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Health care workers reflect on one-year anniversary of Eagle County’s first COVID-19 case

Vail Health nurse Diane Schmidt, left, gives a mock COVID-19 vaccine to Caitlyn Ngam, right, an infection preventionist at the hospital on December 8, 2020 in Vail, Colorado.
Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

Eagle’s County’s first confirmed COVID-19 case arrived exactly 12 months ago on March 6, just one day after Colorado’s first case was discovered in neighboring Summit County.

But it’s clear that the virus was here and spreading much earlier than that, based on extensive interviews with health care workers and officials from Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical.

“We had COVID in this community in February. We had COVID all over the United States in February. We just didn’t have the ability to identify it,” said Chris Lindley, the chief population health officer for Vail Health who has spearheaded the hospital’s COVID-19 response since the start. “The testing was not in place until March to identify a case at all in the country, let alone in this valley. And so once we started looking for COVID in early March, we found it right away.”

The state’s first confirmed case was a California man in his 30s who’d recently been to Italy and had come to Summit County to ski. He skied in Vail in the days before entering a medical facility on the other side of the pass and tested positive for the virus that would quickly alter every facet of life in the state over the next year.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that Eagle County quickly become one of the hottest spots in the state, and a global transmission zone, considering the visitors it attracts from all over the world.

Eagle County’s first confirmed case was an Australian woman in her 50s who wrote about her experience after returning home. Jill Hunsaker Ryan, the former Eagle County commissioner who is now the state’s top public health official as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has said that the virus was likely circulating here as early as January.

Just four days after Eagle County confirmed its first case, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency. On March 12, county public health officials said it was clear that community transmission was taking place — meaning people were contracting the virus that hadn’t traveled abroad and were unaware of how they might have gotten it. A day later, local schools shut down to slow the spread, a move that became permanent for the rest of the spring semester.

The following day, Saturday, March 14, Vail Resorts made the decision to temporarily shutter all 34 of its North American resorts and Polis ordered Colorado’s ski resorts closed for a week.

The closures, which sent the valley’s tourism-based economy into free fall during one of the busiest months of the year, became permanent as it became obvious that the virus was here to stay.

Planning and adjusting on the fly

Vail Health had prepared better than most hospitals around the country by stockpiling personal protective equipment in January before global supplies were depleted. It also launched a system-wide task force to tackle the logistical challenges of a pandemic. But the speed at which the virus spread, and roadblocks that quickly arose — from a severe shortage of tests, and state and private labs quickly getting overwhelmed — forced the local health care system to innovate on the fly and find local solutions to national and statewide problems.

In hindsight, health care workers said there was plenty that could have been done different in the weeks and months that followed, although so little was known about the virus when it first showed up. The world was a different place.

Vail Health Safety Manager Kimberly Flynn and Vail Health Population Health Officer Chris Lindley are joined by Airman First Class Samuel Weber of the Colorado National Guard in receiving the first shipment of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Vail Health in December.
Ben Gadberry/Vail Health.

“We probably should have started masking in February, just knowing that travel across the world from this place in China that had a big outbreak of a highly infectious disease is going to spread throughout the world,” Lindley said. “That’s our new reality with international travel is anything that takes place anywhere else in the world is within 48 hours a direct threat to us.”

Caitlyn Ngam, an infection preventionist with Vail Health, said pandemic preparedness is something that’s in her job description, but it has always been a sidebar to her day-to-day work. She described a global pandemic as her own “Super Bowl” — though talking about and preparing for such a thing with hypotheticals is a lot different than actually facing one in real-time.

“We see all kinds of infectious disease where we need to take precautions all the time,” she said. “But for something to spread that quickly, we knew that it was something different and that we would be kind of off and running from that point.”

Ken Stephen, the charge nurse in Vail Health’s emergency department who oversees the intake of patients, said the excitement of trying to identify the first patients in the county with COVID-19 symptoms from those coming into the ER who were “well worried” quickly faded as it became clear just how fast the virus was spreading.

