Eagle County businesses ready to roll with COVID-19 orders going away
Starting Wednesday, county will no longer require masks and indoor capacity limits will go away
There’s a whole new COVID-19 world coming to Eagle County beginning this week, and like the rest of us, local businesses need to figure out how to navigate it.
Last Friday, Eagle County announced it would lift its local public health order and COVID-19 emergency declaration effective May 19. With the Memorial Day holiday coming up, county officials had set a May 27 target date to lift its regulations if disease incidence and hospitalization rates had decreased and vaccination rates for the total population reached 60%.
That happened and the order is being lifted a week early. May 19 will mark the first time there will be no local public health orders since March 12, 2020, six days after the first reported COVID-19 case in Eagle County.
Rescinding the county mask order removes all local requirements for mask use, gathering and capacity restrictions and physical distancing. State COVID-19 orders that will remain in place include limitations on large indoor events to 500 people and continued mask orders for schools. Federal regulations still require masks when using public transportation, which includes ECO Transit and the Eagle County Regional Airport.
With the county rule change coming Wednesday Ross Cohen, the general manager of Sauce on the Creek in Avon, spent Monday hauling tables out of storage and making return-to-normal modifications at the bar and point of sale areas.
“We are excited to be moving forward and we are ready to have our busiest summer ever,” Cohen said.
Cohen called the past year of COVID-19 regulations the most taxing time of his 22-year restaurant career. For example, Sauce lost more than 50 of its dining seats because of capacity limitations. That was as big an impact as the mask mandate, Cohen noted.
As for masks, Cohen noted his staff will be happy to leave face coverings behind.
“Running around inside isn’t the easiest thing to do while you are wearing a mask,” he said. “When it was hot and people weren’t used to it, we had to remind them to go outside and take a break from their masks”
The flip side to that inconvenience was the fact that staff members didn’t have to watch their facial expressions as closely, Cohen said. Everyone will have to remember to mind their facial cues going forward, he noted.
COVID-19 did provide the eatery with some important lessons, Cohen added. The biggest one was it reinforced the value of outdoor dining and prompted the restaurant to increase and enhance its outdoor seating. “People just want to sit outside, especially during the summer,” Cohen said.
A sign at the front door of the ACE Hardware store in Gypsum reminds customers that they need to continue wearing masks inside until Wednesday. As they approach that date, store manager Russell Allred said his staff has people in both camps. Some employees are thrilled to leave their mask-wearing days behind while others have trepidation about the change.
“Our customers haven’t said much, but I think everyone is going to be pretty happy about the change,” Allred said.
During the past year, Allred said he had to contact the police four times as customers became agitated and refused to comply with the county’s mask order when entering the store.
“That wasn’t too bad, considering all the people who came in and out,” he said. “Most of the time when I had a problem with a customer, I had other customers there saying that we were just trying to do what was right.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, Allred said the store’s priority has been to protect employees and their families and to protect customers. That will continue to be the goal as the county’s public health order expires, Allred said.
“As long as everyone stays calm about it, we will try to find the happy ground,” he noted.
The Ritz Carlton Bachelors Gulch will continue asking guests to wear masks in indoor, public spaces.
“We will continue to follow Marriott’s mask recommendations,” explained Lori Rippstein, director of sales and marketing for the establishment.
Months ago the Ritz Carlton completed the 5 Star State Certification Program for Colorado, Rippstein noted. Because of that certification, the facility has been able to operate at capacity one level higher than the county’s overall COVID-19 risk level. That means, except for meeting space and events, there won’t be many capacity changes at the Ritz Carlton this week. The parameters for events and meeting space haven’t been established yet, Rippstein said.
“We are still evaluating what all this means for the guest experience. What will make our guests feel most comfortable?” she said.
Time to celebrate
Masks and capacity have been big issues at Mountain Recreation facilities for the past year.
“As of Wednesday, we are excited to give our staff and the community the opportunity to come in with a mask or not. We will welcome you either way,” said Eddie Campos, Mountain Recreation Marketing and Communications Manager.
“The capacity limitations due to COVID-19 will no longer be in place,” he continued. “We are excited to go back to filling programs based on staffing and community needs.”
There is one exception to Mountain Rec’s mask policy. “We will require masks for our Rec Kids program,” Campos said. “It is a state-licensed program, so like schools, we will continue to require masks until we can reassess that.”
There is also one carryover from COVID-19 operations. Mountain Rec will continue its registration process for equipment, classes and the Gypsum Rec Center pool.
“There have been a lot of successes we have found through the registration software. We will have to reassess what stays and what goes away,” Campos said. “For example, community members really liked being able to reserve times for lap swimming.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a lot of moving parts, Campos continued. Rules had to adjust as public orders changed, he noted. And now, as the community emerges from COVID-19 restrictions, more flexibility may be required.
“But this (the public health orders being lifted on Wednesday) is a major milestone for this year. We hope to celebrate the successes that have brought us to this point,” Campos said.