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Vail Valley unemployment numbers likely to be large

We won’t know regional unemployment claim numbers for a couple weeks, but we know they’ll be big.

Nationwide numbers rolled out Thursday, spiking to 3.3 million over the previous week. County-level data lags about two weeks behind national numbers, said Jessica Valand, Workforce Colorado’s Northwest Colorado regional director. Valand’s territory includes Eagle County.

“We know that weekly unemployment claim filings in the U.S. last week spiked to about 3.3 million, compared to the peak week of the recession in 2008, where claims nationwide were around 700,000. Which is to say, when we do get those county numbers, they will be record-setting at a scale that would have been hard to imagine even a week ago,” Valand said.

The $2 trillion federal package that President Trump signed into law Friday afternoon will create a seismic shift in unemployment benefits.

“It will likely greatly expand unemployment payments and ease requirements on who is eligible to apply,” Valand said.

A month ago, Colorado fielded 2,000 initial unemployment filings a week. Now it’s fielding up to 20,000 a day. Preliminary figures suggest more than 61,000 people applied through Thursday, easily topping last week’s record of 19,745 initial claims.

The previous state record was 7,749 at the height of the Great Recession in 2010, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist for the labor department.

“I would say we’re just seeing the beginning of this, to be honest,” Gedney said.

Thanks in part to the federal coronavirus emergency package, Colorado and other states are preparing to expand the categories of workers displaced by the virus who are eligible for assistance and increase payments.

Colorado will offer unemployment payments to gig workers, independent contractors and others currently not eligible. Benefits will rise from an average of $600 a week to $1,000. Requirements that applicants certify they’re seeking work are suspended, said Cher Haavind, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

It won’t alleviate today’s suffering; displaced workers may not see expanded benefits until mid-April.

For employers who pay unemployment premiums, claims as a result of COVID-19 will not come from their employer accounts, nor contribute to premium rate increases, Valand said.

The federal package will mean $1,200 checks to many individual Americans, more for families, and expands the unemployment safety net. It also provides hundreds of billions of dollars for companies to maintain payroll.

Before the coronavirus steamrolled the country, Eagle County’s unemployment rate hovered around 2%.

Apply even if you’re seasonal

If your employer is closed because of COVID-19 and you’re out of a job, you should file for unemployment, even if you’re a seasonal worker, Valand said.

You have nothing to lose by filing, Valand said.

To begin the process, go to www.coloradoui.gov, Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

COVID-19 cutting crime rates, inmate numbers in Eagle County, around state

EAGLE — Quarantine also cuts crime rates.

Jail populations around Colorado’s 5th Judicial District — Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties — are down an average of 43%, a combination of an early-release program and inmates finishing their sentences, and not replaced by as many people being arrested, law enforcement officials say.

“The greatest reduction in population is due to fewer intakes into the facility,” said Capt. Greg Van Wyk, a detentions officer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “As fewer arrests are coming in, inmates completing their sentences are reducing the overall population. The vast majority of our populations are pre-sentenced inmates awaiting court dates that have been delayed due to COVID-19.”

In Vail, for example, police arrested 34 people between March 1 and March 27, down from 64 over the same period in 2019.

In March 2019, Vail Police handled 35 Deceptive Use of Ski Facilities cases — ski pass fraud. In March 2020, there were 8.

In February the average daily number of Eagle County jail inmates was 55.7. That was down to 38 inmates on Friday, Van Wyk said. The jail will hold up to 110 prisoners.

Four other factors

Along with fewer arrests, inmate numbers are being reduced due to a combination of measures, including:

  • Prompt detention hearings for arrestees who have coronavirus symptoms.
  • Bond reduction for inmates who are a low risk to public safety, some of whose release requires electronic monitoring.
  • Using a felony summons, a written promise to appear at a future date, instead of arresting someone, and reducing previously imposed sentences and giving selected inmates early release.

Van Wyk said corrections officers have been working with judges, the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office, encouraging inmates to write letters to the judges in their cases.

Inmates also earn “good time,” up to 13 days per month off their sentence, if they work in the jail on things like maintenance projects, Van Wyk said.

COVID and crime

Then there’s COVID-19. Inmates have a “heightened potential” for infection. That prompted law enforcement officials across the four-county 5th Judicial District to minimize the risks by reducing jail populations, the DA’s Office said.

“Our goal is keeping jail populations at the lowest possible levels that can simultaneously assure public safety and lowers risks of coronavirus community and inmate infection, is our goal,” Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes said in Friday’s announcement.

