Smith Hymes: Eagle County at a crossroads
Rapid spread of COVID-19 is back in Eagle County. Far more alarming is the runaway spread of coronavirus in many parts of our country. “Divided we fall” sums up the stark American failure to contain and manage this global pandemic in comparison to countries in Europe, Asia and our neighbor to the north, Canada.
Major national retailers have finally mandated wearing face coverings in their businesses. This action recognizes that there is no longer a partisan debate about the efficacy of wearing a mask in public. Regrettably, it is too little, too late to prevent overwhelming the health care capacity in some states.
Our nation failed to implement policies and practices that have proven effective in other countries, and now we are all paying the price. Outbreaks in other states are directly hindering Eagle County’s ability to identify and contain new coronavirus cases. Because of the surge elsewhere, the turnaround time for COVID-19 test results has ballooned to an average of five to eight days. This delay totally undermines the ability of Eagle County Public Health to conduct effective contact tracing and break the chain-reaction of COVID spread in our community.
Some place the blame for our recent spike in cases on out-of-state visitors. While that is likely a factor, Eagle County is a visitor-based economy, so the financial and mental well-being of most of our residents is directly dependent upon the jobs these visitors bring. Balancing public health and economic vitality requires community-wide action; singling out a particular group for blame isn’t productive to meeting this challenge.
Due to recent spikes in infection rates and positivity rates, Eagle County has just amended the public health order reducing the size of both public and private gatherings. Our response over the next two weeks will directly impact the reopening of schools and businesses. The most important immediate action that everyone can take is to minimize social contact and social gatherings. We cannot afford another stay-at-home order or business shutdown.
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Cancelling the AvonLIVE free concert series this week was beyond disappointing. Avon’s staff had figured out a creative way to hold in-person community events that were badly needed and appreciated by many. While we don’t believe that our AvonLIVE concert series presented unreasonable public risks, continuing the concert series would have communicated a confusing message to the public when social gatherings and social contact must be minimized now.
The Eagle County community is at a crossroads today. Public health orders and local regulations will only do so much. What is needed now is for everyone (meaning everyone) to truly practice social distancing, wearing face masks in public, and minimizing social contact to the greatest extent possible until we knock the infection rate back down.
Sarah Smith Hymes is the mayor of the town of Avon. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.