Routt County restricts visitors, sets gathering limit amid coronavirus pandemic
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 3:34 p.m.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Two public health orders that set restrictions on group gatherings, lodging, out-of-town visitors and shopping are scheduled to take effect today in Routt County.
During a virtual meeting, the Routt County Board of Commissioners, acting as the Board of Health, issued the orders as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus that has killed thousands of people across the world.
The orders take effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, and will remain in place for at least 30 days. Under the orders, gatherings of more than five people will no longer be allowed, unless the people are part of the same household, according to the orders. When in groups, people must keep 6 feet of distance between each other.
Visitation also is restricted under the orders. Lodging companies, including hotels, motels, short-term rentals and campgrounds, will not be allowed to accept any new reservations. Reservations beginning on or after 8 a.m. Friday, March 27, will be canceled.
The rules essentially restrict people from visiting Routt County in the near future and seek to get visitors already here to leave as soon as is reasonably and safely possible. Exceptions include lodging that is necessary for emergency or quarantine purposes, for essential personnel or if leaving poses safety concerns.
People may continue to shop at businesses, such as grocery stores and hardware stores, but there may only be five customers per 1,000 square feet in the stores at one time, according to the orders. This translates into 200 square feet per person and creates a minimum 7-foot radius around each customer. Smaller businesses may only have five customers in the store at a time, according to Commissioner Beth Melton.
- Limit contact of people at least 6 feet from each other
- Limit contact to less than 10 minutes
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds as frequently as possible or using hand sanitizer
- Cover coughs or sneezes into the sleeve or elbows
- Regularly clean high-touch surfaces
- Do not shake hands, employ another greeting that does not touch
Source: Routt County Board of Health
She said these orders are meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to avoid a strain on local health care systems.
“At this time, we have to make sure we have sufficient care,” she said. “Our system cannot accommodate any more people than we already have.”
Melton said public health concerns have arisen because people are not taking social distancing measures seriously. People have continued to mingle in close quarters in places like post offices, gas stations and neighborhoods.
“I believe our residents intend to do what is right to protect public health and safety but need stronger direction to understand what that is,” Melton said.
Local law enforcement has the authority to punish those who violate the orders, according to Routt County Attorney Eric Knaus. In the event that punitive action is taken, violators likely would receive a court summons. A judge would then determine an appropriate punishment.
The maximum penalty for such a violation is up to 18 months in jail or up to a $5,000 fine, according to Undersheriff Doug Scherar with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. Such severe punishments are mostly to urge compliance, he said, and he expects many violations can be resolved with verbal warnings.
It is likely the public health orders will remain in effect past the 30-day period, the commissioners added.
Corrigan urged compliance with the orders as a way to keep the public safe during the global pandemic.
“These orders are only as good as people’s willingness to follow them,” he said.
As of Tuesday, seven people in the county had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Routt County Department of Public Health. A backlog in diagnostic tests has slowed the testing process, with results taking about a week to come back.
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