Could COVID-19 shut down Colorado’s ski season before it even begins?

On the same day that Arapahoe Basin’s COVID-19 operations plan was approved last week by public health officials — the final hurdle in permitting the mountain’s management to open it for the season — Summit County public health director Amy Wineland issued an amended public health order in response to the county’s increasing number of coronavirus cases.

In recent weeks, the county’s rate of cases moved it to sixth-highest in the state, causing Wineland to tighten requirements and guidelines across the county in hopes of stemming the increase with a public health order delivered Friday.

“Summit County continues to see a growing trend in outbreaks in its resident population associated with gatherings, activities at restaurants and office-based business operations,” Wineland wrote in her order. “The intent of this order is to minimize contact among individuals and reduce the public’s exposure to the novel coronavirus in an effort to prevent further restrictions and closures being imposed upon the county by the state.”

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In response, Arapahoe Basin chief operating officer Alan Henceroth issued a plea on his blog, urging compliance from county residents.

“If this rate doesn’t go down over the next two weeks, more severe restrictions will be put in place, hampering our ability to ski, work and enjoy life,” Henceroth wrote. “Conventional wisdom tells us that these cases are being brought in by outside tourists. Turns out that is almost completely false. Contact tracing has told us Summit County residents are spreading COVID to other Summit County residents. Nearly all of this is happening through socialization — an evening party, drinks after work, hanging too close with too many people. Many of the transmissions have occurred in the late evening, after partying, when peoples’ guards are down.

“If we want to enjoy winter in Summit County, we are going to have to turn things around quickly,” he wrote.

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In her order, Wineland asks Summit County residents to adopt “six commitments of containment,” including:

  • Maintain six feet of physical distance
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds
  • Cover faces in public
  • Stay home when sick
  • Get tested immediately if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Get a flu shot

In addition, she ordered that public and private gatherings are limited indoors to no more than six people from no more than two households, and no more than 10 people outdoors from no more than two households. Restaurants and bars must close at 11 p.m. and alcohol sales must end at 10 p.m. Face coverings that cover the nose and mouth are required indoors. They are also required outdoors when six feet of separation cannot be maintained.

“There is clear evidence that some individuals who contract COVID-19 have no symptoms or have very mild symptoms, which means they are likely unaware they carry the virus,” Wineland wrote. “Asymptomatic individuals can transmit the disease, and evidence shows the disease is easily spread, so gatherings of people facilitate transmission of COVID-19.”

Summit County’s COVID-19 numbers have elevated it to “high-risk” since Oct. 11, moving Wineland to sound the alarm and Henceroth to plead for cooperation.

“Keep your face coverings on,” Henceroth wrote. “Maintain your physical distances. Keep your groups small. The time to act is now.”

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