“I was really the point guy,” he said. “We had screeners at the door and they would get a possible COVID situation and then my phone would ring and I would go and spend my time out in the parking lot. I would just sort through them and see who had to be seen in the ER and who could be seen elsewhere.”

Stephen said he got so good at the sorting process that he almost didn’t need the rapid-read thermometer and the pulse oximeter he used, among other tools, to identify patients with severe virus cases. He said he could almost sense if a patient needed to be admitted by having them pull down their mask.

A checklist for workers in Vail Health’s emergency department.
Ken Stephen/Special to the Daily

“I saw so many people and screened so many people,” he said.

The peak, Stephen said, was March 14, the same day the resorts shut down. That’s when he said the ER admitted 16 patients and “probably turned just as many away.”

Stephen himself now suspects that he got the virus in February while traveling from his native Scotland back to the valley, but had no clue at the time that his symptoms could be tied to a respiratory virus that started in China.

One common goal

As the days and weeks wore on, and the pandemic settled in, health care workers described marathon days focused on one thing: protecting their community.

Fears and doubts were rampant, but they were secondary to the job at hand.

Stephen said hospital workers “saw things that would terrify most people every day without batting an eyelid.”

“They showed up for work and got it done,” he said. “… They’re team players, the best team in the land. You could have called in sick. You could have asked not to do it. But not a single one of them did that. We rose to the challenge. We were resilient and we stayed here for the community and took care of them.”

That protection came in many forms, from creating the state’s first drive-through testing facility to implementing a variety of new safety protocols in facilities up and down the valley to completely revamping local clinics to keep potential COVID-19 patients in one place away from other patients. There was also the months-long initiative from Vail Health to develop an in-house test that could be turned around quickly to avoid the backlogs that plagued the county and the state over the spring and summer, a push that finally bore fruit this fall.

And, as scientists worked around the globe to develop vaccines against the virus, hospital workers and public health officials prepped for the day the first shipment would arrive.

All of that work in 12 months, with Eagle County avoiding the worst of the state’s restrictions by never dipping into Level Red, has paid off.

The county has seen 5,163 confirmed cases of the virus. It has done 49,232 tests. Twenty community members have died — a number much lower than original projections. And since the first vaccine shots were administered in late December, more than 25,300 total doses of vaccine have been administered.

The fog of the pandemic is lifting.

“I think by May things are going to look amazing,“ Lindley said. ”The sun’s going to be out, it’s going to be warming up. And we’re going to be thinking about great community events, concerts, music in the park. I think all that’s going to start coming back this summer in a big way. And I’m excited just to see all our old friends hanging out together, relaxing, and starting to come back together in a non-physically distanced manner. OK, with more hugs. I see lots of hugs this summer.“

Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at npeterson@vaildaily.com.

Recent snowstorms are barely scratching the surface of Colorado’s ongoing drought

Colorado is no longer technically 100% in drought. And conditions in some areas of the state have slightly improved as recent spring snows have left deeper-than-forecast drifts. But don’t get too excited just yet.

Last week’s snowstorms across the Front Range were enough to downgrade some areas from “extreme” drought to “severe,” according to the latest national drought monitor report released Thursday by the University of Nebraska. And the previous week’s map had downgraded much of the San Luis Valley from “moderate” drought to “abnormally dry.”

That’s the good news. The bad news: 98.57% of the state is still in drought, to varying degrees. And experts aren’t confident that conditions will improve anytime soon.

Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes or other weather events, drought is a phenomenon that builds over time, and its effects compound as it persists. Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center and the author of this week’s drought monitor report, noted that some regions of the state, particularly the southwest, have been drier than average for multiple years. This time last year, 45.33% of the state was in drought, none of which was classified in the worst two categories.

Read more from Lucy Haggard, The Colorado Sun.

