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During a global pandemic, Eagle and Gypsum sales tax receipts report unexpected jumps

A funny thing happened when the downvalley communities of Eagle and Gypsum girded themselves for the financial impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

While the towns braced themselves for massive sales tax revenue hits, locals apparently went shopping. As a result, both Eagle and Gypsum are reporting increases in their sales tax numbers through the first half of 2020.

A court ruling in 2018 has a lot to do with those figures. In the South Dakota versus Wayfair decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that municipalities could collect sales tax on online purchases. That was a game-changer for communities such as Eagle and Gypsum, which have limited brick-and-mortar shopping options and have, for decades, battled a problem called leakage  — residents spending their money outside of the communities where they live.

“I would say with confidence that the Wayfair decision solved a lot of our issues with leakage,” said Eagle Town Manager Brandy Reitter. “The benefit of being a year-round community, especially during a downturn, is that maybe instead of going to Glenwood to Target or Avon to Home Depot, you just stayed at home and ordered it online.”

Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann figures the impact of the Wayfair decision roughly equates to the impact of having one more, large retailer in the community,.

“COVID is a leakage stopper because everyone is terrified to go anywhere,” he said. “Buy I don’t know if that’s the way I would have preferred to stop leakage.”

Revenue offset

During the first three months of 2020, the town of Eagle saw sales tax revenues jump 25% over 2019 figures. During the second quarter, which ended in June, revenues were up 23% over last year. Dollarwise, that equates to collections of $3.076 million this year compared to $2.480 last year.

But not all the revenue news in Eagle is as cheery.

“All our other revenues are down significantly,” Reitter said, pointing to lodging tax, building feeds and other collections. “With sales tax being up, it will offset some of those losses.”

Higher sales tax collections will also forestall big budget cuts. Reitter noted that right now, the plan is to keep a solid amount of money in reserve  — upwards of 30% of expenditures — and maintain current staffing and services. There is still a lot of financial uncertainty on the horizon for the rest of 2020 and into 2021.

“There is a lot of federal stimulus money that has propped up our economy and we all know they are having a tough time figuring out the next step there,” Reitter said. “This isn’t like the 2008 Recession. This is different. We are all kind of reacting to it and doing the best we can.”

It’s all fine, until its not’

In Gypsum, sales tax numbers for the first half of 2020 are up 9.85%. The town brought in $3.86 million through June of this year compared to $3.52 million during the same period of time in 2019.

The numbers are also very strong for Gypsum’s other chief revenue source — the real estate transfer tax. Rietmann said that with just under 60% of the year completed, real estate transfer tax receipts total just over 73% of the amount of money the town budgeted for 2020.

“Now that we have been through a few months of this, we are not surprised by the collections right now, because of the types of retail we have in town,” Rietmann said. “We still have concerns about the operations at the airport this winter and we know that will put some downward pressure on our budget. The million dollar question is how much?”

“It’s obvious we are going into an extended period of economic uncertainty,” Rietmann added. “For 2021, we are going to try to be very thoughtful with our spending.”

Like Eagle, Gypsum has a lot of money in reserve right now — 46.8% or $4.1 million. “That is the highest, to my knowledge, we have ever had,” said Rietmann. “It is our obligation, as we go along, to make sure we steward that money well for our taxpayers.”

Having a healthy reserve means the town can be nimble, he noted. “It’s all fine, until its not. This is a very unclear time and being nimble is just really important,” Rietmann said.

For now, the town is anxious to see July revenues from the Eagle County Regional Airport. “That may give us a hint for winter,” Reitmann said. “Our biggest revenue months out at the airport are January, February and March. We know there will be some revenue loss out there, we just don’t know how big it will be.”

No more predictions for Eagle County

Even Eagle County, where sales tax numbers are heavily weighted by collections in the upvalley resort communities hit hard by COVID-19, has gotten better news than expected. While sales tax revenues for the first six months are 5% below budget — $8.5 million actual compared to $8.9 budgeted — collections during June were 1.5% higher than collections in June 2019.

