Vail march may have violated COVID-19 rules, but Eagle County officials aren’t up in arms |

Vail march may have violated COVID-19 rules, but Eagle County officials aren’t up in arms

Officials say Black Lives Matter march addressed a different public health crisis

Protesters in Vail didn't always maintain a six-foot distance, but local health officials noted Wednesday's march addressed another vital community concern.
Christopher Dillman/

When a crowd of around 500 people showed up in Vail on Tuesday night to join a protest march in support of Black Lives Matter, the gathering plainly violated Eagle County’s current COVID-19 recommendations.

But the county’s health officials aren’t up in arms. They explained why during their weekly media briefing on Thursday.

“The pandemic is a public health crisis, but racism is a public health crisis as well,” said Eagle County Public Health Director Rebecca Larson. “This isn’t about choosing one over another. They are interconnected.”

Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry noted that the county’s transition trail map is in the blue phase, which recommends gatherings of no more than 50 people.

“But it was an unusual time and I think it was something the community really needed to do,” said Chandler-Henry. “People did have masks on and hopefully, from what we saw, people were trying to keep their distance.”

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That was true at times and not so true at others. As Axel Contreras of La Nueva Mix/Always Mountain Time radio noted, “Aren’t you afraid that the cases are going to spike with all these gatherings? I understand the whole situation … but it looks like we all forgot about COVID-19.”

Larson acknowledged that increased virus spread in the wake of the march is a possibility.

“We expect that any time there is a gathering,” she noted, pointing to spikes that happened after Mother’s Day and when the weather started getting warmer and people began congregating.

But three months into its COVID-19 response, Larson said the county is better prepared to address local outbreaks. What’s more, health officials know that people are much less likely to contract COVID-19 in an outdoor environment, such as this week’s march, than in an enclosed space.

Larson added that the county’s contact tracing efforts have shown that people are most likely to contract COVID-19 from someone in the same household. That’s why it is vital for all household members to quarantine for 14 days after someone who shares the same living quarters tests positive.

Chandler-Henry noted that regardless of the situation — at work, at the store or at a march — the top recommendation is to maintain social distance.

“With all the conflicting information out there, that one has stayed constant,” she said.

County officials said their contact tracing work during the next couple of weeks will determine if this week’s march resulted in COVID-19 spread.

“We need to wait and see what will happen. The data and the science have informed our efforts and will continue to do so,” Chandler-Henry said.

And, over the next couple of weeks the local public health official will be studying the data and science to determine if the county is ready to move to the black stage of the transition trail map. If so, gatherings of up to 250 people, with social distancing protocols in place, would be allowed. The county hopes to make that transition June 22 and that final stage will define the local protocols for living with COVID-19 for the forseeable future.

“This virus is going to be here for a while,” said Larson. “It’s not going away.”

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