Eagle County celebrates termination of COVID-19 emergency order
On Thursday, local officials will host community conversation about what happens next
Back in February 2020, Eagle County public health officials began talking about what could happen if the COVID-19 virus hit the local population.
On Tuesday, 15 months later, they celebrated the community’s effort to hit back at the pandemic that battered local institutions as it made its global run.
As of Wednesday, Eagle County’s COVID-19 emergency declaration and public health orders are terminated. That means local residents, organizations and businesses can begin their post-pandemic lives.
“Today is about looking forward and what we are excited about,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron during his final COVID-19 weekly update on Tuesday.
The local COVID-19 news is markedly different from what it was only a few months ago. Last week, there were 19 new COVID-19 cases and one hospitalization reported in Eagle County.
“You can see our disease levels continue to drop,” Barron said. “It makes me really happy to see real clear evidence that our vaccination strategy has worked.”
Barron reported that 62% of Eagle County’s population has now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. That’s an impressive number, he said, but it doesn’t tell the complete story. Among Eagle County adults, age 40 and older, the vaccination rate is 88%. Barron said those figures mean Eagle County now has the highest vaccination rate and lowest disease rate among the 15 most populated counties in the state.
“We are making a definitive statement that COVID has no place in Eagle County,” Barron said.
While the local disease rate is low, COVID-19 has not left the county — or left the planet, for that matter. What’s changed is the virus doesn’t have as many places to land.
“Our best path forward is to continue to vaccinate,” Eagle County Public Health and Environment Director Heath Harmon said. With the termination of the emergency declaration, Harmon said the county is moving from crisis mode to disease management mode.
“This is that point in time where we aren’t saying this pandemic is over, we just don’t need to implement the emergency orders any longer,” Harmon said.
Barron noted that 84% of the new COVID-19 cases reported in the county last week are among people who had not initiated vaccination. The remaining 16% of breakthrough cases — COVID-19 infection in people who have been vaccinated — have been mild.
Vaccination clinics are still being offered, Barron noted. Residents can visit eaglecountycovid.org to learn clinic dates, times and locations. All clinics accept walk-in, but reservations are still accepted.
As they prepared to vote on the motion to end the emergency declaration and lift the public health order, the commissioners thanked the county staff for their efforts over the past 15 months.
“It starts with data and we have always made decisions based on data and then we could set a goal,” Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said. She noted the original goal was to flatten the cure to keep hospitals from being overrun. The next goal was to slow disease spread so schools could open. The final goal was to rescind the public health order, which originally had a target date of May 27.
“It has been a tremendous honor for me to have gone through this with this organization and this community,” Commissioner Matt Scherr said. “We had struggles. We had mistakes. But we never stopped. As difficult as this year was, looking back it has been incredibly satisfying to see the level of support this community has shown.”
Because the public health order was still in place Tuesday, only a handful of people were present in the commissioners meeting room when the official action was approved. But a wave of applause erupted from the sparse crowd.
One of the people who was missing was Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll. He attended the session virtually and remarked about the irony of the situation.
“If I wasn’t still recovering from the effects of having COVID myself, I would be there doing a very big happy dance,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to get to this point.”
It’s also a time of uncertainty. Noting that people have questions about how things will look as the county emerges from COVID-19 restrictions, the county will host a livestream community conversation on Thursday beginning at 1 p.m. The community conversation will be livestreamed and recorded at ecgtv.com, and at facebook.com/OneValleyVoice, and in Spanish at facebook.com/MiSaludMiCharco. The event will also be broadcast on Eagle County TV, found on channel 18 on Comcast in the Eagle River Valley and on channel 19 in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The virtual forum will feature representatives from the business community, schools, medical community and local government.
Topics will include the lifting of the local COVID-19 public health orders, how state orders apply locally, and the impact on the end of the school year. Participants will also discuss the summer 2021 outlook and address the importance of mental health resources moving forward.
The panel will be facilitated by Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr. Panelists will include:
- Heath Harmon, Eagle County Director of Public Health and Environment
- Birch Barron, Eagle County Director of Emergency Management
- Chris Romer, President and CEO, Vail Valley Partnership
- Kris Mattera, Executive Director, Basalt Chamber of Commerce
- Phil Qualman, Superintendent, Eagle County Schools
- Chris Lindley, Chief Population Health Officer, Vail Health
- Casey Wolfington, Community Behavioral Health Director, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health