The behind-the-scenes story of being Gov. Jared Polis during Colorado’s coronavirus crisis

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis gives an update about the extent of the coronavirus in Colorado during a news conference on March 11, 2020.
Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun

Alittle more than a month into Colorado’s battle with coronavirus, Gov. Jared Polis and his team reached the helpless realization that there was no end in sight.

At that point, more than 8,000 people had tested positive for the disease and over 350 had died, including scores living in senior-care centers. The stay-at-home order imposed by the governor was costing people their livelihoods. Personal protective equipment and coronavirus test kits were still nearly impossible to come by.

Polis had no choice but to tell Coloradans that things would only get worse. He could try to limit the devastation, but he couldn’t prevent it. “Coronavirus is going to be part of our lives,” he conceded at an April 15, 2020, news conference at the governor’s mansion. “We’re going to have to live with it.”

Then came the now-infamous question from a reporter about his response to the pandemic: Had the governor heard people were likening him, a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust, to a Nazi? There was pressure building on him from fellow Democrats to keep onerous restrictions in place, outrage from Republicans that he wasn’t rolling them back, frustration from businesses on the verge of closing and pleas for help from local public health agencies.

Read more via The Colorado Sun.

Glenwood Springs man’s photograph to grace front of Colorado drivers licenses

Matt Nunez’s photograph of Mount Sneffels won the Iconic Colorado contest and will be used as the front design on the Fall 2021 state drivers license. Photo courtesy of Colorado DMV.

A Glenwood Springs man’s vibrant photo of Mount Sneffels will be featured on new Colorado driver’s licenses after he won the Iconic Colorado contest.

Matt Nunez’s photo of Mount Sneffels earned 26,520 of 55,760 votes to win the honor of gracing the front of the Colorado state driver’s license that will be released in the fall.

The contest aimed at creating a license that could be called the “most beautiful in the world” to celebrate the state centennial.

Nunez submitted three entries in all, which earned the second and third most votes in the front design contest, solidifying his place in state history.

Nunez was born in Colorado Springs but moved throughout the East Coast during his childhood with his military family.

His love for photography developed in high school and has been a passion ever since.

Nunez had taken the three photos before he even knew about the contest.

”Sitting around all the time in the age of (COVID-19), I guess I’m just making the most of this opportunity to get outside and take my camera with me,” Nunez said.

The state notified Nunez his three photos were the top three finalists in the contests last January.

But it was a happy yet solemn experience for Nunez and his family when the state announced his mountain photo won the honor of being placed on the front of the license.

“They’ve been so supportive of me—my parents and sister. It was just very surreal,” Nunez recalled. “It’s kind of a bitter sweet thing. I lost my grandparents to (COVID-19) in November but I really thought about them. Like being in the Denver Post—that’s really cool and it just reminded me of them.”

His late grandfather served in the state legislature representing Douglas County.

Nunez is hoping the recognition and honor will bring more clients to his photography business he manages on the side.

“I have a small business that I run and have been trying to get it off the ground now for a while,” Nunez said. “I have a store where people can order prints and have done some work for corporate clients.”

Those interested in checking out Nunez’s work and services can find more information at www.mattnunezphotos.com.

For more information on the Iconic Colorado Contest and the other contest winners, go to https://dmv.colorado.gov/iconic-colorado.

Town of Vail, Triumph forge deal for housing

This draft rendering of Triumph Development’s plan for housing at Middle Creek will almost certainly change as the plan works through the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission and the Vail Design Review Board.

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday approved a development agreement with Triumph Development to build workforce housing on a site in the Middle Creek subdivision.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the deal. Council members Brian Stockmar and Kevin Foley dissented, saying they’d like more time to better study the agreement.

