Easing restrictions: Officials unveil Routt County COVID-19 recovery strategy (with video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As questions arise about how to return to a state of normalcy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Routt County Board of Health unveiled a local transition plan to reopen the local economy during a meeting on Wednesday.
This comes after Gov. Jared Polis eased statewide, stay-at-home restrictions, phasing into a safer-at-home approach. That has allowed more businesses to resume operations while emphasizing the importance of practicing responsible behavior, such as social distancing and wearing a face mask, to avoid further spread of the virus.
Looking to the weeks and months ahead, Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan said an effective recovery plan must weigh both the desire to return to life as usual and the importance of protecting the health of the public.
“We are going to be challenged with the balance between reopening society, allowing visitors to come visit again and continuing to try to control the spread of the virus,” Corrigan said.
The county’s recovery plan, which currently is in draft form, includes a four-phase approach to easing restrictions. It begins with the previous stay-at-home phase, followed by the current safer-at-home phase.
The next step would be a “protect your neighbor” phase, which would allow additional businesses to open. Among the biggest changes under this phase would be the ability for restaurants to serve customers at their establishments under a mitigation plan. As of now, the county is awaiting guidance from state and national agencies to determine if bars could reopen in some capacity. The same goes for schools and youth camps, though child care centers could reopen with a mitigation plan.
Places of worship, pools, hot springs and fitness centers also could reopen under this phase as long as they have a mitigation plan in place.
Large events, such as concerts, weddings and rodeos, could be considered under this phase. Some major events scheduled for the coming months, such as the Steamboat Free Summer Concert series and the Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup, already have been canceled due to the pandemic, with more cancellations or postponements likely.
Local bans, which currently restrict lodging and nonresident visitors, would be lifted under the “protect yout neighbor” phase. These bans are scheduled to expire at the end of May, but they could be extended if officials deem it necessary.
The final step of the recovery plan, which is referred to “continue healthy habits,” would allow all activities and operations to resume as usual without the need for a mitigation plan. Health officials cautioned it is unclear how long it could take to reach this phase, and it would require the availability of a vaccine or an effective treatment for COVID-19.
Throughout the transition period, health officials reiterated the need for personal responsibility to avoid a resurgence in cases and a regression of the recovery plan. A caveat at the top of the Board of Health’s recovery plan states, “To be successful, your behaviors and commitment to effective social distancing are critical.”
- I will maintain 6 feet of social/physical distance.
- I will wash my hands often.
- I will cover my face in public.
- I will stay home if I am at risk or when I am sick.
- I will self-report and call in immediately if I am sick.
Source: Routt County Board of Health
A four-week evaluation period must pass before transitioning to the next phase, according to the recovery plan. Routt County Public Health Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington emphasized prudence in future decision-making.
“We are operating under a lot of uncertainty here,” Harrington said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We need to have some time to assess whether each step has had a negative or an acceptable effect.”
Officials have developed a list of criteria to evaluate each transition phase to help determine if it is safe to continue easing restrictions going forward. Those criteria take into account a wide range of considerations, such as the number of recent deaths attributed to the virus and local hospital capacity.
“This is really just a set of tools, and we will have to use those tools in a smart and analytical way to determine where we are at and what to do,” Commissioner Beth Melton said of the transition criteria.
A policy group consisting of a wide range of local representatives, from Steamboat Springs Chamber CEO Kara Stoller to Routt County Public Health Director Kari Ladrow, developed the recovery plan and transition criteria. Officials from Hayden, Oak Creek and Yampa also weighed in.
As Commissioner Corrigan pointed out, the county has the authority to change course at any point in the recovery process, and officials could re-institute restrictions if they feel it is necessary to protect the public.
The Board of Health is scheduled to finalize the recovery plan on Thursday. The Routt County Board of Commissioners also serves as the Board of Health.
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