Harmon: Lack of cooperation is jeopardizing our schools and ski season
Fragile was the word that Birch Barron, Eagle County emergency manageent director, used to describe the current COVID-19 spread in our community. Unfortunately, as the week has progressed, fractured might be a better descriptor.
In short, cases and the associated impacts in our community are increasing significantly. Here are some important numbers from the past week:
- A 68% increase or 37 cases compared to 22 the previous week
- Ten patients are 60 years of age or older, compared to 10 individuals in the entire previous month
- Four schools or child care centers were impacted with quarantines, compared to three in the previous six weeks
There are two reasons for the marked increase: Social gatherings where precautions such as distance and masks are not being utilized, and after diagnosis, people are refusing to cooperate with the public health interview necessary to reduce the spread to others.
I understand COVID-19 fatigue. Sustaining a behavior change for such a long period of time is an enormous ask. It is, however, one we have demonstrated we can handle. Quite frankly, we need to return to those good habits and cooperation as we get deeper into fall and winter.
We continue to be a community that is divided in our concerns about COVID-19. Regardless of your own perspective, it is important we consider the perspective of others. Not only would this extend a level of respect to our neighbors, but we also need to consider the impact to our visitors.
Recently released research from RRC and Associates (covered in the Vail Daily on Sept. 30) provides some important insights to our tourist-based economy as it relates to COVID-19. Surveys among 35,000 people indicate COVID-19 consumer confidence is a key factor in determining if and where people will travel. More specifically, 70% of respondents said that health and safety measures being implemented were an important consideration for their destination, while 82% indicated their interest in traveling once conditions are safe.
Increased disease levels will have negative impacts on several key community goals that were established by Eagle County and partners in May when we began to emerge from state lockdowns. These include having our kids in school for in-person learning, keeping our businesses open, planning for a “healthier winter” that enables ski resorts to open, and fueling our community’s continued path to social and economic recovery.
The good news is the ability of our towns, businesses, and resorts to develop and implement health and safety measures was on full display during our summer tourist window. Our schools, public and private, continue to offer an in-person and/or hybrid approach for our youth, where numerous other communities throughout the state and U.S. have yet to offer any in-person options. Local businesses and organizations, like lodging, restaurants, organized sports, and churches have already begun to develop and implement protocols that prepare for winter activities.
The rest, however, is up to us.
Please remember that if you are sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, stay home. There’s no shame in getting COVID-19. This is a pandemic after all.
In these instances, we need your cooperation to help prevent exposures to others and help identify those who may have already been exposed. This may seem intrusive, but I would reframe it as an act of goodwill for our community. Our experience in the past two weeks suggests that simply providing this information would help prevent school quarantines, increase the flexibility for our local businesses and organizations while encouraging travelers to book their winter trips to Eagle County.
Limiting the ongoing spread of COVID and keeping disease levels lower is good for our schools, our businesses, and our ski season. Our positive habits will continue to benefit all of us. We’ve got this!
Heath Harmon is the director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment.
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