“We really thought there would be a 10% to 15% revenue drop across the board,” said Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman. “We didn’t know what to expect. Would people be comfortable traveling? Would they choose Eagle County as a destination? The answers are yes, they are comfortable and they are choosing Eagle County.”

Along with strong early summer sales tax collections, Klosterman noted the local real estate market is doing well. The strength of local home sales may be a side impact of COVID-19 with long-term repercussions, she said.

“What is the impact to Eagle County if more people are working remotely?” Klosterman said. “Forever, Eagle County has looked to how it could to diversify its economy. Maybe it will happen through remote work.”

Overall, Klosterman said the county has taken a $3 million hit to revenues tied to the pandemic. But the county has also received federal funding to offset those hits. Looking forward to the 2021 county budget, Klosterman also plans for healthy reserves and status quo spending.

“We are not planning mass layoffs for 2021, but we will continue to look at all programs. “We are going to look very carefully to make sure we can manage the core services we do. But I am sleeping much better than I did in April. We have really strong reserves.”

“The ski season will be the big unknown,” Klosterman continued. She noted that Eagle County traditionally sees its highest sales tax collections during the months of July, December and January through March.

“I have sworn off making predictions for now,” Klosterman said.

Reitter isn’t making predictions either. “This whole thing is weird, because we have 20 percent unemployment, but sales tax is up for a lot of areas.”

”We aren’t where we were, economically before March,” Reitter added. “It’s not as bad up here as we originally thought is would be. But 2020 is definitely a year we don’t want to go through again.”

Eagle County reports COVID-19 trends are moving in the right direction

Eagle County Schools stole the thunder of this week’s COVID-19 update, announcing Monday that with Eagle County’s risk assessment moving from red to yellow, students would report in person for classes on Aug. 25 in a hybrid schedule.

“We have some positive news today, but it comes with a huge asterisk attached,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron in his weekly update delivered to the county commissioners Tuesday morning. He noted that the county’s risk meter has moved from the “concerned” level to the “cautious” level based on the overall COVID-19 scenario in the county.  

“But we are not back to that low level of disease we saw in late May, early June,” he said.

The county’s COVID-19 risk meter assessment has drawn widespread attention ever since Eagle County Schools announced that one of its criteria for bringing kids back to classrooms would be getting to the “cautious” stage. The risk meter needle moved to that stage this week, albeit just barely.

Even as he spoke about the meter movement, Barron stressed the graphic was intended as a communication tool to let people know the county’s overall COVID-19 status.

“That meter is not intended to tell people what policy decisions to make,” Barron noted. “There is always a lot more in play than it is yellow or is it red.”

“I think the good news is people are paying attention,” said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “It is one tool that people can use.”

Chandler-Henry asked Barron about the data that drives a risk meter decision, as well as the timing for the meter updates. Barron responded there are several factors that determine where the risk meter needle falls. County officials have said that the needle on the graphic moves based on five indicators: local disease spread trends; the number of new cases; percent of tests that come back positive; hospital admissions, medical visits and severe disease; and state and national trends that impact Eagle County.

Typically the meter is updated Sunday night or Monday morning and re-evaluated shortly before Barron’s county commissioner update. He noted the timing was slightly different this week because staff members who help with the data analysis were out of the office.

Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney added that many people are closely following the COVID-19 data on www.ecemergency.org and have noted that the number of cases often changes.

“We don’t change them to influence the data in some way. We change them because the data changes,” McQueeney said.

COVID-19 status

Barron said this week’s COVID-19 dashboard shows there have been 118 new COVID-19 cases in the county over the past two weeks. This indicator remains in the red stage, but it is on a downward trend. That’s consistent with statewide data and consistent with what Eagle County has seen since COVID-19 first hit the area — the local trends are a week to two weeks ahead of the state as a whole.

“We are still seeing outbreaks, though, and we are seeing outbreaks in business and facilities that cause a big disruption in our community,” Barron noted. “We are still higher than a sustainable level.”

But the cases of severe COVID-19 — people so sick that they require hospitalization — has remained low locally. Over the past 14 days, only three COVID-19 cases have been hospitalized at Vail Health Hospital.

