This article and photo first appeared in the Vail Daily on April 20, 2020.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Monday afternoon that he expects Eagle County to be the first in the state to reopen. Polis, in a live address, said he intends to be in Eagle County on Thursday or Friday for the announcement.
Polis praised the efforts of officials in the county for being able to reopen while also mentioning some of the local luminaries who have died from the virus, among them beloved entertainer Rod Powell, and hotelier Bob Lazier, who died Saturday.
“The most social among us were some of the first who were stricken down,” Polis said. “We lost some real iconic people in our state, that many people knew, and it’s really symbolically important that Eagle County was able to work hard, doing a great job, starting earlier than the rest of the state on county health orders, and now get to this place where, by the end of the week they’ll be able to move forward.”
With Eagle County as an example, Polis said there will not necessarily be a statewide approach to reopening.
“We are thrilled with local counties going above and beyond the state in being able to reopen sooner, in a safe way,” Polis said.
Polis said Eagle County has a sustained decrease in cases over the last 14 days, is able to perform testing for all who have symptoms, and is able to monitor and perform contact tracing for cases.
Touting those benchmarks, Eagle County officials, on Saturday, asked the state for permission to reopen businesses and outdoor recreation areas that can meet social distancing requirements. Heath Harmon, local public health director, said that the Vail Valley has now reached a level where everyone who has COVID-19 symptoms can get a test.
During the past week, Harmon said commercial labs were able to work through a backlog of tests, and results are now coming back consistently within 24 to 48 hours. That, along with the fact that local health providers now have full access to testing for anyone who shows symptoms in Eagle County, means the county has now met the requirements to trigger the relief request, Harmon said.
Now that Eagle County has seen a sustained decrease in COVID-19 cases for at least 14 days, Harmon said the community will receive greater health benefits from incrementally loosening restrictions.
“Let’s face it, economically we can also see longer-term public health concerns, behavioral health concerns, as well,” Harmon said. “So what we’re really trying to do is measure the risk in the community with the fact that the spread of the disease has slowed down so much.”
Polis acknowledged the local economy will be slow to get going in Eagle County with no tourists in town to support businesses.
“We know that business will be slow,” Polis said. “While stores may be open, there’s not going to be, nor does Eagle County even want, nor do they have, the level that they would have in summer, of tourism. It’s going to be a tough time across our economy.”
Polis himself, however, plans to visit Eagle County in the coming days.
“It’s going to be hard for our mountain communities, that’s one of the reasons why I’m going to go to Eagle County,” Polis said. “It’s a very important milestone, because it’s symbolic of the state’s movement from sprint to marathon, in Eagle County, which put in restrictions as a hotspot several days before the county did, now also, by the end of this week, being able to emerge from that, before the state did, at great loss in the community, legendary community figures and people that everybody knew around town that didn’t make it.”