By Jamie Leary

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Winter Park Resort is the latest Colorado ski area to report a COVID-19 outbreak among employees, making it the 11th ski area in the state with an active outbreak, according to the state’s data dashboard.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told CBS4 via email that since Nov. 11, there have been a total of 32 outbreaks associated with ski areas resulting in 106 positive cases among staff and four among patrons.

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The resort said Monday’s decision to report the outbreak to the state will allow it to pull in more resources to manage the spread, which was transmitted to employees through congregate housing and gatherings outside the workplace.

“Once the procedure of reporting to the state is completed, our local public health will work with them on what those resources are. It has not been fully determined yet that we are aware of, but one area being discussed is more access to testing kits,” said Liz Agostin, a spokesperson for Winter Park Resort via email.

The resort did not provide details on the number of employees impacted and Grand County Public Health said it could only provide general case counts for the county.

“I cannot provide you specific numbers as GCPH no longer compiles county-wide Q&I numbers, we would have to take each case investigation Q&I numbers to provide you an accurate answer. After cases shot up a few months ago, there were too many to compile each day, especially now with the new Q&I guidelines. Positive cases I can only provide a county-wide number of 174 in the past two weeks,” said Alexis Kimbrough, Director of Public Health via email.

Some community members and employees have expressed concern that the information was not made public quickly enough.

Jane Mathers, an active skier and longtime Grand County resident, wrote a letter to the health department about her feelings on the situation, which she gave CBS4 permission to share:

“It’s good to see that that Grand County Public Health (GCPH) and Winter Park Resort (WPR) have finally admitted that many WPR employees have contracted COVID.

It’s disappointing that GCPH, WPR, and our local newspapers, are not willing to say how serious our situation is.

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– Grand County (GC) has the 3rd worst rate of COVID infection among Colorado counties.

– Yesterday, GC had the 17th worst rate of COVID infection among the more than 3,000 US counties, worst 1% of counties.

We need this information to understand that we need to do much more to protect ourselves and our community from COVID, its long-term health impacts and even death. We’ve been very fortunate to have had only 2 deaths in GC so far. Based on the Colorado rate, we would have had more than 15 deaths. Can we continue to be this lucky?”

Mathers isn’t alone. Another community member who wanted to remain anonymous told CBS4 her boyfriend, a resort employee, was still in quarantine and she was frustrated with the news she claims took weeks to announce.

(credit: CBS)

“Early on I feel like our public health was releasing stuff every day, and being really forthcoming,” she said. “It’s not enough when you’re hearing about employees like, being anxious to come to work because they don’t want to get sick, but also they have to have a paycheck.”

She claims, as a result of the quarantines, there aren’t enough lift operators to run chairs and the resort has been cross-training people from other departments to the run lifts. 

“The rental and retail stores have had to close locations because they don’t have enough staff to run the store. Tickets and season pass office have also been having a hard time staffing the ticket desks,” the woman said.

The resort says currently there are no operational impacts, and it will continue efforts to prevent further outbreaks. It recently enlisted a state epidemiology/hygiene consultant to look at ways it can make improvements.

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It will continue to operate an on-site testing facility, which has been in place since December.

Jamie Leary