local residents.
On Facebook, co-owner of Fisher’s Bar in Fraser Kaydee Fisher wrote that she feels like her business has become a “sacrificial lamb” to allow other businesses to stay open.
Speaking with Sky-Hi News, Fisher added that her business was fully in compliance and none of her employees had tested positive. Despite that, the bar closed to indoor dining for Valentine’s Day weekend and sales came crashing down, Fisher said.
Due to the loss of business, Fisher is considering legal action against the county. In the meantime, the bar’s marquee shares Fisher’s anger with public health’s decision.
In a letter to the community from Public Health Director Abbie Baker, she said Grand County was facing stricter coronavirus regulations and contact tracing singled out the businesses where intervention could prevent further spread.
The department also raised restrictions to prevent indoor gatherings in Fraser and Winter Park, unless otherwise approved by the county’s health department.
Despite growing criticism about communication from health officials, both from local business owners and from residents wanting more information, Grand County Public Health chose not release the names of the affected businesses.
“In an effort to maintain working relationships with those businesses, we opted not to call them out by name,” Baker wrote in the letter, adding that they are not a threat to community health, have willingly met the additional restrictions and were not asked to close.
The increased restrictions only forbid indoor dining, asking the restaurants to run off to-go orders. However, for Fisher’s Bar, that feels like a death knell for the operation, especially when surrounding restaurants are open for diners.
Echoing Fisher during Tuesday’s Grand County commissioners meeting, Fraser Trustee Parnell Quinn questioned the tracing methods used by the health department that led to the restrictions for the two local businesses.
“So your facts are based on hearsay of what people said of what bar they may or may have not gone to?” Parnell asked. “Not that they sit at home and all hang out together and share bongs and drink out of the same beer glass — that kind of stuff that wouldn’t have anything to do with it, right?
“It had to be in a public place, so you’re picking on two of the public places in Grand County based on hearsay.”
According to Baker’s letter, that’s not the case at all. Instead, she said that the county used contact tracing and transmission information to narrow down where spread was happening and target those places, as opposed to indiscriminately applying restrictions across the entire Fraser Valley.
Over the phone, Baker explained contact tracing of positive or presumable positive employees showed significant trends tied to the two businesses asked to take on more restrictions.
“It wasn’t just one person or a few people,” she said.
Since the start of the pandemic, eating out at restaurants has been considered a high-risk activity and studies show even the most cautious eateries contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
Baker added that Grand County’s low hospitalization rates and small population have helped it avoid broader restrictions, and that’s the ultimate goal here, in addition to reducing the county’s high rate of new infections.
“While unconventional, this approach seemed a better alternative than implementing Level Red restrictions across the entire county and/or enforcing Level Red restrictions on all restaurants in Fraser and Winter Park,” Baker wrote.
Despite the tighter restrictions, Winter Park Resort remains open.
Among resort employees, the spread was mostly within employee housing and at social gatherings, Baker said, adding that the health department’s actions reflect that.
All indoor events within Fraser and Winter Park, both public and private, are not allowed under these new restrictions, though worship is still allowed. Any other indoor events must be approved by Grand County Public Health.
Further measures have been put in place at the resort housing and isolation is available to employees who test positive. Winter Park Resort spokesperson Jen Miller said masks are required in common living areas and guests and gatherings are not allowed at employee housing.
The resort’s policy also allows employees who don’t follow resort policies or public health’s quarantine or isolation guidelines to be fired. Miller said compliance is priority for the resort and has terminated two employees for violations.
“They were putting everyone at risk and for the safety of our community, the resort and for our employees, we take it very seriously,” Miller said.
Some people have questioned why the resort gets to remain open while other businesses have faced tighter restrictions. However, Baker said that closing the resort wouldn’t necessarily address the spread of the virus, since employees would still be living together and interacting with one another.
So far, public health has not found case transmission at the base of the resort, such as while waiting in lift lines.
Outside of employee housing, Grand County Public Health Medical Director Darcy Selenke told the Washington Post in November that skiing is a low-risk and low transmission activity.
“People naturally socially distance when they ski,” Selenke told the Post. “It’s pretty hard to ski consistently within six feet of anybody.”
