As COVID-19 cases spike, Save Our Season seeks more funding but plans will allow Steamboat Resort to stay open
Future of local grassroots group Save Our Season in limbo
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As Routt County’s COVID-19 numbers continue to skyrocket, the grassroots group Save Our Season, which was formed months ago to encourage local businesses and residents to take COVID-19 precautions more seriously, has asked for $30,000 from Steamboat Springs City Council.
While the group is comprised of volunteers, Sarah Bradford, owner of Steamboat Lodging Co. and co-founder of SOS, told council the organization needs the funding to pay for Facebook ads and create more graphics, the group’s primary mode of messaging.
“We can’t afford to not do more than what we’re already doing,” SOS co-founder Robin Craigen said in an interview Tuesday. “Without help from the city, millions of dollars of revenue is at stake.”
City Council members agreed with Save Our Season’s mission but felt they could not afford to contribute without additional funding from the federal government, as council has already planned a conservative budget amid drops in sales tax due to COVID-19.
“The winter sales tax revenue picture is still a big question mark,” said City Manager Gary Suiter.
Other council members questioned the effectiveness of messaging campaigns, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in spite of the increased effort to promote safety protocols.
“The numbers are going in the wrong direction,” said council member Sonja Macys. “There’s been a lot of messaging for a very long time, and people have decided whether or not they’re going to change their behavior.”
Macys added she loved the grassroots campaign idea but believed if the city had $30,000, she would rather see it spent on vaccine distribution.
In response to Macys’ concerns, Bradford said the county’s lower case numbers in November, right after the campaign launched, proved the efficacy of the campaign’s work, as they had more funding then and were able to spend more on the campaign, including Facebook advertising and delivering stickers to local businesses to remind patrons to follow social distancing guidelines.
“The case data that we saw shows a sustained decline two weeks after we launched the campaign,” Bradford said.
Craigen acknowledged that “correlation is not causation,” but he also believed initial excitement about the campaign contributed to the county’s lower cases weeks after the launch of SOS.
“Everyone in this community got behind this in December, but that funding came to the end at the end of December, so we had to dial back the campaign,” Craigen said.
He said the city should act now, and there isn’t time to wait on the federal government.
Save Our Season has also warned residents that increasing cases could “force the state of Colorado to close ski mountains,” but Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. Director of Communications Loryn Duke said the resort has plans in place should the state increase restrictions, but it would remain open for skiing and riding no matter what, even if its restaurant and shops had to close.
“We definitely don’t want unnecessary rumors about the resort status to impact how we can continue operating,” Duke said. “Our plans allow for the resort to stay open even when the majority of our businesses would need to close.”
Other council members believed spending money on SOS was a worthwhile cause but felt other entities, such as Routt County and Ski Corp., should also contribute.
“We want to see investment from all community partners,” said council member Lisel Petis.
“It’s not just save our season,” council member Kathi Meyer added. “It’s save our year and save our local economy.”
Petis said she believed stickers and Facebook advertising may not be going far enough, and she told Bradford she’d like to see more direct messaging to businesses and their employees, reminding them to continue following social distancing guidelines in their personal lives, as county contact tracers have determined most COVID-19 spread comes from inter-household gatherings.
“We need to make sure that this is actually doing something,” Petis said. “I think it was a genius idea, but I do have concerns if they went far enough.”
Scott Cowman, Routt County environmental health director, said enforcement of COVID-19 health protocols, like mask wearing, social distancing and business capacity restrictions, is particularly difficult, as the county has a team of just six “COVID ambassadors” tasked with investigating complaints of facilities reported to not be following guidelines. And he said penalizing a business or group for violating rules requires “significant evidence.”
“The hard part is that we have an ambassador team of six people, and we have hundreds of business establishments,” Cowman said. “It’s a monumental effort. We can’t post someone at every door every day.”
Cowman said if the county receives a complaint about a business or party not following restrictions through its online reporting system, county officials investigate the situation and send an official letter alerting the business or household of complaints.
“The difficult thing is there has to be direct observation,” Cowman said. “We can’t just rely on a bunch of second-hand reports.”
If the county continues to receive reports of violations involving particular businesses, Cowman said the county could work with the District Attorney’s Office or Colorado Department of Revenue to revoke a business’s license or bring criminal charges, though that has not happened.
“It’s a very time-consuming process, so given the amount of people and resources that we have, we still have to rely on people to understand what the orders are and to comply on their own,” Cowman said.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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