The other big gain locally is the lower percentage of tests that come back positive for COVID-19. There have been more than 1,000 tests performed during the past 14 days and 10% came back positive. That number hovered around 20% earlier this summer. Turnaround time for testing has vastly improved over the past couple of weeks, Barron added. Results are now routinely available in one to three days, as opposed to 10 to 14 days as they were in early and mid-July.

“That’s an incredible increase in the state and national testing capacity,” Barron noted.

The county’s contact tracing efforts are also showing improvement, Barron said. In the past 14 days: 49% of newly reported cases were close contacts of a known case. This is an incremental increase from the previous 14-day report of 38%, indicating a slight improvement in stopping the chains of transmission. Only 2% of newly reported cases were exposed outside of Eagle County.

What’s troubling though, are people who refuse to comply with the five commitments of containment and with isolation orders when they are diagnosed with COVID-19, Barron said.

“There are still people out there in the community who test positive and do not quarantine or do not isolate and then go out and spread the disease to their friends, to their coworkers,” he said. “There are people who test positive and do not want to work with public health and talk about who they have spent time with, which means the people who they have exposed to the disease continue to go out there and expose all of you and your families and your co-workers to disease and keep us at that high level.”

Tips from American Red Cross for assembling emergency preparedness kits

Whether you have an emergency kit already or are putting together your first one, it’s 2020, and everyone should be prepared. An emergency kit has all of the essentials that you and your family (pets included) may need in case of an emergency causing evacuation or hunkering in.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing and responding to emergencies has become more complicated, but also important as the country heads into peak months of hurricane and wildfire seasons.

If you are updating your emergency kit or creating one from scratch, the process can be turned into a fun family activity. American Red Cross offers tips for how to prepare and what to include in emergency kits.

Recommendations include keeping your supplies in an easy-to-carry emergency preparedness kit that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate.

At a minimum

  1. Water: 1 gallon per person, per day (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home)
  2. Food: Non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (three-day supply for evacuation, two-week supply for home)
  3. Flashlight
  4. Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  5. Extra batteries
  6. Family first aid kit
  7. Medications (seven-day supply) and medical items
  8. Multi-purpose tool
  9. Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  10. Copies of personal documents
  11. Cell phone with chargers 
  12. Family and emergency contact information
  13. Extra cash
  14. Emergency blanket
  15. Map(s) of the area

Recommended to add

  • Medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc)
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Games and activities for children
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Two-way radios
  • Extra set of car keys and house keys
  • Manual can opener

Other supplies depending on your area

  • Whistle
  • N95 or surgical masks
  • Matches
  • Rain gear
  • Towels
  • Work gloves
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home
  • Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Household liquid bleach
  • Entertainment items
  • Blankets or sleeping bags

For more information from the American Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org.

Eagle will share its CARES Act funding with local nonprofits providing COVID-19 relief

EAGLE — After reimbursing its direct expenses, the town of Eagle now wants to help out local organizations with their COVID-19 response efforts.

Earlier this month, local governments divvied up $4.7 million in federal dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The Eagle Town Council reviewed the town’s past and projected COVID-19 expenses and then chose to disburse a portion of its $99,188 in CARES funding directly to nonprofit organizations in the community. As a result, the town now has $46,000 in immediate funding available to assist nonprofit organizations that serve Eagle residents.

“There are probably dozens of needy organizations out there,” said Eagle Mayor Scott Turnipseed. “Hopefully we can direct the money to people who are doing work for COVID relief.”

Even before they opened up funding to the community, Turnipseed noted the town had already figured out one novel way to address COVID-19 needs. Eagle purchased a pig at the Eagle County Junior Livestock Sale and then donated the meat to The Community Market. And, while the food bank program is an obvious candidate for COVID-19 relief dollars, Turnipseed said the Town Council opted to reach out to learn about other community needs.

“It was obviously a conscious decision on our part,” said Turnipseed. “At least it gives us some information about groups that are out there.”

But the there is a quickly approaching deadline for groups to ask for help.

