By Jamie Leary

PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- Pitkin County has 2,466 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,00 people – the second highest case count in the state, just behind Bent County. As a result, the Board of Health voted Monday to move Pitkin County into Level Red restrictions, which will include the closure of indoor dining.

“We’ve seen red level restrictions decrease transmission of virus. We’ve seen it with all of the counties that did go into red back in November. It did lower their incident rates,” said Jordana Sabella, Pitkin County’s Interim Public Health Director.

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While Monday’s decision received unanimous approval, it came with some hesitation.

“I will support these measures, only because the rest of my board is supportive of doing something, but I don’t think this is exactly the scalpel we should be using,” said Aspen Mayor Torre.

“We really need to change people’s habits, and if we can really focus on messaging and telling people what the expectations are when they come to our town, we’re going to have much greater success than having a lockdown and people a lot of people out of work,” said board member Brent Miller.

During the four hour-long meeting, the board took dozens of public comments and answered numerous questions from community members via email. Some who thought the county should have gone to Level Red during the holidays like others across the state.

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“I certainly have been a bit frustrated there hasn’t been any kind of enforcement, as that could’ve helped our cause a little bit, but I think that we’ve got to do something, and that’s up for you guys to decide what to do, but we can’t keep doing what we’re doing because the numbers are going up. We’re getting more and more sick people in the emergency department, and we’ve just got to do something,” said an emergency physician who called in during the public comment session.

The specific staff recommendations for moving into, as well as out of, Level Red restrictions state:

  • Incidence Rate is above 700 for 14 days; OR
  • If one of the metrics is in red for 14 days and another dial metric goes into red for any period of time

Move out of Red Level Restrictions if:

  • Incidence Rate is below 700 and has been decreasing for 14 days
  • Apply for 5 Star program now, and have 5 Star certified businesses be able to operate at an increased capacity after 2-week sustained decline in red

Restaurants in Pitkin County will likely be hit hardest from the new restrictions, and while restauranteurs believe something needs to be done to curb the rise in cases, not everyone believes the move to Level Red will make a significant impact.

“They have no idea what they are doing and grasping from an intense frustration. If they think stopping the spread is going to result from closing restaurants, already at 25% capacity, they are fooling themselves. The fight is not over!” said Jimmy Yeager.

Yeager, who owns Jimmy’s Restaurant and Bar in the heart of Aspen, called restaurants the low hanging fruit, or the easiest target, when it comes to fighting the pandemic. Others during the public comment session of Monday’s meeting agreed.

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“Private DJs are still able to be hired to residences, bartenders are still able to be hired private residences when we’re actually looking at shutting down properly spaced-out businesses that allow for responsible dining,” argued one community member.

While the county plans to apply for the 5 Star Program, it needs to see a steady two-week decline in case numbers before restaurants can re-open with fewer limitations.

January is typically a slower month for tourism in Pitkin County, but officials say they are still waiting to see how cases from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays impact the case rate. While cases could slow, officials in the meeting Monday predicted they would continue to rise with no action.

The board of health will sign a new public health order Tuesday, which will take effect Friday, Jan. 15.

Jamie Leary