Also eying state prisons

Along with local jails, inmates in state prisons who pose minimal public safety risks are also being eyed for early release. Those will not include those convicted of violent crimes and sex offenders, District Attorney Bruce Brown said.

“If we are going to release sentenced prisoners, we need to be careful that we don’t sacrifice public safety at the altar of public health,” Brown said. “We will be careful to consult with victims before taking these extraordinary steps, releasing people once deemed by a court unsuitable to be in our community.”

An executive order earlier this week by Gov. Jared Polis lifts limitations on prison inmates’ ability to shorten their sentences through good behavior. It also temporarily curtails the acceptance of new convicts to state prison.

‘It gets a lot easier’: Colorado man who quarantined in China for months gives advice

YINCHUAN, Ningxia — Last time we spoke with Alexi Grojean, he’d only been in quarantine for three weeks.

At that point, he used his Instagram account to educate and entertain people with a close-up look at the extreme social distancing life. But now Americans are turning to him for different reasons.

As more of the U.S. is issued stay-at-home orders, including all of Colorado, people are reaching out to Grojean for advice on how he lasted so long spending most of his time in his Yinchuan apartment. “People are reaching out to me like crazy,” Grojean said.

Grojean’s 12,500 Instagram followers used to be regaled by his pictures and stories of empty streets and sidewalks in the Chinese province he lives in. Videos used to show people in Hazmat suits walking around outside his apartment and commentary from Grojean about fears of running out of coffee.

Now, life in China is getting back to normal. The government is lifting restricting in Hubei Province where the coronvirus outbreak started and people there who were under lockdown for the last two months can now leave. The lockdown in Wuhan is scheduled to be lifted April 8.

Read more via 9News.

Vail Valley, statewide gun sales background check requests soar

Along with other non-perishable items, Coloradans are stocking up on guns.

“It’s not just toilet paper and handy wipes,” Eagle attorney Terry Quinn said.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation says in the last week it received 25,468 requests for background checks for firearms transfers at its Insta-Check department. That’s up from 7,773 for the same period last year, a 227% increase, the CBI says.

If you asked for a background check today, there would be 12,442 buyers in the queue ahead of you and your wait time would be approximately four calendar days, the CBI says.

On normal days the wait time is about eight minutes, Quinn said.

Quinn holds a federal firearms license, is a firearms instructor and processes transfers of firearms between vendors and buyers, including online sales. When he submits an online approval application, the website displays a meter that tells you how many are in line and your wait time.

“Usually, on a day like Tuesday, when there are no gun shows going on, I complete the paperwork and file it with Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s InstaCheck online service, and get a notice that up to a half dozen applications are ahead of me. The wait should be something like eight minutes for me to get an approval notice,” Quinn said.

The CBI confirmed that eight-minute wait time under normal circumstances, prior to COVID-19. However, the CBI says it’s seeing an “historic volume of requests,” resulting in “extended wait times for these important safety checks.”

Alpine Arms at the forefront

Alpine Arms in Eagle is a pretty good barometer for local and regional firearms sales.

“Things are busy,” Alpine Arms owner Steven Grindel said.

Most of their business uptick is new firearms purchasers looking for handguns. Shotguns are a close second, Grindel said.

Grindel preaches education, training and more education, whether you buy anything or not.

“That’s more important. Buying it is simple,” Grindel said. “We encourage people to invest in themselves and their education. Purchasing is one thing. Learning to handle it responsibly is quite another.”

Alpine Arms has scheduled several events for this spring and summer, along with demo days and other training sessions, Grindel said.

Nationwide spike and delays

It’s not just Colorado.

“Spikes and delays in background checks for firearms transfers are being reported nationwide,” the CBI said. “The circumstances impacting communities across the state and the nation have posed significant challenges.”

The CBI said it is expanding its InstaCheck program and is cross-training staff members to help speed things up.

“It is unsettling to realize how many people out there are so frantic,” Quinn said.

Quinn is a firearm instructor. He has brightly colored plastic models shaped like guns as a teaching tool. In his classes you don’t get a real gun until he says you’re ready — not a bad way to spend your multi-day waiting period.

“The chilling part is, how many of those people buying guns during this panic attack know anything about guns?” Quinn asked.

When background check turnaround times exceed the federal regulation of three business days, Federal firearms licensees have the option of releasing firearms outside that three-day window. However, the CBI is encouraging firearms dealers to hold firearms until background checks are completed.