The agreement does a few things:

  • The town will pay to move the Middle Creek project through the town’s approval process. That will be the extent of the town’s financial involvement.
  • Triumph will build a minimum of 144 beds of deed-restricted housing on the site currently occupied by the Children’s Garden of Learning.
  • Triumph will agree to not sell or share plans completed during the approval process for housing on the Booth Heights site in East Vail.
  • The Middle Creek site will be open for occupancy by November of 2022.

Nothing on Booth Heights

But the agreement doesn’t do anything to preserve the Booth Heights property. Vail Resorts, which owns that property, in late 2020 pulled out of talks to preserve that land. The company owns the approvals for the property, but not the plans. Those plans belong to Triumph, which had a purchase contract on Booth Heights, but canceled that contract in late 2020.

Vail Resorts in January asserted its continued intent to develop that property. But the council Tuesday rescinded an earlier extension for those approvals based on Vail Resorts’ participation in talks about alternative housing sites. That participation prompted the council in 2020 to extend approvals until Dec. 1, 2024. The new expiration date is Nov. 20, 2023.

Before the council voted, several residents weighed in on the virtual meeting to oppose the agreement.

Resident Blondie Vucich called the agreement a “looming debacle,” saying the town hadn’t received “objective” public input on the deal.

“You must get this agreement 100% correct,” Vucich said.

Resident Lynn Gottlieb said the draft agreement hadn’t been made public with enough time to fully evaluate it.

While the agreement lays out a number of target dates, resident Jonathan Staufer said there’s “no rush” to complete an agreement, adding that “we’re going to get one shot at this.”

While Mayor Dave Chapin said the council would take public comment only on the development agreement, several residents cited the need to find a way preserve Booth Heights from development.

“The reason we’re here is because of Booth Heights,” Staufer said. “One flows into the other.”

What about Vail Resorts?

George Ruther, the town’s housing director, said while Booth Heights was once an integral piece of the town’s efforts to find and develop alternative housing sites, “that’s no longer the case.” Preserving Booth Heights “will have to occur under different means,” Ruther said, adding that the town is “unable to force Vail Resorts to discuss alternative housing sites initiatives.”

While Foley and Stockmar said they wanted more time to evaluate the deal — and were the only council members to vote for Stockmar’s motion to delay possible approval until the March 16 meeting — other council members preferred to act.

“We need housing in this town,” Council member Kim Langmaid said, citing the continuing trend in town toward part-time use of housing units.

The Middle Creek site is a good place for workforce housing, Langmaid added.

While talks have stalled with Vail Resorts, Langmaid said town officials will continue to try to restart those discussions. For now, the agreement “is what it is — a good place for housing for the community.”

The high points

• Triumph development will build at least 144 units of deed-restricted workforce housing on the current site of the Children’s Garden of Learning.

• The project will include alternative energy sources and “multi-modal” transportation options.

• Triumph and the town will work on a deal for Triumph to redevelop the western portion of the Timber Ridge Property.

• Both projects must receive approval from the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission and the Vail Design Review Board.

Big shipment of COVID-19 vaccine headed to Eagle County this week

Eagle County is expecting delivery of 4,500 vaccine doses this week and as of Tuesday, there were only 2,600 names on the vaccination waiting list. County officials urge anyone who meets the current eligibility guidelines to preregister for a clinic.
Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post

If you are eligible and willing, there’s some encouraging COVID-19 vaccination news this week.

Eagle County expects to receive 4,500 doses of the single dose Janssen vaccine, also known as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in time for Friday and Saturday clinics this week. Here is the extra encouraging part — as of early this week, there were only 2,600 eligible people preregistered to receive vaccinations this week.

“We are strongly encouraging everyone eligible to request an appointment at eaglecountycovid.org as soon as possible,” said Eagle County Communications Director Kris Widlak.

State guidelines issued late last week have expanded eligibility to include:

  • Grocery workers
  • Agriculture workers
  • People age 60 and older
  • People age 16 to 59 who have two or more high risk conditions which include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, diabetes mellitus (types 1 and 2), Down syndrome, specific heart conditions (heart failure, cardiomyopathies or coronary heart disease, and severe valular/congenital heart disease), obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, solid organ transplant, individuals with disabilities who require direct care in their home and people with disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks.

