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Eagle County Commissioners: We need your help creating our new normal

Jeanne McQueeney, Matt Scherr and Kathy Chandler-Henry
Valley Voices

These times have been like nothing any of us could have imagined. It seems impossible that just weeks ago we were all going about our lives as we had done every day before that, concerning ourselves with things that seem almost trivial now. We thought about housing and our ability to live in this place we love, about access to childcare and our ability to work, about health care and living without undue worry, and about climate change and our children’s future.

None of these things are trivial, of course. But even these important issues have taken a backseat to the public health crisis we face with the COVID-19 virus. We have suspended those concerns and normal life in order to navigate to safe shores while in the throes of this fierce and unexpected storm  

As an international travel destination, Eagle County was one of the early hotspots for the virus with some of the earliest confirmed cases in the nation. But this did not catch our health and emergency communities off guard. Eagle County had already activated its Emergency Operations Center before our first confirmed case on March 6. On March 7, we were one of the first in the nation to declare an emergency to help in our fight. 

Our community health care partners and first responders were already preparing for what would soon be declared a pandemic. Vail Health had early and relatively robust testing capabilities that were critical in understanding our situation and how to respond.

In addition to enacting some of the more restrictive public health orders early on, we worked hard to communicate as much and as clearly as possible. In the early days of the crisis, our understanding of the virus and the unfolding situation changed on a daily basis. With such great uncertainty and the necessity to act swiftly and aggressively, we have felt it critical to be as transparent and informative as possible. 

And our community responded. Because each of us acted for all of us, we have slowed the spread of coronavirus and are succeeding in flattening the curve.

The county has already been preparing for how we can recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Part of that process will be a gradual loosening of public health order restrictions in a way that allows as much social and economic activity as possible without new cases overwhelming our local health system. This will likely take many months and is a path to a “new normal” as Gov. Polis has called our expected future.

At Eagle County we wonder, is this “new normal” the fate we await … or the future we create?

Remember those concerns we had before COVID-19? Climate change, housing, health care, childcare, and others? We wrestled with these issues during what was — at least on paper — one of the strongest economies in history.

How was it, then, that 25% of households in our community could not make ends meet? How could 40% of our community not have access to affordable housing? How could 33% of our businesses have trouble recruiting and retaining staff because of lack of childcare? How could economic growth always mean further destruction of our climate and environment?

Whether or not the outbreak will create a new normal, does this current crisis present us with the greatest opportunity we have ever had to learn from our past and imagine, and create a different future? Can we build communities of inclusion in which no one goes hungry; where quality education for every person creates a capable workforce and engaged electorate; where accessible transit, childcare, and housing enable that workforce and provide them rich and rewarding lives?

Until this moment those questions were merely academic. Changing the tremendous inertia of the global economy was like steering the Titanic from an iceberg. Fundamental change was idealistic, even though we knew that real solutions to avoid climate catastrophe require profound systemic change. 

But now the unimaginable has happened: We have dry-docked the massive ship of the global economy. What now is our opportunity — our responsibility — to use what we have learned and rebuild it to serve us all?

Part of Eagle County’s emergency response team is “mitigation and recovery.” We have been planning since the beginning of the crisis and using the best knowledge we have to help our residents and businesses recover from COVID-19. But do we need more than knowledge?

Perhaps what we need is more imagination. If this is an opportunity to create a new, better world for ourselves, we will need more than the planners, the strategists, the administrators; we will need the dreamers, the artists, the inventors. 

We are working hard at Eagle County to return our community to normal … the new normal. And we will need your help. All your thoughts, ideas, and dreams. The poet William Blake reminds us that “What is now proved was once only imagined.” Together, let’s create a new normal that serves us all and unleashes the power of each of us to benefit all of us.

Jeanne McQueeney, Matt Scherr and Kathy Chandler-Henry are Eagle County Commissioners.


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