Eagle County in ‘comfortable’ spot heading toward the next phase of COVID-19 recovery | VailDaily.com

Eagle County in ‘comfortable’ spot heading toward the next phase of COVID-19 recovery

After protests, gatherings and openings during blue phase, responsibility continues to be on community moving forward

Pending approval of a state variance, Eagle County is preparing to transition to the Black Diamond Phase of its pubic health orders on June 22, which would allow for safe gatherings of up to 250 people, among other things.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com

As Eagle County moves closer to its next phase of COVID-19 recovery, which would allow for gatherings of 250 and increased capacity at restaurants and lodges, officials with Eagle County Public Health and Environment are reminding locals and visitors of the importance of personal actions in managing the spread of the virus.

“All things considered, as we’re starting to close out on what we have as our blue phase, we’re in a pretty comfortable spot,” said Heath Harmon, the county’s public health director, on Wednesday morning. “We have seen cases, we’ve seen clusters over the past four weeks — that’s to be expected as we’ve had more businesses come back online, as we’ve started to increase the capacity for lodging and are starting to welcome back visitors. I think it’s always important to realize as we continue to reopen, see more people come into our communities, and more social gatherings among our community members, that we are going to see some of that spread.”

In a statement Wednesday, Eagle County Public Health and Environment reported about 50% of new COVID-19 cases in the county were among people 30 years of age or older.

“This is a shift from March and April, where the highest proportion of cases was among people aged 40 to 55,” the release stated.

During the same two-week span, 54% of cases were people who were exposed to a confirmed case and were identified during the interview process.

Harmon said health officials reach out to those infected, conduct interviews and investigations to understand who might have been in close contact and issue quarantine orders.

“Our focus has been and will continue to be on rapidly identifying new cases,” he said. “That helps us contain the virus. It’s still absolutely present in our community. Our focus is really making sure we continue to keep that spread in check. … We feel like we have a good capacity to contain.”

Loosening restrictions

Pending approval of a state variance, which was submitted on June 9, Eagle County is preparing to transition to what it is calling the black diamond phase of its pubic health orders on June 22, which would allow for safe gatherings of up to 250 people, among other things (see infobox).

Health officials are asking all residents to “help set a strong example for our guests” by continuing to model the five Commitments of Containment:

  • I will maintain 6 feet of physical distance
  • I will wash my hands often
  • I will cover my face in public
  • I will stay home when I am sick
  • I will get tested immediately if I have symptoms

“Overall I think our community is responding really well to those commitments,” Harmon said, adding that as more people come to town it is important for business owners, especially lodging establishments, to communicate with guests coming in what the expectations are. “We want that communication to be open from the lodging industry to those guests coming into the community.”

With new studies and data becoming available, Harmon said distancing is still the best way to prevent the spread.

“First and foremost, the physical distance is what we see as the best protective measure,” he said.

One of the five commitments is to cover your face when in public.

“It helps prevent exposures to other people,” he said. “It’s really a sign of respect to those in our community.”

Those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms within two weeks of visiting are asked to cancel or reschedule their trips, and same with members of the local community looking to travel.

Harmon said testing is “strong” in Eagle County. Over a five-day span, local health officials test between 200-250 people, Harmon said, with results coming back usually between 24 and 48 hours. The onus for the county continuing on its recovery path is to maintain the percentage of those testing positive for coronavirus under 10%. In the past 40 days, Harmon said that number hasn’t exceeded 6% of tests coming back positive.

If members of the community are starting to feel sick or experience symptoms, Harmon said the first step is contacting your health care provider.

For resources, statistics and up-to-date information about coronavirus in Eagle County, visit https://www.eaglecounty.us/covid-19/.

‘People want to feel safe’

On Wednesday, June 10, the Vilar Performing Arts Center welcomed a live audience for the first time since the coronavirus restrictions started in mid-March.
Matt Phillips | Special to the Daily

The black diamond phase is the final one in the county’s transition trail map, and Harmon said the county is working with state officials on a phase geared toward “protect our neighbors.” He said the community must keep tracking forward in order to get a better sense of the future — such as what schools will look like when class begins in August.