Gypsum’s Eagle Valley Rod and Gun Club announced to its members that its shooting range is closed and will stay that way under Eagle County’s public health order.

Vail Valley couple back home with tales to tell after long encounter with California quarantine

After eight days quarantined aboard their cruise ship and another eight days at a San Diego military base, Bonnie and Buddy Sims’ charter flight was stuck on the tarmac for one last delay before they flew home. Like the 16 days they had already spent in quarantine, no one told them much about why their plane wasn’t in the air.

Soon it became apparent.

From their window seat, they saw a guy resplendent in a hazmat suit cantering across the tarmac with a case of antiseptic wipes. He climbed the stairs and handed the case of Clorox wipes to a flight attendant.

Think of it: An 80,000-pound plane that generates 14,000 foot-pounds of thrust was grounded for the lack of a box of antiseptic wipes.

Bonnie and Buddy smiled at the irony — first because it’s funny and second because there’s nothing else to do.

When the door closed the captain announced, “We’re headed for Denver!” A huge cheer went up. When they landed in Denver a couple hours later, the captain said, “Welcome home!” Another huge cheer went up.

“We enjoyed our extended vacation. Thank you to the U.S. taxpayers,” Buddy said.

Snug in Singletree

They’re back in their Singletree home, where they’ll stay until Thursday when they’re 14-day quarantine is up.

“Thanks for all the support. We’re glad to be home,” Bonnie said.

Hundreds of friends called, texted and emailed, most asking if there was anything they could do.

“It says a lot about our community when people are going through all this here and still reach out to help,” Buddy said.

New friends, new faces

Bonnie and Buddy were among 39 Coloradans and thousands of passengers aboard the Grand Princess, that cruise ship moored off the San Francisco coast that was hit by COVID-19. They were quarantined for eight days aboard the ship and another eight at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

“Can you imagine being stuck in a small bedroom for eight days with one person?” Bonnie asked.

They left their rooms one time for 15 minutes during those eight days aboard the Grand Princess to walk around the ship. A security guard kept an eye on them.

“I guess they thought we were going to jump off the ship and swim to shore. A couple Coast Guard vessels patrolled around the ship, apparently to keep us from jumping off the ship and to keep the reporters from climbing on,” Buddy said laughing.

They met lots of new friends. Dr. Kim Look, for example, lives down in Colorado Springs. As of Monday, he was still at Miramar.

Life at Miramar continues to entertain, Look said in an email. One of the cleaning crew set off a fire alarm. Usually, that would generate a huge response, but only one firefighter was sent inside. He just reset the alarm, Look said.

And then there’s the beehive that busy bees are building near the main entrance of their building.

“We are leaving it alone,” Look said.

Another Colorado couple, Brad and Becky Grant celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary in quarantine. They ended up with a couple bottles of wine, but don’t drink. They called Bonnie and Buddy, who were happy to take them.

“On our way home we ate Doritos and drank their wine, toasting our homecoming,” Buddy said.

Their daily conference calls could be amusing. The CDC dispensed information and fielded complaints. Some complained they didn’t have bottled water. They had tap water but apparently wanted that single-use plastic bottle. They’d complain when they were served soft drinks for breakfast, or that their morning croissants were cold and they didn’t get any jelly.

The first couple of days the quarantined passengers stood in a cafeteria line to get their food, spreading both gossip and germs.

Price gouging was not as rampant as you might think. Their baggage loaders wore hazmat suits and gloves.

“Many of them volunteered to help us,” Buddy said.

Students at neighboring Thurgood Marshall Middle School sent the quarantined people hundreds of greeting cards and St. Patrick’s Day cards. “That just made my day,” Bonnie said.

High praise for Princess Cruises

They left Feb. 21 for a 15-day cruise to Hawaii, one day on each island, then to Mexico. The CDC took over the cruise ship on its way to Mexico and headed north to San Francisco.

“The cruise line and crew were good to everyone,” Buddy said.

In fact, during a conference call the feds told 300 Grand Princess passengers that while the government forced them into Miramar, the feds were not responsible for getting them home. A collective gasp ensued.

A Princess Cruise Lines executive interrupted and volunteered to pay for their travel home. They even made the reservations to get their passengers home and offered everyone a free cruise, Buddy said.

“That’s a really good company,” Buddy said.

2020 Tokyo Olympic Games officially postponed until 2021

TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021 on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation that the games could not go ahead as scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Olympic Committee made the decision after speaking with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and local organizers.

The IOC said the games will be held “not later than summer 2021” but they will still be called the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” the IOC said in a statement.