The newly eligible populations can receive vaccinations beginning Friday, March 5.

Once someone is registered for vaccination, no further action is required. Vaccine supply is still limited, so if the number of sign-ups exceeds the available amount of vaccine doses, appointments will be issued based on a random drawing among those who are eligible. Those who are selected to receive a vaccination will be contacted using text messaging or the email address they provided to schedule an appointment.

Appointments are required; anyone who shows up at a clinic without an appointment will not receive a vaccine.

During his weekly presentation to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Birch Barron, the county’s emergency management director, said current data indicates that vaccine could be available to the general public as early as April.

“We were thinking it was a big question mark if we could get to all the (currently eligible) groups by summer,” he said. “This just makes me so incredibly happy.”

He noted the large shipment headed to Eagle County this week means that vaccination can take a big step forward over the next seven days. Currently, the county has administered more than 18,600 doses of vaccine. With the new shipment, that number will top 23,000 doses.

“We are looking at somewhere around a fifth of our population, maybe more, being vaccinated,” Barron said.

Hovering in yellow

While the vaccination report for this week is encouraging, Eagle County’s COVID-19 risk level is a bit more precarious. The county remains at Level Yellow on the state’s risk meter, but just barely. To remain in the yellow zone, the county has to have a COVID-19 incidence rate of no more than 300 cases per 100,000 people. The county’s current incidence rate is 296 cases.

“That (being in the yellow phase) has meant so much for many businesses in our community,” Barron said. Remaining in the yellow is a community responsibility, he said.

“It is really important that we focus on being intelligent about our social interactions,” he noted. “But the goal of our COVID precautions are not just to keep to some number down on a graph. It it is to prevent severe disease in our community.”

There were 159 new COVID-19 cases reported in Eagle County over the past week.

Next up

Eagle County is preparing for the next round of vaccination eligibility, announced last week by Gov. Jared Polis. Eligibility for the next phase includes people aged 50 years and older, people aged 16 to 49 with one high risk condition, restaurant, manufacturing, mail delivery, public transit, faith leaders, and front-line human service workers, and people employed for the continuity of local government. Pre-registration for this phase will begin in approximately two weeks with vaccinations expected to start in late March.

Those who receive their vaccine are reminded of the importance of continuing to follow the Five commitments of containment for the health and safety of the entire community.

Local information on COVID-19, including the vaccine rollout, is regularly updated at eaglecountycovid.org.

New Vail Health program aims to create a stronger workforce, literally

Alexis Dozal performs a plank exercise in the Edwards Field House with other participants in a Community SafeHealth-like program. Chris Knerl with Howard Head Sports Medicine said human performance analysts have been working with local kids two days per week and the program has been a success.

With 18 percent of Eagle County residents uninsured, more than triple the state average of 6.5 percent, filling the gap in health care services for the uninsured is essential.

Those are the words of Vail Health professionals who are rolling out a new program called Community SafeHealth, which will “guide and encourage uninsured and underinsured Eagle County residents to develop healthier habits,” said Sally Welsh with Vail Health.

Community SafeHealth will use Vail Health system resources from Howard Head Sports Medicine, Colorado Mountain Medical, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, and community partners MIRA (Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance), Neighborhood Navigators, My Future Pathways, and others.

Vail local Ellie Rubenstein (who, along with her siblings, contributed $1 million to launch the Community SafeHealth program at Howard Head Sports Medicine) said she wants to show, through the program, that prevention works, and can provide a solution communities aren’t seeing from government or health care industry programs.

“I stand on a bottom’s up, community driven approach,” she said. “I think community health is far more important than adding regulation.”