Guidance on face coverings for indoor public spaces and local businesses will remain consistent.

“I feel really bad for all of the people getting married this year,” said Marguerite McEvoy, owner of Events by Marguerite. “It’s already stressful and you add this on top of it, and it’s a lot of money that goes into it that people don’t think about.”

McEvoy said many clients looking to get married are looking toward next year, with most weddings canceled or postponed through July. Some couples, she said, are eloping. Difficulties planning weddings include unknowns, she added.

“People want to feel safe. Especially if you’re a couple on your wedding day,” she said. “Do I have to wear a mask at my ceremony? Is my grandmother going to get sick,” she added as questions couples must consider. “What’s the rule, you have to wear a mask while dancing after drinking all day?”

While the next iteration would allow for socially distanced gatherings of 250 people, McEvoy said she doesn’t see large weddings taking place here this summer.

“I don’t see a 250-person wedding happening here, even if it’s allowed,” she said.”A wedding takes hundreds of hours to plan, just one wedding. Once you throw a wrench into those plans, you’re just multiplying all those hours of work.”

As a professional, McEvoy said people moving forward might pay more attention to the planners they hire and the contracts signed.

“Hiring a professional is something that hopefully people moving forward will consider, because going through this alone must be horrible,” she said, adding, “It’s not that bad to have a smaller wedding.”

The Vilar Performing Arts Center at Beaver Creek has a capacity for about 530 people, an intimate venue. On Wednesday, June 10, the Vilar Center welcomed its first live audience since shutting down — about 40 people.

“It was a big success,” said Duncan Horner, the Vilar’s executive director.

Horner said the Vilar Center will look to welcome about 100 guests once safely into the black diamond phase, with ample space to spread out and maintain social distancing. With limited tickets, and an itch for live music, Horner is expecting tickets to sell quickly for live performances, currently featuring talented local bands and musicians.

“It’s going to be an early bird gets the worm, buy those tickets sooner rather later,” he said.

Bikers banking on it

BMX racers take to the track in Eagle on Monday. A state championship qualifying race is scheduled for July 26.
John LaConte | jlaconte@vaildaily.com

Easing pandemic restrictions will also usher in a new level of availability for athletic events.

And some people are counting on it.

Jay Lucas, who operates the BMX track in Eagle, said he’s been watching the county’s COVID-19 response closely, and felt confident in scheduling a July 26 state qualifying race. The state qualifier is usually Lucas’ biggest event of the season, sometimes attracting 300-350 people. 

Lucas’ son Halsey Lucas, who helps operate the rider registration process, says they may have to use a pre-registration format to ensure the event doesn’t attract more than 250 this time. By opening again to regular Monday-night races in June, with restrictions of less than 50 people in place, the track has received an education in the preregistration format, which caps the total number of participants at 45.

Halsey Lucas said once the county transitions to allow 250 people, the track will be able to allow day-of registration at the track once again.

And based on participation in their preregistration process, people are itching to get to that next phase, Halsey said.

“Our Monday night races have been filling up within 48 hours of us posting it,” Halsey said.

On the other side of the biking spectrum, professional racers are planning on visiting Avon again for the Colorado Classic in August. 

The event still needs official approval, which will likely require a transition into the next phase of pandemic restrictions, as well.

While the big party atmosphere won’t be present at the finish line, spectators are encouraged to attend, and with a big course that takes riders east to west from Post Boulevard to West Beaver Creek Boulevard and Highway 6, then north to south from Avon to Bachelor Gulch, spectators are expected to be able to space out quite a bit.

Assuming it happens, “You won’t see the VIP area along the start/finish, you won’t see the beer garden or festival atmosphere with sponsor partners on site, it will really just be about racing,” said town of Avon events coordinator Danita Dempsey.

Reporter John LaConte contributed to this story. Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

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