Eagle County’s COVID-19 numbers remain elevated as officials tout vaccines, launch business grants
As local vaccinations begin, incidence rate is like ’fighting a wildfire with a garden hose’
Promising news about vaccines, concerning news about continuing community spread and an announcement regarding new economic aid were highlights of of Eagle County’s weekly COVID-19 update on Tuesday.
Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron led off his presentation to the county commissioners with the news that Colorado received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. The first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at Vail Health on Tuesday.
“Here in Eagle County, we should start to see some of the front tier people vaccinated this week,” Barron said.
He noted that front-line medical personnel and residents of care facilities — people identified as being at high risk for COVID-19 exposure — will be the first people vaccinated. The next round of vaccinations will be people at higher risk due to health conditions and people employed in critical jobs, Barron said.
“Critical infrastructure is not just firefighters, EMS and hospital workers,” Barron said. “We will also consider a lot of those systems that we need to keep our community running as critical infrastructure.”
Barron stressed the vaccines that are now rolling out have been thoroughly tested and generally produce mild, short-term effects. “This is moving a lot faster than many thought would be possible,” he said.
That’s the good news on the pandemic front. But the community is still months away from a post-COVID 19 landscape, Barron warned.
“While we are trying to get as much of our population as possible vaccinated, we are fighting a wildfire with a garden hose,” Barron said.
Eagle County remains at the orange level of the state’s COVID-19 risk meter. There have been 487 new cases diagnosed over the past two weeks.
“Locally, we seem to have peaked for now,” Barron said. “We are seeing the little up and down trend that happens when we peak.”
Likewise, he noted that across Colorado disease activity is decreasing.
“This is still leveling off at a very high level,” Barron said. He noted Colorado is seeing an average of between 46 and 60 COVID-19 deaths per day statewide.
“We need to keep focused on getting this down to a level that we aren’t seeing incidence in businesses and locations who are observing precautions,” he said. “We still have a little while to go before we are out of the pandemic.”
After the Eagle County Board of Commissioners discussed the weekly COVID-19 update, they turned to their latest effort to help address the pandemic impacts. The county has earmarked $3 million from its reserves for a new economic bridge grant program to provide economic relief to locally-owned small businesses that are operating at a reduced capacity due to public health orders. The program goal is to help keep businesses operating while waiting for public health orders to lift.
County Manager Jeff Shroll noted the word “sacrifice” appears repeatedly in the resolution that the county adopted to create the bridge grants.
“That is really what our businesses have had to do over the past nine months of the pandemic,” he said. “This is an opportunity to partner with our local business community. Our municipal partners in the county … are very excited about this program.”
Shroll noted the bridge grants are designed to help businesses weather the next 30- to 90 days, when widespread vaccination hopefully begins to bring down risks of COVID-19.
“We are hoping that our business community will be able to fill out applications quickly and with ease,” Shroll said. “Our intent is not to sit on this money but to get it out into the community to those who need it the most.”
County officials noted the idea for a new bridge grant program was born about a week ago. The program is funded through county reserves and higher-than-anticipated sales tax receipts.
“We can’t print dollars and we can’t go into debt,” noted Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “But we have been very steadfast about having a reserve fund. This is taxpayer dollars and they are going back out into the community.”
“I often have concerns about government and how slow government moves. This is not that case,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney.
“This program isn’t going to make people whole, but hopefully it will keep our businesses staggering along until we get to a solution,” she added.
“This is an amazingly quick pivot and it couldn’t happen at a better time,” offered Eagle business owner Yuri Kostick, a proponent of the bridge grant program.
As COVID-19 numbers have climbed, businesses in Eagle County have faced increasingly more restrictive health orders intended to curb disease spread.
“If we are operating at 25% of capacity, that is a really difficult environment to do business in,” said Kostick. “At this watershed moment, I think you have really done something here to help.”
Applications for the county’s new bridge grant program, as well as the latest information regarding COVID-19 numbers in the community, can be found at eaglecountycovid.org.
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