Applications available

The deadline to request aid from the town of Eagle is The deadline for this letter is Aug. 19. To apply for a portion of the available funding, community organizations are asked to follow these steps:

  1. Write a one-page letter to the town of Eagle describing your organization, the role you play in service to residents of the community, and the specifics of the request. Please describe how the requested funds will be used to help those impacted by COVID-19. Please include the following documentation along with your letter:
    • Verification of 501c(3) status
    • 2019 financial statement, P/L or other format showing your financial position
    • A summary of your organizational structure
  2. Email the request letter to Bill Shrum, assistant to the town manager at bill.shrum@townofeagle.org.
  3. At its meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 25, the Eagle Town Council will review the requests and make funding decisions.
  4. Funding must be distributed to the non-profit recipients no later than September 1, 2020. Recipients will be contacted, and appropriate documentation must be provided to the town prior to disbursement.

“The town of Eagle greatly appreciates the community support provided by nonprofit organizations that serve the residents of Eagle and have been crucial resources during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shrum in a written statement. “The town of Eagle is committed to the residents of Eagle, the business community, and to assisting the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

For more information about Eagle’s efforts, operations changes, and resources for navigating the impacts of COVID-19, go online to www.townofeagle.org/covid-19.

Vail approves $1 million for commercial rent relief

The Vail Town Council on Tuesday approved another measure intended to help prop up the local economy: rent relief for small businesses.

The council unanimously approved a resolution allocating $1 million for commercial rent relief. The program is effective from now until the end of November to help get businesses through until the start of the ski season.

Vail Economic Development Director Mia Vlaar told councilmembers that the Vail plan uses a model that is similar to relief packages in Aspen and Breckenridge.

Vlaar told councilmembers that the plan is aimed specifically at small businesses. The program limits the number of employees a participating business can have. It also requires a business to show financial statements, and must show a year-over-year decline from 2019.

Landlords have to help

Landlords must participate in the program. The idea is that landlords, business owners and the town will all chip in one-third of the rent on a commercial space.

Businesses must also be current on all payments to the town, and a business can’t have any other outlets outside of Colorado unless the owner’s primary residence is in Eagle County.

Mayor Dave Chapin owns Vendetta’s restaurant in Vail Village. He questioned the program’s requirement that a business be open six days a week — five days in October and November.

Chapin noted it’s unlikely the town will see much group business this fall. That business is usually what keeps shops and restaurants open during the town’s slowest months.

Councilmember Jenn Bruno countered that the intent of the program is to keep businesses open.

“If we shut down everything, people aren’t working,” Bruno said.

Councilmember Jen Mason said the program will require some creativity on the part of businesses, particularly restaurants. Some restaurants might have to offer limited menus in order to stay open, she said.

Vlaar said the important thing is to get started.

“There’s a lot of things we don’t know at this point,” Vlaar said, reiterating that the goal is to keep businesses open and creating “vitality” in town.

While Chapin had some questions about the program, he said he’s a supporter.

Councilmember Brian Stockmar added that the program is “an opportunity for the town to work with its businesses … it clearly is the sharing of a cost.”

‘Excited’ for the program

Hilary Magner and her husband Kevin own the Squash Blossom in Vail Village. Reached by phone Wednesday, Hilary Magner said she’s excited to see the program created. But, she added, it’s going to be essential to get landlords to participate.

The Magners, parents of two young children, are alternating 12-hour days at the shop, which they’ve owned for only about a year.

“We just take our business one day at a time,” she said, adding that the rent relief program will help their business some until ski season.

“We’re so very grateful for this,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”

The commercial rent relief may be just the start of more help for local businesses.

Bruno said the town should look into providing shelters for outdoor seating areas at bars and restaurants. Town Manager Scott Robson said the Vail Economic Advisory Committee is also looking into programs including gift cards for October and November.

Stockmar said the ideas he heard Tuesday seems “sensible,” but added he wants a better idea of what those assistance efforts will cost.

