Routt County rolls back restrictions, leaving just mask mandate in place
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County will move to the lowest level of its custom COVID-19 dial, which leaves just the local mask mandate in place, removing many of the measures that have been in place in some form since last September.
The county has been below the threshold of 52 cases in 14 days for the seven days required to move to this low-risk level — a move that was approved by commissioners at Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting.
“Essentially moving to the low-risk level on our recovery, we would see our restrictions go away and just boil down to the mask order,” said Roberta Smith, Routt County’s public health director.
There were 30 new cases of the virus in the past two weeks, half the number of cases in the previous two-week span. The positivity rate also has declined locally in recent weeks. There has been a slight increase in hospitalizations — three in the past two weeks — but Nicole Harty, county epidemiologist, said that was not concerning at this time.
Positive cases likely declined last week because many people were out of town because of spring break, Smith said. Still, she said this decrease in cases is real, and if the county were to see an increase in cases, it likely wouldn’t be large enough to warrant a move to a more restrictive level.
Harty said most of the current cases are attributed to community spread, meaning no source of exposure could be identified. She said she expects to see a little increase because of loosening restrictions but not a drastic increase.
“These numbers we feel are real, and we don’t believe we would be back into a place of that caution risk, especially if we can continue to encourage vaccinations in our community and get more folks vaccinated,” Smith said.
More than half of Routt County residents are now fully vaccinated, and two-thirds of residents have started a vaccine series. To reach the county’s goal of 75% vaccinated among those eligible, about 1,900 people need to start the vaccine series.
If cases were to increase above 52 cases in a 14-day period for a sustained seven-day period, the county would then likely move back into the caution level it was in prior to Wednesday’s meeting.
Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s chief medical officer, noted the county’s latest death from COVID-19 was an individual who had not completed their vaccination and the person who infected them was not vaccinated.
Another recent serious case of the virus locally resulted in the patient being intubated and transferred to another hospital, Harrington said. This person had repeatedly refused opportunities to get vaccinated, he said.
“Even though your personal risk of serious illness from COVID-19 may be low, your decisions to vaccinate can impact the health of those around you,” Harrington said. “The risk is real. The benefits are real.”
The relaxation of restrictions includes mitigation plans that have been required of businesses since September. Businesses no longer need to have those plans in place, but businesses are allowed to keep some restrictions in place if they choose.
“Certainly businesses could be more strict in requiring certain things if they felt that they wanted to do that,” Smith said, pointing out both federal and state health officials have recommendations for businesses.
“It has been such a long road and this feels like a monumental step,” said Steamboat Springs Chamber CEO Kara Stoller.
The public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting included several members of the public attacking the Board of Health saying it was not basing its decisions on facts.
Some commenters accused local health officials and commissioners of not caring about health policy, saying that instead they solely care about power. Rachael Jacobson, a member of Save Routt County, accused Smith of taking pride in requiring children to wear masks.
Jim Hansen, also a member of Save Routt County, said he is disappointed local students won’t have a prom and blamed the board because their “meetings are full of fear.” All school districts in the county have plans for a prom or another similar event, and the Board of Health has no authority over school districts.
Hansen also accused the Board of Health of pursuing vaccine passports, even though the board has never discussed the topic or indicated an intention to require them, and the city of Steamboat Springs has said they will not require a vaccine passport for summer events.
Commenters also were outraged by comments Commissioner Tim Corrigan made in a Steamboat Pilot & Today article published Sunday where he is encouraged residents to get vaccinated, saying “If we get enough people vaccinated, we are going to lift all restrictions.”
“I can’t believe that,” said Routt County Republicans Chair Pete Wood. “We live in America, and we are being bullied into getting a vaccine in order to get our freedoms back.”
There is no requirement to get the vaccine. The only restriction locally is to wear a mask when indoors or when social distancing cannot be achieved outdoors.
Commissioner Beth Melton said she recognized people’s frustration that the pandemic isn’t over, but she said she felt it should be a time for celebration at the progress made.
“You face a lot of criticism for doing the work that you do and bringing the expertise that you do to the table, and it is very much appreciated what you all do,” Melton said, talking directly to public health officials during the meeting.
Yvonne Truelove, who said this year has been especially challenging for her because she works in a congregate care setting, thanked the board for their work between commenters criticizing them.
“I’ve seen what other counties look like in terms of the decisions that they made and in some cases that has resulted in real people dying,” Truelove said. “I believe that everything that you have done has saved lives.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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