This article and photo first appeared in CPR News on April 23, 2020
Gov. Jared Polis congratulated Eagle County on Thursday for being the first Colorado county to receive an exemption from the state’s executive order on coronavirus restrictions.
Eagle County was the first to show it had met the state’s parameters, including two weeks of decreased cases as well as full testing and monitoring capabilities for suspected cases.
“The rest of the state is about a week to 10 days behind where Eagle County is,” Polis said. “It is really appropriate that one of the first and hardest-hit counties is the first to really have your act together in a way that has the full confidence and support of the state of Colorado.”
Appearing over video conference to a small gathering of local leaders in the Eagle County Commissioners’ chambers, Polis called the gradual process of reopening the state important from an economic and psychological perspective, giving residents hope of getting through the pandemic in a way that still appropriately addressed public health priorities.
The Thursday meeting was meant to formally approve the county’s request for exemptions to the statewide stay at home order. However, it was somewhat ceremonial as Eagle County plans to ease its restrictions beginning on Monday — just like the rest of the state.
Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said the county’s new restrictions do seem to closely follow the statewide guidance starting on Monday, though Polis’ office has not yet released the full details of that plan. Chandler-Henry thought the meeting was more so meant to highlight what she described as the data-driven approach to bringing Eagle County’s coronavirus outbreak under control.
Eagle County, home to Vail Ski Resort, was one of the first places in the state to see widespread COVID-19 infections. The cluster of cases that appeared around Vail was a major factor in Polis’ decision to close the state’s ski resorts on March 14.
It was then that local public health workers sprang into action, collaborating with the private hospital Vail Health to implement robust testing and a contact tracing process. Officials said cooperation from residents then helped prevent wider spread.
Vail Health CEO Will Cook said his hospital no longer had any COVID-19 patients and has not had a patient on a ventilator since March 27. Cook told the governor he saw the exemption as an opportunity to continue that progress.
“But it comes at a very important level of responsibility, and we will not let you down,” Cook said.
The Eagle County rules allow gatherings of 10 people or less and provide for the opening of parks, retail shops and other certain businesses.
Tourism from out-of-state, normally the county’s biggest economic driver, is still prohibited. Chandler-Henry said residents had gotten a handle on virus prevention themselves and were not ready for the risk of further contagion. However, Chandler-Henry said the first step toward a wider opening of the county borders would come in allowing in owners of vacation properties.
“If you have a home in Eagle County, regardless of if it’s your primary or secondary home, this is a safe place to be,” she said. “If you are not sick, please come.”
Despite the county’s efficient response to the pandemic, seven residents there have died due to COVID-19.