Robson replied that he and other town officials can probably quickly come up with cost estimates for other ideas for helping the town’s small businesses.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Personal protective equipment ready for the start of the school year

Eagle County Schools announced Tuesday the receipt of a substantial amount of personal protective equipment, including the first batch of 450 KN95 masks for student-facing staff provided by the governor’s office. The district has been working with the county to order adequate supplies for the start of school since it became clear that the pandemic would not resolve before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

“It’s great to receive the KN95 masks for our teachers and staff serving students,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman in a news release. “The state is sending these masks each week to help supplement the other gear we’ve purchased to keep staff and students safe.”

KN95 masks offer a higher grade of protection compared to cloth or surgical masks. Like N95 masks, KN95 masks filter out 95%+ of non-oil-based particles such as those resulting from wildfires, air pollution, volcanic eruptions, and bioaerosols (viruses). As the name suggests, these coverings block 95% of the particles they encounter. N95 masks are used in hospitals when intubating patients infected with COVID-19. The difference between the two masks is primarily country of manufacture.

On June 30, 2020, Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science published in the journal, Physics of Fluids, a visualization of emulated coughs and sneezes to assess the effectiveness of face coverings in obstructing droplets. The impressive video shows how far droplets travel using common mask materials. The range is 2.5 inches from a stitched cotton mask to about 8 feet without any covering. Wearing a face covering contains droplet spread, and combined with social distancing, helps reduce virus transmission.

Eagle County Schools ordered and received 172,000 disposable face covers, 9,500 reusable cloth face covering, 9,500 buffs, 500 no-touch, infrared thermometers, plus 1,100 gallons of hand sanitizer, and inventories of gloves, germicidal wipes, and face shields to start the school year.

“Each student-facing staff member will have the PPE needed to create layers of protection against COVID-19,” Qualman said. “Staying home if sick, symptom checking before entry, wearing face coverings, maximizing social distance, cleaning throughout the day, hand-washing and sanitizing, reducing visitors, managing cohorts — this is not business as usual. Everyone is pulling together for our collective health and safety.”

In addition to Florida Atlantic, the University of California, San Francisco, has produced an article and video to help clear up confusion about the effectiveness of wearing masks. The idea supports the findings of Florida Atlantic — face coverings reduce the distance droplets travel. This reduction, plus staying outside of that perimeter around people, minimize exposure to droplets and the virus.

Eagle County Schools is watching the spread of COVID-19 in the community in hopes of returning to in-person instruction on August 25. A decision of how school will start, in-person, modified in-person, or remote, will be made around August 10, based on the health status of the community.

Eagle County Schools shares exemption process for face covering

Eagle County Schools announced Tuesday that the 504 process will be used for parents who request a medical exemption to wearing a face covering for their children during the 2020-21 school year. Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows parents to ask for specific accommodations if their child(ren) have physical or mental impairments that affect or limit their abilities to:

  • Walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
  • See, hear, or speak
  • Read, concentrate, think, or learn
  • Stand, bend, lift, or work

The 504 process can be started with a doctor’s note. If a student cannot wear a face covering, the accommodation is to participate in school through distance learning as the district cannot keep the other students and staff safe if an exempt student is not wearing a face covering. Parents may proactively choose to enroll in World Academy, or remote learning with their neighborhood school, without seeking the specific 504 exemption.

There will be a few exceptions to the face-covering policy, including preschool students and students with individualized education programs who have exceptional needs that prevent them from putting on or wearing face coverings independently. Those cases will be handled individually by the district’s department of exceptional students services.

Unfortunately, fraudulent flyers and “face mask exempt cards” are circulating on social media that claim a person is categorically exempt because wearing a face mask “poses a mental and/or physical risk” and that under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), the person is “not required to disclose their condition.” Both ADA.gov and justice.gov have confirmed that these flyers and cards are fraudulent and inaccurate.

“We strive to be as accommodating as possible to parents and students to advance their success in school,” said Superintendent Philip Qualman in a news release. “World Academy is a great option for families unwilling or unable to wear a face-covering as we all prepare to return to school in the safest possible manner.” 

P-EBT: New food assistance program for Colorado families with children

The Colorado Department of Human Services and the Department of Education have joined to offer the ‘Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer’ (P-EBT) program to school-age children who would have received free or reduced price meals during the time schools were closed during the 2019-2020 school year.

