Colorado Gov. Polis says he expects Eagle County will be the first in the state to reopen

Governor plans to be in the Vail area on Thursday or Friday for announcement

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Monday afternoon that he expects Eagle County to be the first in the state to reopen. Polis, in a live address, said he intends to be in Eagle County on Thursday or Friday for the announcement.

Polis praised the efforts of officials in the county for being able to reopen while also mentioning some of the local luminaries who have died from the virus, among them beloved entertainer Rod Powell, and hotelier Bob Lazier, who died Saturday.

“The most social among us were some of the first who were stricken down,” Polis said. “We lost some real iconic people in our state, that many people knew, and it’s really symbolically important that Eagle County was able to work hard, doing a great job, starting earlier than the rest of the state on county health orders, and now get to this place where, by the end of the week, they’ll be able to move forward.”

With Eagle County as an example, Polis said there will not necessarily be a statewide approach to reopening.

“We are thrilled with local counties going above and beyond the state in being able to reopen sooner, in a safe way,” Polis said.

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Polis said Eagle County has a sustained decrease in cases over the last 14 days, is able to perform testing for all who have symptoms, and is able to monitor and perform contact tracing for cases.

Touting those benchmarks, Eagle County officials last week asked the state for permission to reopen businesses and outdoor recreation areas that can meet social distancing requirements. Heath Harmon, local public health director, said that the Vail Valley has now reached a level where everyone who has COVID-19 symptoms can get a test. 

During the past week, Harmon said commercial labs were able to work through a backlog of tests, and results are now coming back consistently within 24 to 48 hours. That, along with the fact that local health providers now have full access to testing for anyone who shows symptoms in Eagle County, means the county has now met the requirements to trigger the relief request, Harmon said. 

Now that Eagle County has seen a sustained decrease in COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days, Harmon said the community will receive greater health benefits from incrementally loosening restrictions. 

“Let’s face it, economically we can also see longer-term public health concerns, behavioral health concerns, as well,” Harmon said. “So what we’re really trying to do is measure the risk in the community with the fact that the spread of the disease has slowed down so much.”

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners issued a statement following the governor’s Monday announcement.

“We are extremely appreciative of the support from the governor and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on our request,” the statement read. “We look forward to continuing the strong collaborative effort with the state, our partners and our entire community as we take a small, yet important step toward recovery in Eagle County. We know the best way to achieve success will be under a sustainable social distancing model which allows for cautious and incremental steps to lifting some restrictions, while prioritizing the health of our community.” 

Locals only

Polis acknowledged the local economy will be slow to get going in Eagle County with no tourists in town to support businesses.

“We know that business will be slow,” Polis said. “While stores may be open, there’s not going to be, nor does Eagle County even want, nor do they have, the level that they would have in summer, of tourism. It’s going to be a tough time across our economy.”

Polis himself, however, plans to visit Eagle County in the coming days.

“It’s going to be hard for our mountain communities, that’s one of the reasons why I’m going to go to Eagle County,” Polis said. “It’s a very important milestone, because it’s symbolic of the state’s movement from sprint to marathon, in Eagle County, which put in restrictions as a hotspot several days before the state did, now also, by the end of this week, being able to emerge from that, before the state did, at great loss in the community, legendary community figures and people that everybody knew around town that didn’t make it.”

Seniors should still isolate

Polis said data and modeling from the state epidemiologist, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, and Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, will serve as an important tool in reopening Colorado.

In the modeling, the state uses the number of ICU beds available in Colorado as the figure which represents the upper limit of transmission that can occur without exceeding health care capacity.

On Monday, Samet said Colorado has achieved a more than 75% reduction in social interactions through social distancing.

Herlihy said even if the state continues to achieve 35% to 65% social distancing, the models show transmission levels exceeding health care capacity in June and July. If the general public is able to maintain a reduction in social interactions of 65%, and seniors maintain greater levels of social distancing, however, models show the state not exceeding demand for the number of ICU beds available in the months to come. If those measures are also combined with mask-wearing, case detection and isolation, “That really shows us our best shot at staying below that ICU bed threshold,” Herlihy said.

In studying social distancing, Samet said the groups who are working on the models have been trying to obtain tools and data to study people’s mobility.

“Some groups, for example, including ours, are now trying to use cell phone data to look at activity and how much people are out moving,” he said.

Samet said if people begin traveling to Colorado from other states this summer, it could throw off the modeling.

“Right now, we are not dealing with mixing from other populations,” Samet said. “I think that could become important. Obviously, in the early stages, cases from abroad were important.”

Nevertheless, “I hope that people are able to come in the summer, that we’re back to mixing that much,” Samet added. “Obviously, the concern would be people coming in from other locations, other states, who are infected and are bringing the virus.”

Setting parameters

Polis said he hopes to be dining in restaurants again by mid-May, but he’ll need to see the data from the reopening of other sectors of business at 50 percent capacity before committing to restaurants. Retail and personal service businesses like salons are expected to be able to open this week with strict social distancing requirements in place.

“We’ll prepare all those best practices, but it’s unlikely we can go live with restaurants until we have some data on the retail and the 50 percent workplace density and all that,” Polis said. “Then we’ll be able to make that decision, mid-May — OK can workplaces go up to 70 percent or not? Or do they have to go back? Do restaurants open at half capacity? I can’t wait till we get there, because frankly at the end of this we want to have restaurants, we want our small businesses to be in business, and we know that the longer this goes with them only being able to do delivery and take out, the less they’ll be able to hire back their workforce.”

Polis stressed that while some level of reopening will be at hand across the state on April 27, Colorado residents need to continue to minimize interactions.

“Today’s data shows that, while we can take it down a level — because we need to for sustainability, we know it’s not possible to keep up staying at home, most people need to earn a livelihood, people just need to set into a more healthy pattern from an emotional and psychological perspective — we want to set the parameters of that pattern, and really make sure that everybody can be ready for this marathon, and complete this marathon,” Polis said.

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