Before the official announcement, Abe said Bach had agreed with his proposal for a one-year postponement.

“President Bach said he will agree ‘100%,’ and we agreed to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in the summer of 2021 at the latest,” Abe said, saying holding the games next year would be “proof of a victory by human beings against the coronavirus infections.”

On Sunday, Bach said a decision on postponing the games would be made in the next four weeks. But pressure grew as national federations, sports governing bodies and athletes spoke out against having the opening ceremony as planned on July 24.

The decision came only a few hours after local organizers said the torch relay would start as planned on Thursday. It was expected to start in northeastern Fukushima prefecture, but with no torch, no torchbearers and no public. Those plans also changed.

“For the time being, the flame will be stored and displayed in Fukushima,” organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said.

The Olympics have never before been postponed, and have only ever previously been canceled in wartime.

Organizers will now have to figure out how to keep things running for another year, while making sure venues are up to date for possible another 12 months.

“A lot can happen in one year, so we have to think about what we have to do,” said Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee. “The decision came upon us all of a sudden.”

The IOC and Tokyo organizers said they hope the decision to postpone will help the world heal from the pandemic.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” the IOC statement said. “Therefore, it was agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

Eagle Town Board members donating pay during coronavirus crisis

EAGLE — Eagle Town Board members voted unanimously to leave their paychecks in the town’s general fund where it can help the small businesses on which Eagle depends.

“This is something we can to do to help struggling local businesses and to help the struggling town,” said Matt Solomon in introducing the measure.

Solomon and other board members are encouraging other elected officials at the local, state and national levels to follow Eagle’s example, from town councils to Congress.

“The goal is for the town to set an example for other communities and to help our small businesses,” Solomon said.

Board member Scott Turnipseed, who is running unopposed for mayor in next month’s election, was vocal in supporting Solomon’s idea of donating their stipends.

“It shows the community that we care and that we’re doing our small part,” Turnipseed said.

Doing their part

Given their current pay — $250 a month for board members and $400 a month for the mayor —it might be largely symbolic, but it’s something board members said they felt they should do.

“It demonstrates good faith,” Solomon said.

Solomon and some other board members could probably use the money.

Solomon is self-employed and is up to his eyebrows in canceled contracts as a result of COVID-19. Board member Andy Jessen launched Bonfire Brewing and during the online meeting sat alone in his darkened, empty bar.

The board decided it would donate member stipends for 90 days and then see what the state of the world is. Eagle is holding an election on April 7. The current board said it would leave it to the new board to decide whether it wants to keep doing this.

The town board made the decision during its first virtual meeting, where members also decided that their meetings would be virtual for the foreseeable future.

Mayor Anne McKibbin declared a local disaster emergency a week ago, and the rest of the board approved it unanimously in Thursday’s special meeting. That emergency declaration lasts 30 days. The board can extend it if members want to, said Matt Mire, the town attorney.

Feds refuse to force Tennessee Pass rail line sale

A federal agency will not force Union Pacific to sell a railroad line that rolls through the valley.

A Kansas-based grain producer, KCVN, wants to buy Union Pacific’s Tennessee Pass railroad line to create a more direct route to West Coast markets and ports. Union Pacific said no, so KCVN asked the Surface Transportation Board to force Union Pacific to sell. The STB refused.

However, the STB, the federal agency that oversees America’s railways, left the door open just a crack, dismissing KCVN’s request “without prejudice,” meaning KCVN could come up with additional information and make its request again.

Competing offers

KCVN’s $8.8 million offer for the Tennessee Pass line is competing with another offer, reportedly from Rio Grande Pacific, to make it part of a system hauling crude oil from Utah’s Uintah Basin to Gulf Coast refineries. That could mean up to 400,000 barrels a day in as many as 10 trains rolling through the valley.

While Union Pacific’s Kristen South and Raquel Espinoza confirmed that UP is negotiating with “other parties,” both have declined to say whom.

KCVN demanded that the Surface Transportation Board reveal who Union Pacific’s “other parties” are. The Surface Transportation Board did that, but by accident. A filing appeared briefly on the Surface Transportation Board’s website, but was quickly removed, the Trains News Wire reported.

KCVN offered UP $10 million for the 229-mile Tennessee Pass line on November 14, 2019. Union Pacific declined the offer on Dec. 30, 2019.

When KCVN requested the Surface Transportation Board to force Union Pacific to sell, KCVN’s offer dropped to $8.8 million.