The program is also available for children who would have been eligible for free or reduced price meals in schools in March, April, or May due to loss of household income during those months.

Each household with an eligible child can receive an amount of $5.70 per child for each day that schools were closed during the school year, meaning families will be able to obtain up to $279 for each eligible child, since in the state of Colorado most schools were closed for 49 days.

“The immigration status of the parents or children does not matter for P-EBT and P-EBT is not part of the public charge rule, this means that it does not affect families’ current or future immigration processes,” said Melina Valsecia, Community Connector and Operations Manager for the MIRA Bus, in a press release.

The household information that will be used to determine eligibility for P-EBT is completely confidential and is protected by federal and state data privacy practices, she added.

For Colorado families currently receiving SNAP benefits, or food stamps, and whose children attended a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program, no further action is necessary and benefits will automatically be issued starting Friday, July 24.

Families not currently participating in the SNAP program, and whose children attended a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program, will receive key instructions and information from the Eagle County School District, MIRA Bus, and Neighborhood Navigators of Eagle County. 

For eligible families in Colorado, applications are now open and can be accessed at Colorado.gov/CDHS/P-EBT through late September. More information can also be found at www.HungerFreeColorado.org.

P-EBT benefits will be issued to households via a Colorado EBT debit card as a one-time payment reflecting the days the children would have been in school during March, April, and May but were not due to COVID-19.

For those families wishing to apply for this benefit, the SASID identification number, which is assigned to each student by the state, will be required. Families will receive communication from their child’s school via email with information on how to obtain this number.

If you need help finding this ID number or filling out the application, you can contact the MIRA Bus at 970-688-0001 or Neighborhood Navigators for assistance.

Additionally, MIRA Bus staff and Neighborhood Navigators will be assisting with P-EBT applications in-person at the bus’ different locations throughout the county. Below are the MIRA Bus locations and schedule for this week:

  • Monday, August 3 – Old Town Park in Eagle, 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Tuesday, August 4 – Lake Creek Village Apartments in Edwards, 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, August 5 – Aspen Mobile Home Village in Avon, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 6 – Ridley’s Family Market in Gypsum, 12 to 4 p.m.
  • Friday, August 7 – Eagle River Village in Edwards, 8 a.m. at 5 p.m.

*COVID-19 tests will be taking place on Wednesday and Friday in the MIRA Bus. To see the full MIRA Bus schedule visit the website here.

With school slated to open Aug. 25, county residents and visitors urged to up their COVID-19 prevention game

Eagle County’s COVID-19 risk meter remains solidly in the red/concerned zone this week, with less than three weeks until the planned first day of school.

School officials have stated that unless the meter drops to at least the yellow/cautious zone, in-person instruction won’t happen. But even though current, new COVID-19 case numbers are twice as high as what they need to be before health officials downgrade the local risk, there is still a chance that can happen before the slated Aug. 25 school start date.

“The intent of the meter is really to give our community an idea of where we are sitting, right now,” explained Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron during his weekly update for the Eagle County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday morning.

And just where is Eagle County this week? Barron noted that over the last two weeks, there have been 170 new cases of COVID-19 reported. In order to drop the risk meter into the yellow zone, that number needs to be 96 or fewer.

Determining the risk

Barron noted several factors play into the risk level determination including the new cases reported over a two-week period and the number of hospitalizations, or serious COVID-19 cases, in the county. He said the county’s new case numbers are nearly three times the level that the state sees as concerning. But Barron also noted that the number of serious COVID-19 cases in Eagle County remains low, which means the county is doing a good job keeping its most vulnerable populations safe.

So, if serious disease numbers stay low and spread numbers decrease, we can move out of the red zone, Barron explained.

“This needle does not move based on what I feel like each morning,” Barron said. “The risk meter is based on the numbers. If we move the number of new cases down, that will move the meter down.”

Every single resident and visitor has a role to play in decreasing the risk level, he stressed. First and foremost, Barron said everyone needs to comply with the five commitments of containment.

“In your personal life, this is the biggest thing you can do,” he said.

At a time when mask-wearing and social distancing is vitally important, Barron said public behavior can be disappointing.

