Gyms, fitness center could open at 25% if state approves county’s orange plus mitigation plan
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Gyms and fitness centers could be allowed to open at 25% capacity, and restaurants can continue to operate at 25% with a 10 p.m. last call, but all other level red restrictions would stay in place if Routt County’s new mitigation plan is approved by state health officials.
When the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment moved Routt County into level orange-plus last week, opening restaurants at 25% capacity, they instructed local health officials to resubmit a mitigation plan by the end of the day Tuesday.
“I think that we have got what is a very, very strong request to CDPHE in terms of our mitigation plan,” said Mark Collins, interim county manager.
While there is no official definition of what level orange-plus means, it allows counties to enforce some restrictions in level orange while keeping other restrictions at level red.
A draft version of the plan includes the changes the county wants to make to restrictions as well as the strategies it plans to utilize to slow the spread of the virus locally. Since Routt County was moved into level red before Thanksgiving, cases have seen a decline but not enough to move levels on the dial.
The most recent two weeks have seen 164 new cases in the county, getting closer to the lower limit of level red at 89 cases.
In addition to loosening restrictions at restaurants and fitness centers, the plan also allows capacity at outdoor pools to be 50% and indoor pools to have a capacity of 25%.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he was supportive of “pushing the envelope” to get gyms open in addition to restaurants, and other commissioners agreed.
“Our goal here is to allow some increased business activity, to have a lifeline, a very small lifeline honestly to some of these businesses,” Commissioner Beth Melton said. “Really, the goal of the mitigation plan is to identify ways we can offset that. We are still operating with high disease prevalence in our community, and we’re really talking about trade-offs here.”
The plan makes the case that various efforts the county has already taken, in addition to increased focus on mitigation, make it safe for some of the restrictions to loosen. For the lower restrictions to go into effect, CDPHE needs to approve the county’s plan. It is unclear how long state officials will take to approve the plan after it was submitted Tuesday.
County public health leaders point to the addition of three COVID-19 ambassadors to educate businesses, conduct inspections and respond when people reach out looking for clarification on the restrictions as one of the steps they have taken to limit the spread of the virus.
They also point to reduced wait times for test results after the county started using Curative tests, a self administered test that is sent to a private lab. Wait times have been between 48 and 72 hours, significantly shorter than for tests sent to the state’s lab.
Though there will be more people in town to ski, the mitigation plan notes that both Howelsen Hill Ski Area and Steamboat Resort have stringent protocols in place requiring skiers to wear masks and social distance. It also points to local efforts like Save Our Season, which were organically created by community members and business owners to slow the spread of the virus.
The start of vaccine distribution and immunization locally, including the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and the Moderna vaccine being received by the county Tuesday, is one of the new efforts cited in the mitigation plan. The county also has an ultra-cold fridge to store the Pfizer vaccine, allowing them flexibility about which vaccine can be used in Routt County.
The 5-Star program also is part of the mitigation program with plans to certify businesses even though the county is not eligible for any expanded capacity in level orange-plus. Melton said this will allow all businesses that get certified to enjoy the benefits of the program as soon as cases reach levels where they can be realized.
“It would address all businesses including restaurants, gyms, rec facilities and what not,” said County Attorney Erick Knaus. “That might cure the problem if we can get to those lower case counts, and, of course, we’re asking our citizens to help us out with that.”
The mitigation plan also outlines how the county plans to step up enforcement of local public health orders. Commissioners will discuss a revised order Wednesday after hearing from law enforcement officials that the language in the current order could be stronger to ensure more compliance. The changes are meant to make it easier for law enforcement to cite someone for violating a public health order.
County health officials have been seeing more cases in the 20- to 39-year-old demographic based on contact tracing. They also have seen many cases that can be attributed to household spread or from personal gatherings.
The county says they will continue to work with the district attorney to ensure that restrictions against personal gatherings are followed. Commissioners also said they wanted to put a focus on messaging around personal and social gatherings, even if they take place in restaurants.
Melton pointed out data shows Colorado “bucked the trend” of increasing cases after Thanksgiving, and people need to heed advice once again to prevent a spike in the next few weeks following the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
“This lead is ours to lose, and I think that is true in Routt County,” Melton said. “The prevention of a Christmas and/or New Year’s spike is the most important thing that we can do in terms of allowing ourselves the space to get that vaccine distribution ramped up.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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The pandemic is wearing on a lot of people, especially frontline health care workers like Whittany Keating, a registered nurse at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.