Eagle County will lift COVID-19 public health order Wednesday
The move comes 8 days sooner than initially projected
For months now, Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron has asserted that nobody will be happier than he is when the county can finally lift its COVID-19 public health restrictions.
Barron plans to celebrate in less than a week. He won’t be the only person at the party.
On Wednesday, the county will lift its COVID-19 emergency health orders. The move comes a full eight days earlier than anticipated.
Eagle County Public Health and Environment intends to make the move to lift all local public health orders related to COVID-19 with disease incidence showing a steady decline and vaccination rates on the rise.
“Residents and guests are reminded that the county is still subject to any statewide and federal public health regulations in place, including mask requirements in some circumstances,” the county statement said.
On April 16, the county adopted its current public health order, which was slated to run through May 27. The intent was to lift restrictions on that date if disease incidence and hospitalization rates had decreased and vaccination rates for the total population reached 60%. County officials say those milestones were reached this week.
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.
On Friday, Gov. Jared Polis announced Coloradans no longer are required by the state to wear masks in most public settings, and the state’s remaining public health orders to fight COVID-19 will end June 1.
Rescinding the county mask order removes all local requirements for mask use, gathering and capacity restrictions and physical distancing. However, state orders remain in effect with mask requirements for public indoor environments, which does include schools for the remainder of the school year.
“The school district is reaching out to the governor’s office, public health departments (state and local), and the Colorado Department of Education to see how these changes may impact public schools,“ said Dan Dougherty, the chief communications officer for Eagle County Schools. ”Keeping in mind that students under 12 remain ineligible for vaccines and those being vaccinated now won’t be fully vaccinated until after the school year ends, we expect schools will continue requiring masks for the remaining few days of school. The district will make an announcement once we have clarity on the issue.“
State COVID-19 orders that will remain in place include limitations on large indoor events to 500 people. Federal regulations still require masks when using public transportation, which includes ECO Transit and the Eagle County Regional Airport.
“Beyond what is required, it is important to recognize that some organizations and businesses might choose to adopt policies that keep COVID-19 precautions in place,” Barron said. “We have already heard from a few businesses that plan to continue using distancing and face coverings to market themselves to health-conscious customers, chain stores may have national requirements that need to be met, and some Eagle County towns may still have municipal face covering orders in place.”
Barron said nothing in the county order prohibits organizations from taking additional steps to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers if they choose to do so. But the county set two goals to rescind its public heath order and then set a target date of May 27 to get there.
“We felt confident that if we could achieve a community vaccination rate of 60% that we would see a rapid decrease in our disease rates,” said Eagle County Public Health and Environment Director Heath Harmon. “Our current data confirms this with our lowest disease incidence since October of 2020. As a result, we will rescind public health orders earlier than originally planned.”
In addition, with the lifting of local restrictions, Eagle County has closed its Five Star Business Certification application. Individual businesses will have the ability to open fully, or implement their own capacity levels or other requirements if they choose.
“This is a testament to all of our community members and their efforts to stay safe over spring break, get vaccinated and bring us to a place where we can plan for a more normal summer,” Harmon said. “While this news may be welcomed by many, it may also cause some anxiousness for others. It is very important we all play a role demonstrating empathy and respect to help bridge the differences and focus on our common ground as a community.”
Welcomed by many
County officials have been closely following the data this week in hopes of lifting the public health order.
“Our community stepped up and exceeded every expectation we had earlier than expected, and as a result, everyone in leadership agrees that it is time for us as a county to step up and do our part to transition us out of the local public health and emergency orders,” Barron said. “This is not a half step, this is a full step out of all local public health requirements.”
“We are so excited about being able to lift the emergency declaration and the public health orders,” said Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “It’s a testament to the hard work of all the community members and businesses, working together to follow health protocols and get vaccinated. We look forward to a strong, vibrant and healthy summer.”
Commissioner Matt Scherr said his official reaction is “Wooohooo!” He is thrilled that the county can end its public health order a full week before planned.
“There was no reason to delay it if we were where we needed to be,” Scherr said.
“It’s really thanks to the community. We set two goals and we achieved them,” Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said. “This really is about the community stepping up to to that.”
McQueeney noted the May 27 target date was an attempt to let the community know that the county could be done with its public health orders by the Memorial Day holiday.
“We picked that date so people could begin to make some plans,” McQueeney said. “But we did it faster. Our community is just so responsive to the message of getting your vaccine.”
While the county has reached its 60% vaccination goal, the push continues to encourage local residents to get their shots. The free COVID-19 vaccine is now available to anyone age 12 and older.
“While the news this week is highly encouraging, we must remember the disease is not gone,” Harmon said. “Every single person who gets vaccinated helps protect our community and our economy.”
Scherr noted his own 15-year-old son participated in a vaccination clinic held this week.
“We were there at 7 a.m. when they opened the doors, but we weren’t the first people in line,” Scherr said.
Local information on COVID-19, including disease trends and vaccine availability, is available at eaglecountycovid.org.
As the county approaches its COVID-19 end game, McQueeney predicted information will rapidly change at the state and federal level and pledged local officials will try to keep abreast of the changing conditions.
“We had, basically, chaos going into this pandemic, … but we got through it,” she said. “ And now, we have a little bit of chaos getting out of it. But people will roll with it.”