City, county officials meet on COVID-19 response efforts
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At 8 a.m. Monday, March 16, a declaration of local disaster emergency for the city of Steamboat Springs was executed by City Manager Gary Suiter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have been monitoring the evolution of COVID-19 and are taking precautionary measures to help protect our city,” Jason Lacy, president of Steamboat Springs City Council, said in a news release. “The health and safety of our citizens, employees and families is our top priority. Our overall goal is flattening the curve, slowing the spread of the virus, by acting now with the best interest of our citizens, employees and businesses in mind.”
Looking ahead, council member Kathi Meyer said innovation, creativity and flexibility will be key in figuring out how to continue city business and services and support the community as a whole, in unprecedented circumstances.
In the first public meetings hosted by local elected officials to directly address the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, City Council met first at 1:30 p.m. in a regularly scheduled meeting with the Routt County Board of Commissioners.
The other topics that had been placed on the agenda for the joint meeting — transportation, human services building, bear resistant trash can ordinance, land management software implementation and climate action plan — were pushed aside to focus on response to the coronavirus.
At 3:30 p.m., City Council held an emergency meeting to pass a resolution allowing council members to change policy, so that they can hold meetings — and make decisions at those meetings — remotely, in “case of a health pandemic or emergency affecting the city.”
While the public will be able to view the meetings online and submit public comments, City Attorney Dan Foote noted this initial resolution is focused on immediately allowing council members to participate remotely. More details related to public participation can still be addressed, Foote said.
Council also extended the city’s emergency declaration until April 7.
Since Monday, officials across the county representing 15 different functions related to emergency response have been participating in twice-daily phone calls.
Routt County issued an emergency declaration on Friday, March 13. On Monday, the commissioners extended their emergency declaration for another 30 days.
The emergency declarations are largely an administrative move to open access to state and federal resources, as well to begin outlining official emergency response protocols.
The county is moving its Emergency Operations Center from the virtual space of the twice-daily calls to a physical space in the annex building, where key officials will meet in person or over the phone at 1 p.m. daily.
They are doing things like identifying potential locations for isolation shelters, if needed, and ensuring the city and county have sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, said Routt County Emergency Operations Director David “Mo” DeMorat.
Also a top priority and recommendation, DeMorat said, is the establishment of a policy group, which will include two council members, Lacy and Meyer, and one commissioner, Doug Monger, as well a handful of others representing business, public health, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., schools and other key private and public sector leaders from across the county.
Those leaders will help identify priorities and guide the decision-making process so the emergency response teams can put those objectives into action.
“Effective immediately, public access to the Routt County Courthouse Annex building will not be permitted in order to protect the health and safety of those in our emergency operations center,” according to a news release from Routt County. “Offices in the annex include planning, building, environmental health, public works and (Colorado State Univerisrty) Extension.”
Effective as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 17, “public access to the Routt County Courthouse and the Department of Human Services will not be permitted. The Department of Human Services lobby will remain open to meet the critical needs of clients. Members of the public are asked not to come into the courthouse during the day on March 17 for items that can be completed online or are not critical.”
City of Steamboat Springs
Starting Tuesday, March 17, the city will temporarily close access to city campuses to help prevent transmission. Nonessential city employees will use flexible scheduling internally, work remotely and stay or be sent home if sick. Understand that some services may see reductions or interruptions during the coming weeks. However, city staff can be contacted via telephone and email directly.
“Public messaging is a top priority,” DeMorat said, reporting the county has requested an additional person from the state to assist with the joint information system.
For the city, Suiter made it clear all public services will continue, though residents may see a reduction in some things, like the frequency of buses.
“Know that all of us at the city are committed to keeping transit running, public safety responding, water and wastewater flowing and our streets and general aviation airport open,” Suiter said. “But we want to do it in the safest manner possible.”
At both meetings, officials addressed the hoarding of supplies by some people, and they wanted to assure the public that supply lines are open, and stores will be regularly restocked.
While there were a lot of logistics covered, much of the discussion centered on the economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, which have barely yet begun. Both city and county officials discussed ways to support the restaurant industry and its workers, as news came out during the emergency council meeting that Colorado Gov. Jared Polis put statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants.
They discussed providing some relief for people who may experience a gap in pay before they can access unemployment funding and providing bridge loans to businesses.
“We will do what we can to help people out, but keep the city fiscally solvent,” Suiter said.
Council directed city staff to come up with more specific plans to assist residents and businesses. And Suiter made a point to address the “social responsibility” facing the community.
“Steamboat Springs will continue to take care of each other,” he said. “Together, we will get through this.”
He also urged people to take care of their mental health. Go for a walk, meditate, he said. Utilize the public resources like Emerald Mountain and Howelsen Hill Ski Area.
“Whatever your thing is — give your brain a break,” Suiter said, adding that people can still get outside and stay active while maintaining social distance.
Suiter encouraged anyone wanting to volunteer to call 970-306-6479 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. He also directed residents to the city, county, state health department and Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 websites for more information.
Parks and Recreation and Historical Preservation Committee meetings have been suspended. Some planning and building permitting work will continue.
The council will meet again Tuesday, March 17, for its regularly scheduled meeting.
Before immediately heading to the hospital, people who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 have several resources, including:
- The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing a phone line to answer questions from the public about COVID-19. Call CO-Help at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911 or email email@example.com for answers in English and Spanish, Mandarin and more.
- UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center offers Ask-A-Nurse, a 24/7 call line staffed by registered nurses who can assess symptoms and provide advice on seeking care. In Routt County, Ask-A-Nurse can be reached by calling 970-871-7878.
- Virtual Visits can be done from the comfort of your home and only require a computer or tablet with a working webcam, speakers and microphone, or a smartphone.
- If patients are experiencing severe symptoms or having difficulty breathing, they should visit the hospital’s emergency department.
Take precautions in everyday life:
- Frequently and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you’re sick and keep your children home if they are sick.
- Clean surfaces in your home and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.
- Be calm but be prepared.
- Employees at businesses and customers are required to wear a mask, according to a statewide public health order.
- Limit distance between non-household members to 6 feet when indoors and outdoors.
- The maximum group size for indoor activities is 10.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Twenty months after the South Routt School District announced it would close because of a burgeoning coronavirus, COVID-19 is more prevalent in South Routt than ever before.