Ellie Rubenstein, CEO of Vail-based investment firm Manna Tree Partners, says her family has benefited from Vail Health’s care for 20 years, and is proud to partner with Vail Health in an effort to create a new community health program.
Special to the Daily

In starting Community SafeHealth, “if it would have been government, or for-profit, I don’t think that the collaboration element would have been there,” Rubenstein said.

The pilot program started in January 2021 and provides local individuals and families with culturally-sensitive programming, including mobile and virtual options to enhance access to preventative health care; evaluation of physical, nutritional, and psychological measures to track participant and program success and provide population health metrics; and fitness sessions, nutritional classes, behavioral health offerings, health screenings, supplemented medical services and ongoing virtual support networks.

Stronger workforce

Rubenstein said her family’s own health challenges inspired her to get involved with Community SafeHealth.

“Vail Health has been able to solve most of the physical issues, and that’s why I believe in the team and the organization,” she said. “I had a brain injury, they had to teach me how to relearn to walk and talk.”

The lesson she learned through the experience was simple: “Without my health, I can’t work,” she said. “That is the No. 1 issue to address here — the most important thing anybody has in life is their health, and we if can’t have people healthy, they can’t work, and then we start to have the community downfall.“

Vail Resorts uses a similar program, which the company calls SafeFit. Doug Schofield, Senior Manager of Health and Safety at Vail Mountain, said the SafeFit program has been a successful benefit for Vail Mountain workers.

“It has helped our employees work through a very physical and athletic work environment,” Schofield said.

Vail Resorts’ SafeFit program is used for management of musculoskeletal injuries, providing “quick, no-cost, access to health care providers in order to improve employee health, reduce health care costs, and reduce lost work time,” said John Plack with Vail and Beaver Creek mountains.

SafeFit sessions are 20 minute appointments with a Howard Head Therapist to discuss and provide treatment for injuries.

“The purpose of the program is to provide evaluation, treatment and advice for musculoskeletal conditions in order to keep our employees strong, healthy and working,” Plack said.

‘Prevent issues from compounding’

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the number of individuals who no longer have access to health care.

Students exercise at the Edwards field house as part of a Vail Health community health program. A similar program, designed to help people who don’t have access to wellness services, hopes to attract other members of their families.
Special to the Daily

This resulted in a much larger concern for the community than previously reported, making Community SafeHealth even more important, say officials with Vail Health.

Community SafeHealth proponents hope to provide wellness training, coaching, and support for uninsured and underinsured individuals in Eagle County; reduce household expenditures on preventable health care needs; and document an overall health improvement in the community.

“By addressing underlying health issues, individuals and families can prevent complications caused by COVID-19,” said Chris Lindley, the executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. “Community SafeHealth will play an important role in encouraging the most vulnerable people in our community to be healthier and improve their overall wellness and prevent issues from compounding.”

Denver environmental attorney to lead Bureau of Land Management

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management announced that an attorney who previously worked on agency issues for environmental groups will serve as the new deputy director.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said Nada Culver, who was appointed to the Denver position, will effectively run the agency for the short term, replacing former agency director William Perry Pendley, The Daily Sentinel reported Tuesday.

The department also said Culver’s new position is the first in the succession order. Culver will perform delegated duties of the director until someone is hired. Pendley also ran the agency as the deputy director since the agency’s director position has been vacant.

The position is subject to a Senate confirmation process following nomination by the president.

President Joe Biden has not yet nominated anyone to serve as director.

The Interior Department made the announcement on Monday, saying the department’s political team “proudly reflects the diversity of America” with more than half the team identifying as people of color and 80% as women.

The bureau oversees nearly a quarter-billion public acres in the U.S. West and much of the nation’s development of onshore oil and gas.

Culver said she could not comment on her new job, instead referring questions to the department.

She most recently served as vice president of public lands and senior policy counsel at the National Audubon Society. Previously, she served as senior counsel and senior director for policy and planning at the Wilderness Society, where she created a group that worked with people on participating in land use planning processes and management decisions.

