County survey shows diversity of views on COVID-19, economy
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Gathering responses from 814 people and direct comments from 509, Routt County commissioners recently released the results of a community survey focused on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the county’s response.
Some commenters likened the commissioners to communists, citing the country’s founding documents and calling the requirement to wear a mask unconstitutional.
Numerous others thanked the commissioners for their leadership in challenging times.
A large number expressed support for masks and wanted to see the rule continue. Many others wanted the decision to be up to the individual.
Many respondents thought the county was opening too quickly, while a significant number of others said reopening must happen now — fearing the tourism-based economy won’t survive without visitors.
“I think it is critical to remember that everyone is experiencing significant disruption in their lives right now,” Commissioner Beth Melton said. “This survey was a good reminder that we represent people with a broad variety of perspectives — from those who want us to remove all safety and mitigation measures to those who want us to be more restrictive than we are now. We all have a different level of risk tolerance, and we all have access to lots of information (some credible and some not).”
Commissioner Doug Monger said the survey confirmed what he knew.
“This has very stressful to the whole community, collectively and individually and caused huge job and economic loss for individuals and the community,” Monger said. “It’s been very hard on local businesses.”
Out of the 814 respondents, 596 were from Steamboat Springs. The survey ran from May 20 to May 31.
“The survey confirmed a lot of what I knew,” Melton said. “People are experiencing a lot of disruption and uncertainty in their lives right now and are understandably frustrated and anxious. This made me want to understand more about what the pain points are for the residents of our community right now.”
Facemasks, as they have across the nation, proved a particular flash point.
“Face masks are proven not to work!!” one person argued. “Get rid of the masks, and let us live our lives.”
Another wrote, “I believe mask wearing is important for a sustainable recovery from COVID-19.”
- 78.9% of respondents indicated that they practice all Five Commitments of Containment — wear a face covering in public places and when social distancing cannot be achieved, keep 6 feet of social/physical distance; wash hands often; stay home if sick or at risk; get tested if symptoms arise.
- 75.1% of respondents are comfortable wearing face masks when going into a business
- 25% do not feel safe going into businesses with site protocol and 73.6% feel comfortable
- 36.2% lost employment or business during the pandemic
- 27.5% received a loan or unemployment, and for 68.2%, it was not applicable. There is probably a differentiation between employee, employer, self-employed and retired
- Almost 50% are unclear where their workplace location will be in the future
- Health care and mental health were the top two needs identified
A person who identified themselves as a grocery store manager said while they supported employees wearing masks, “I feel the tension in town over the mask requirements is growing at a rate that cannot be ignored. The mental health toll is rising and needs to be considered as much as the virus risk.”
Another respondent, who identified themselves as a health care provider, said, “Please stop treating your constituents like children. It is a personal decision to wear a mask . . . A cloth bandana wrapped around one’s head in no way mimics an N95 — let’s be honest. “
Commissioner Tim Corrigan noted the significance of the survey results showing that indicated over 75% of respondents are comfortable wearing face masks when going into a business. He also pointed to the 25% who said they don’t feel comfortable going into a business where face masks aren’t being used.
“I’m looking forward to a followup survey to help us understand that a little more,” Melton said. “I was glad to see that our community has a high level of commitment (nearly 80%) to taking personal responsibility for the actions needed to protect the health of our community as a whole. I really appreciate that people are taking the need to help protect public health seriously. I think that is great news, and it makes me optimistic about the path forward in controlling the virus.”
Corrigan said he was impressed with the response rate for the survey, but he also acknowledged that, with the majority of respondents from Steamboat, the opinions in other parts of the county are not as well represented.
Many people commended the job done thus far by the commissioners in their decision making under unprecedented circumstances, while others expressed outrage and urged voting them all out.
“I appreciate the tough decisions you have had to make and applaud your leadership,” one person wrote.
“I have been incredibly disappointed with how our leaders have handled this pandemic,” another person wrote. “Hardworking citizens are NOT morally corrupt, because they care about how they will support their families and their communities in the future. … Our commissioners jumped on the ‘fear-wagon’ without pausing to understand and analyze the situation from a number of ables and perspective.”
Another stated, “Excellent leadership, Commissioners — evident by low infection rates.”
Welcoming tourists back for the summer also drew strong opinions on both sides of the debate.
Many expressed real fear at what could happen if people from all over the state, country and world descended on the small community as would happen in a typical summer season — potentially leading to a spike in cases that could have even worse health and economic impacts than what has occurred thus far.
“Our county has done a good job of containing the virus,” one person wrote. “Bringing in vast numbers of people from other parts of the county, many of which have not done a good job of containing the virus will only reintroduce it to our community.”