It would cost $278 million to rehabilitate it, KCVN’s filing says. The Tennessee Pass line runs from Pueblo, over Tennessee Pass and down through the Vail Valley to Dotsero. Union Pacific has not used the Tennessee Pass line since the mid-1990s when UP merged with Southern Pacific.

COVID-19 and the courtroom: DA asks governor to extend trial deadlines

EAGLE — District Attorney Bruce Brown says that, at least for now, asking potential jurors to crowd into courtrooms is a monumentally bad idea, and will ask the governor to delay jury trials for at least a month and a half.

The coronavirus is forcing many public spaces to close, Brown said in a letter to Gov. Jared Polis. Brown will ask Polis to add 45 days to Colorado’s six-month “speedy trial” mandate, the minimum time between someone being arraigned on a criminal charge and the beginning of their jury trial.

Polis gave himself the authority to grant the extra 45 days when he signed an executive order declaring a Disaster Emergency Due to the Presence of Coronavirus Disease.

Jurors have rights, too

While the accused has a right to a speedy trial, potential jurors have rights, too, Brown said in his letter.

“Hundreds of Colorado citizens are continuing to receive jury summons in the mail and being required, as a jury summons is a court order, to walk into crowded courthouse hallways, proceed to crowded jury assembly rooms, and will continue to be summonsed into crowded courtrooms, sitting side by side people, many of whom may unknowingly be infected with coronavirus,” Brown’s letter said. “Colorado courthouses, in a titanic-sized blind gesture, are steering full steam into the virus’ grip.”

State Supreme Court doesn’t go far enough

On Monday, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Chief Justice Nathan B. Coats cited coronavirus in ordering strict limits on the types of cases that must continue to be heard in Colorado’s courts.

“This was a bold and appropriate move, however, it did not go far enough,” Brown said.

The number of COVID-19 cases is expected to rise exponentially in the coming weeks, especially in Colorado’s 5th Judicial District mountain counties: Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties, Brown said.

“We, unfortunately, have been branded Colorado’s viral bullseye,” Brown said.

Adding another 45 days to the trial schedule could help reduce the danger of jurors’ exposure to COVID-19.

Defendant’s fair trial

“It is not such a stretch that the added weight of the current coronavirus would skew a trial result, despite every juror’s best intentions,” Brown said. “Criminal defendant’s rights during such dire times are clearly at risk. With each cough or sneeze, jurors spaced inches from each other within a jury box will be hard pressed to focus on evidence and will have one thing weighing in mind – ‘get me out of this courtroom as soon as possible.’”

Brown said that while he has “great faith” in a criminal jury, “we should not ask the impossible of human beings in this time of crises.”

Extending Colorado’s speedy trial right would be those whose six-month time period would expire on April 11.

In Eagle County, that would postpone two criminal trials. Robin Clifton is charged with stealing expensive bicycles in Vail, and Samuel Brunelus is accused of having a part in a Roaring Fork Valley drug overdose death.

Mexican visitors to Vail suspected of taking coronavirus home with them

A group of about 400 Mexicans who visited Vail during the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships in late February are suspected of taking coronavirus with them when they returned home.

According to reports from Bloomberg and Yahoo! Finance, the group flew in a pair of chartered aircraft from the state of Jalisco to Denver, then traveled to Vail during the Burton event in late February.

In a video shown across social media, Jalisco Gov. Enrique Alfaro explained that when they traveled from Vail to Mexico, they did not follow up with health authorities.

After they returned from Vail, some of those people were diagnosed with coronavirus, Alfaro said in his video. They are “the main front of potential infections,” because several traveled to tourist destinations in the days after their return from Vail, Alfaro said.

Mexican officials have not yet found all 400 of those Vail travelers. In his video Alfaro asked them to self-quarantine.

“We need to take this seriously, we’re asking them to do what’s responsible,” Alfaro said in his video.

High profile business executives

The Jalisco-to-Vail contingent contained a cadre of high-profile Mexican business executives. Yahoo! Finance reported that Jaime Ruiz Sacristan, chairman of the Mexican stock exchange, and Jose Kuri, a relative of billionaire Carlos Slim, both tested positive after returning from Vail on March 8, with four other people on a private jet.

Juan Domingo Beckmann, CEO of tequila maker Becle SAB, also tested positive for coronavirus. He had been in Vail with his wife, Yahoo! Finance reported.

Last Tuesday, Vail Resorts closed its North American resorts and retail shops for the rest of the 2019-2020 season.