Routt County residents could see a full return to normal June 2
• All individuals over the age of 2 shall wear a mask (over their nose and mouth) when in public indoor spaces
• Individuals shall maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other individuals who are non-household members
• Indoor and outdoor events open to the public that are expecting 500 or more people must have a COVID-19 Mitigation Protocol and must be approved by Routt County Public Health
• Businesses shall arrange their indoor space or seating areas to accommodate 6 foot distancing. If outdoor spaces are available at the business, 3 foot distancing is required outdoors. Individuals who are not members of the same household may be seated at the same table within 6 feet of each other, however, there shall be no more than 10 individuals per table.
• Bars without food service are prohibited from operating within indoor settings
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After more than a year of masks, social distancing and shifting every aspect of life, the Routt County Board of Health on Friday expressed optimism and voted on a revised public health order that could return the county to complete normalcy — meaning a life without masks, social distancing and public health orders — by June 2.
The decision came after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday that Colorado would no longer use its color dial system and counties would have control over how to measure their COVID-19 cases and adjust restrictions accordingly, though all counties are still required to follow the statewide mask mandate.
Under the guidance of public health officials and Routt County Attorney Eric Knaus, the Board of Health voted Friday to adopt a revised, less restrictive public health order placing Routt County in the caution phase, meaning restaurants and bars that serve food will have no capacity restrictions and residents from different households may gather together, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends those who have not fully been vaccinated wear masks while inside with others. Bars without food are still prohibited from operating indoors, though Knaus said he is fairly certain every bar in Routt County serves food.
While businesses will no longer have to follow capacity restrictions, social distancing will still be required, and board members agreed that will inherently mean businesses will not yet be able to operate at the level they did prior to the pandemic.
“We’re hopeful that providing some of this relaxation and taking away some of these restrictions won’t devastate our community,” Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said. “We do have the ability to go back if we need to.”
All restrictions will be lifted June 2 if 75% of the Routt County population is vaccinated by that time.
On the county’s new system, called the Road to Recovery Public Health Order, the caution phase is between the low-risk and high-risk phases. Maintaining the phase requires 26 to 128 new COVID-19 cases within seven days or 52 to 256 new cases within 14 days, excluding cases arising in congregate facilities. The metric also requires 5% to 10% test positivity rate and hospitals to have ample bed space. While the first two metrics are easily measured by black-and-white data, Smith and Routt County epidemiologist Nicole Harty said they rely on UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center to judge the county’s hospital capacity, as it fluctuates and depends on staffing and ventilator availability.
While public health experts said normalcy is on the horizon, they emphasized COVID-19 is still spreading and it is too early to take off masks and loosen social distancing efforts.
“I want to remind everyone that this pandemic is not over,” Smith said. “We are still seeing cases locally, statewide and nationally.”
Smith told the board the only way for the pandemic to end is to have as much of the population vaccinated as possible, which Routt County grows closer to every day. Currently, 43% of county residents are fully vaccinated, with 63% having received their first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Still, Smith emphasized, cases across Colorado and Routt County have increased over the past several weeks, with Routt County seeing 30 new cases in the past week.
“We’re hopefully in the home stretch,” Smith said. “This timeline does help us encourage all of those that want to be vaccinated to be fully vaccinated by the time we remove all public health orders.”
The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed they were cautiously optimistic about the next several months as the county works toward its vaccination goal.
“We are all very anxious to move beyond the restrictions that have been with us in the past year, and this framework helps us get there,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan read on behalf of Commissioner Beth Melton, who was absent. “By continuing a few critical restrictions for just a bit longer, we can ensure that every Routt County resident who wants a vaccine has the opportunity to get one while helping to curtail the spread of variants that threaten to drag the pandemic out.”
Other commissioners felt the simplified public health order and easing of restrictions from the state was a sign that the pandemic is nearing an end.
“I really appreciate the simplicity of this public health order, to understand the metrics and the restrictions,” Corrigan said. “It’s great to see the sun coming up over the horizon.”
Before voting to approve the order, commissioners received mixed reactions from community members. Many said they felt the county should be moving quicker to completely end restrictions.
“I think we’re past the point to where we should just get this county opened up, and it feels like there’s hesitancy to open up Routt County,” said Jim Hansen, a Routt County resident and founder of Save Routt County, the local advocacy group pushing for less COVID-19 restrictions.
“I would urge the commissioners to respect the wishes and liberties of our residents, and let’s get this county opened up,” Hansen later added in an interview with the Steamboat Pilot & Today. “It seems like we keep pushing the opening day back further and further out.”
Rachel Jacobsen, another Save Routt County member, said she was concerned about the growing mental health issue that has stemmed from more than a year of isolation.
“We’re seeing lots of mental health issues, drug abuse, family abuse,” Jacobsen said. “There are a lot more kids that were perfectly happy before this that are now dealing with anxiety and depression from loneliness.”
Other residents told the board they felt the county has moved at an appropriately caution phase and that the metrics should continue to be reviewed often.
“This is a very ambitious reopening, and I appreciate the focus based on the science,” Catherine Carson, a county resident said. “It’s critical that we don’t slide back.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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