Another stressed, “A tourist-based economy can’t continue with the current restrictions. Tourists are the bread and butter of this town. You may not work directly with tourists, but those dollars go into the city, the county, the schools. They pay the doctor, dentists, and the lawyers. Tourism is being cancelled, and this will vastly change Steamboat for a long time to come.”
Another person commented, “This is not a matter of personal freedom, it is about saving lives. The economy will recover, dead bodies will not. I hope you continue to keep Steamboat safe through limiting tourism and helping out the locals through aid programs.”
Many strongly advocated for a full, and fast, opening.
“Open the county now with no restrictions,” one commenter wrote. “This massive overreaction at all levels of government is unacceptable.”
“Please open up,” another person responded. “I recognize there are risks, but there’s always risks. I am willing to take the risks and live with the consequences, but I don’t want to live in fear anymore.”
The survey respondents also offered their best advice and ideas.
“Get the best available antibody tests, PLEASE,” someone pleaded.
“Have pedestrians-only streets and open air malls,” another suggested.
A significant number of commenters advocated for people to be allowed to make their own decisions based on individual risk.
“You should ask the people at risk, people over 65, and those with existing conditions to truly self distance,” one commenter wrote. “But everyone else should be very free to behave appropriately.”
Another said, “I don’t want support. I want to go back to work.”
Some people expressed skepticism at the science and data.
“There is tremendous controversy in the medical and scientific community about the percentages of COVID infected that require hospitalization,” wrote one person who identified themselves as a doctor. “At this point, the latest numbers are beginning to show COVID-19 is not as lethal as we believed. But the sickness from non-COVID causes that is not being treated — serious mental distress, domestic violence, families facing financial ruin — is just as serious as a virus in which 80% of people have very few if any symptoms . . . I wish people would take flu season a fraction as seriously. It’s time to let our economy recover.”
One commenter drew from their own experience contracting the virus and advocated for restricting tourism as long as necessary.
“It is a miserable virus, and with the aging population in the county, our small hospital system will not be able to handle it and it could jeopardize next winter’s ski season,” they stated.
Another wrote: “I lost my father to COVID-19 in a state that loosened restrictions and opened early. Let’s be smart.”
Second homeowners also weighed in.
“I am a second homeowner, and I would like to be welcomed to a property where I pay taxes to the county,” one person said.
“I don’t appreciate a letter from the county telling me, as a second homeowner, I can’t or shouldn’t use my residence,” another wrote, though noting they supported the short-term lodging ban through the month of May.
Another advised, “Encourage part-time residents to return if they follow all guidelines. We are part of the Routt County community.”
Economic despair was also evident throughout the comments.
One person described themselves as 65, high risk and running a home child care business, which has been shut down.
“My unemployment runs out fairly soon, and I don’t know what I’ll do to make ends meet,” they said.
Another said their business was down 70%.
“If this continues, we will go out of business,” they wrote.
“The unemployment numbers tell us that people are out of work,” Melton said. “But I would like to know more about specific supports that people need to get through this challenging time.”
In terms of restaurant guidelines, some commenters called out specific businesses and industries for not following laws and guidelines.
“Go raid the businesses that are letting people have drinks at the bar without distancing/masks and cite them or shut them down,” someone recommended. “Allow for employees to anonymously report employers not following safety measures.”
Another argued the government doesn’t have the right to mandate businesses shut down or operate at 50% capacity.
“I have not made a dime since things have been shut down,” they wrote. “The situation is totally unbalanced and is going to have catastrophic effects on small business and families if they are not helped by the government that has shut them down.”
Schools and child care were also a topic of concern.
“The county cannot go back to work with all the kids home,” one person wrote.
“Time to reopen Routt County, especially for our kids — they need to get back to the childhood and education they deserve,” another commented.
Another wrote: “As a single parent with school-age children, I can’t work unless I have care for them or they can go back to school in the fall. My children returning to school safely is of the most importance to me personally — not only so I can keep a job but also because distance learning is not working well for them, and I want them to continue getting their education in a classroom setting.”
As has been the case since all of this started, there are still more unknowns than knowns. The issues remain complex, with no easy answers. And the opinions on how it is being handled by elected officials remain diverse and divided.
And Routt County, like every community across the globe, continues to try to find a balance between personal freedom and economic survival and the health and lives of the larger community, especially the most vulnerable.
“I am very much looking forward to digging in a little deeper to identify whether there are opportunities to provide a stronger safety net for people who are experiencing loss of income, mental health or substance abuse issues, a lack of childcare or any other challenges that are hurting their quality of life,” Melton said.
“We will keep the survey results in our mind as we work forward knowing that every day is a new day under the COVID influence,” Monger added.
Corrigan said the survey will be one of the data points used going forward in decision making. And he said he is looking forward to a second survey in “helping us understand trend lines of what our constituents think.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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