Culver started her career working on environmental issues. She was a partner with the law firm Patton Boggs, now Squire Patton Boggs.

Satellites, airplanes and lasers are tracking Colorado avalanches

A 3-D oblique view of terrain near Aspen, CO from April 7, 2019, showing snow depths mapped by the Airborne Snow Observatory. The Maroon Bells are visible at top right, Highland Bowl and Aspen Highlands Ski Area at center-right, and the enormous avalanche in the 5 Fingers avalanche path clearly visible at center. (Jeff Deems, Airborne Snow Observatories, Inc.)

Avalanche forecasting has come a long way since the 1950s, when forecasters relied solely on weather to predict when and where snow might slide. But it still requires scientists skiing and digging into the snowpack. That’s changing as satellites, aircraft-mounted sensors and ground-based remote monitoring fast-track the evolution of snow science, giving experts comprehensive insight into the uncanny nature of avalanches.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has been testing satellite imagery to detect avalanches. The technology is building a more accurate library of avalanche activity over a winter season, and year over year. And not just for the most trafficked zones, said Mike “Coop” Cooperstein, the center’s lead forecaster for the northern mountains.

“We have really good information along the highways, in the really popular recreation spots — Berthoud Pass, Loveland Pass, Red Mountain Pass. But it’s pretty close to the road,” Cooperstein said. “So we wanted to look into those deeper areas, a few miles from the trailhead, and see what’s happening, because we are forecasting for those areas.”

With 11 avalanche fatalities in Colorado this winter, and 32 nationwide, avalanche forecasters like those at CAIC need all the resources they can get to create accurate forecasts for backcountry regions. But methods of gathering good information are decades old. Emerging technologies may help, but it could be years before they are operational or affordable enough for avalanche forecast centers to use on a daily basis.

Relying on observations shared by travelers on roads and skintracks yields only a partial picture of avalanche activity, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the hazard spread across entire ranges. As a result, during any given avalanche cycle, forecasters may miss part of the avalanche activity because it wasn’t witnessed, and wouldn’t be able to warn their audience of backcountry goers. The other issue is not being able to verify whether their forecast was correct after the fact, making it difficult to identify patterns of inaccuracy and improve forecasts over time.

Read more from Bay Stephens, The Colorado Sun

Eagle County opens vaccine pre-registration to new groups

In alignment with new statewide guidance issued on Friday, Eagle County Public Health & Environment is offering pre-registration for COVID-19 vaccine for additional employees and residents who will be eligible to receive a first dose beginning March 5.

The upcoming eligible group, phase 1B.3, will include people aged 60 and older, people aged 16 to 59 with two or more high risk conditions, grocery workers and agricultural workers. Those who wish to pre-register should verify their eligibility and then sign up at eaglecountycovid.org.

Once registered, no further action is required. Vaccine supply is still limited, so if the number of sign-ups exceeds the available amount of vaccine doses, appointments will be issued based on a random drawing among those who are eligible. Those who are selected to receive a vaccination will be contacted using text messaging or the email address they provided to schedule an appointment.

In addition, those receiving the vaccine will be asked to attest they are eligible and will be available for both doses. Appointments are required; anyone who shows up at a clinic without an appointment will not receive a vaccine.

Eagle County is also preparing for the new phase 1B.4 that was announced by Gov. Polis. Eligibility for this new phase includes people aged 50 years and older; people aged 16 to 49 with one high risk condition; restaurant, manufacturing, mail delivery, public transit, faith leaders, and front-line human service workers; and continuity of local government. Pre-registration for this phase will begin in approximately two weeks with vaccinations expected to start in late March.

Those who receive their vaccine are reminded of the importance of continuing to follow the five commitments of containment for the health and safety of the entire community.

Local information on COVID-19, including the vaccine rollout, is regularly updated at eaglecountycovid.org.