While Winter Park has the biggest outbreak among Colorado’s ski resorts, it isn’t the only one reporting an outbreak. According to the Denver Post, as of Feb. 3, there were 11 active outbreaks at seven ski areas, not including Winter Park.
For Summit County resorts, including Breckenridge and Keystone, employee and congregate housing was identified as a major factor in the spread.
None of the other resorts have been shut down and state data shows no guest transmission from any resort outbreaks.
Currently, Grand County has the second highest transmission in Colorado, with the majority of the cases being located in the Fraser Valley.
Grand County has confirmed 92 new cases of COVID-19 in the last week, which is above the threshold for Level Red restrictions. The positivity rate over the past week is 11.9% and two people are currently hospitalized.
If positive cases continue to go up, public health will be forced to implement more sweeping restrictions.
“It is important to remember that our residents’ and visitors’ response to the containment protocols affects us all,” Baker wrote. “Personal behaviors have a greater impact on our ability to open than business operations.”
Transmission rate trends will be reassessed starting next week. If there is a notable downward trend, the Level Red restrictions could be lifted.
Sky-Hi News reporter Amy Golden contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This letter to the community was submitted by Grand County Public Health Director Abbie Baker on Monday.
I feel the need to clarify the actions taken by the Grand County Public Health Department (GCPH).
Our county has had sustained increased case counts since mid-January. Until the end of January, the cases were spread across the county. However, in the last few weeks, there has been a substantial trend of cases coming from Fraser and Winter Park residents.
With the sustained high transmission rates for Grand County, we were in a situation where we needed to move into Level Red restrictions for at least part of the county by Saturday, February 13. Fortunately, thanks to our lower hospitalization rates and our population being less than 20,000 residents, we had the opportunity to be selective with how we moved to Level Red restrictions.
With 70% of the cases in the last 14 days coming from Winter Park and Fraser, my initial proposal to the State (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, CDPHE) was to focus Level Red restrictions in those towns with the highest transmission. Upon further analysis of case investigations, there were three specific locations in Fraser and Winter Park indicated as common sources of viral spread.
I proposed to the state that we use this data to focus our increased restrictions on only those locations where transmission is occurring, and they agreed to let us use this approach. Two of the three businesses are small, locally owned businesses. In an effort to maintain working relationships with those businesses, we opted not to call them out by name. They are not a threat to community health at this point in time. Those businesses have met the additional restrictions willingly and have not been asked to close. Local support resources have been applied to help these businesses survive the reduction in business. Thank you to the Town of Fraser, the Town of Winter Park, Winter Park/Fraser Police Department, Winter Park Resort, Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, and Dr. Darcy Selenke for contributing to these conversations and working with the public health department and local businesses.
While unconventional, this approach seemed a better alternative than implementing Level Red restrictions across the entire county and/or enforcing Level Red restrictions on all restaurants in Fraser and Winter Park. If this approach does not result in lower transmission rates for Grand County, there will be expansion of higher restrictions. Yet, if our case rates decline more rapidly than expected, there is also an opportunity to lift restrictions more quickly.
Public Health has been working with Winter Park Resort since before they opened in December to try to mitigate disease spread. Until recently, their efforts had the desired effect. They provide alternate isolation locations for positive cases, testing for employees, and have a robust contact tracing program. They are willing to terminate employees that are not cooperating with isolation or quarantine orders and have followed through. They have also implemented stricter policies in their employee housing with the same consequence of termination for non-compliance. Despite the Resort Management’s best efforts to contain the spread among employees, GCPH, in consultation with the State and Winter Park Resort, decided to declare an outbreak at the Resort not only to inform the community of the situation but also to provide increased support from the State on testing options, analysis of protocols, and containment efforts.
It is important to remember that our residents’ and visitors’ response to the containment protocols affects us all. Personal behaviors have a greater impact on our ability to open than business operations. I know our community can continue to pull together to get us through to recovery. I know we can do better – follow masking and distancing guidance, limit your exposures, get tested and stay home when you are sick, and when you are able to, get the vaccine.
I want to see us go from 2nd highest transmission in the State to one of the lowest as soon as possible. That depends on how we pull together and respond now. We can do this!
Your new Grand County Public Health Director,
Abbie Baker-MPH, CHES
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