“We see a lot of people refusing to limit close contact and continuing to ignore containment orders,” he said. “As a community we need to tell our neighbors ‘Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that girl.’”

However, since new local COVID-19 cases spiked following the July 4 holiday week, Barron said he is seeing more community participation in efforts to contain the spread.

“Generally, there is an awareness over the past couple of weeks that we took things too far,” he said.

Community Spread

Barron reported that statistics over the past 14 days clearly demonstrate there is community spread of COVID-19 in Eagle County. For 38% of newly reported cases, there were close contacts of a known case and 3% were exposed outside of Eagle County. But 59% of new cases could not recall a known exposure to someone with illness or confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.

“In many cases, people who tested positively refused to identify close contacts and close contacts refused to follow quarantine orders, which perpetuates spread in the community impacting all residents,” Barron stated in his report.

He also noted that front line workers (service and construction industries) continue to experience the burden of disease activity. That is concerning on several fronts, Barron noted. First, this population is the county’s most economically vulnerable group.

“A lot of the people who are most impacted by this disease are the people who don’t have the resources to take care of themselves the way they need to,” Barron said.

Additionally, the entire county economy is dependent on the service industry to operate. So, if a group of workers at a given business all succumb to COVID-19, that business cannot remain open.

The good news

On the positive front, Barron said that COVID-19 testing turnaround has improved from where it stood a couple of weeks ago.

“Generally a lot of our providers are back into the two- or three-day turnaround,” he said.

Additionally, Barron said that over the past couple of weeks, 17% of the tests administered are coming back positive, versus 20% earlier this summer.

And while they aren’t where they need to be, Barron said the number of new local cases is trending downward.

“What we have seen over the last week is more positive,” said Barron. “People are getting the message and realizing that it backfired to take more risks.”

Other county officials urged the public to build on the downward spread trend.

“It is within our control, as the general public, to move the meter,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney. “We can move to yellow and stay in yellow.”

Yellow, as in the color of school buses that can be running in a couple of weeks if the risk meter needle moves to the left.

CHSAA moves prep football, soccer and volleyball to next year, announces 2020-21 school sports dates

The Colorado High School Activities Association announced Tuesday that it is pushing traditional fall sports like football, volleyball and soccer to the winter and spring.

Cross country was added to the list of approved fall sports, joining boys golf, girls softball and boys tennis. There will be no football, soccer or volleyball in the fall, but those are scheduled to be played at a different time in the year.

The state’s COVID-19 Response Team within the governor’s office spent months looking at the return-to-play plans that CHSAA submitted and emerged with a new schedule. The new calendar divides sports into four seven-week seasons: A, B, C and D.

“The health and safety of our student participants, coaches, officials and essential personnel, including volunteers is a primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities,” said CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green in a news release. “We are very grateful for the state, health and educational leaders for their shared commitment of a return to these highly beneficial education programs when it is deemed safe for all school communities.”

Each season will last about seven weeks, and the number of regular season contests will be reduced. There will also be a shortened postseason for each sport, with fewer state qualifiers. Sports played this fall will wrap up before Oct. 17. A complete list of dates can be found at chsaanow.com.

Anticipating many questions surrounding the move of football, CHSAA NOW published a Q & A with assistant commissioner Adam Bright, who oversees football. Football will begin practice in late February and games will start March 4. The sport is allowed to begin practice a week earlier than other sports in season C due to the required number of practices before playing. The season will be composed of seven games. Eight teams from each classification will enter the postseason.

Season B will begin on Jan. 4 and include basketball, ice hockey, skiing, girls swimming, wrestling and spirit.

Season C will begin March 1 and include field hockey, football, boys soccer, girls volleyball, gymnastics and unified bowling.

Season D will start April 26 and feature baseball, girls golf, lacrosse, girls soccer, girls tennis, track and field, boys swimming and boys volleyball.

Dates for nonathletic activities are still being decided.

All activities are subject to change depending on local, state and national guidelines.

To comply with health guidelines, sports will have modifications in place that can be found at chsaanow.com/coronavirus/modifications.