It will get worse before it gets better
By Kendra Walker and Mark Reaman
Unprecedented government action is being taken in unprecedented times as local officials issue orders meant to try and stem the coronavirus that has invaded the valley. That virus has wreaked havoc in places that did not take extreme measures such as Italy and it has appeared to strike resort mountain communities in Colorado quicker than many other places in the U.S.
What was supposed to be a bustling town this week with Spring Break crowds on the mountain, hour-long waits at Elk Avenue restaurants and the town shuttle packed to the brim, has quickly become a ghost town with tourists being ordered to leave, locals being asked not to hang out with each other and businesses reducing operations, if not closing completely.
Just 10 days ago our community couldn’t have predicted what exactly we’d be facing today, even with national and worldwide cases of the coronavirus multiplying and ensuing panic in places from China to Seattle. But since COVID-19 loudly hit the Gunnison Valley this past week, a flurry of emergency activities has taken place that has left us all in some sort of apocalyptic time warp.
Several emergency disaster orders have been issued, including declarations by the state, county and both towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.
Elected officials and stakeholders are holding emergency teleconference meetings and meeting electronically on a daily basis with county-wide representatives. Local officials are talking to the governor and federal officials looking at how to soften the blow of an economic crash that is shutting down business many rely on to make it to the summer.
A county public health order has closed restaurants and retail except for takeout and delivery services, prohibited all gatherings and events of 10 people or more and directed visitors of Gunnison County to leave and go home. Social distancing and self-quarantine are terms we’ve become very familiar with, limiting our contact with others to a distance of at least 6 feet. Employees are working from home if they can, and joint phone calls and video conferences have become the new normal as we interact and touch base with our peers.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort has closed early for the season and travel in and out of the region is in jeopardy with flights and transportation options being cut back for the unforeseeable future. The Mountain Express transit system has been shuttered. The RTA commuter buses, that primarily transports workers between the two ends of the valley are taking no more than eight passengers on any trip.
Professional emergency management groups have formed to assist with county-wide updates, protocols and resources related to COVID-19, and hundreds of community members have volunteered their time to helping those in need of information, health services and quarantine supplies. The 25-bed Gunnison Valley Hospital is planning for a surge of patients as the virus expands and impacts some of the estimated 3,0000 “vulnerable members” of the valley population. As of Wednesday, two people had been hospitalized as a result of the virus and at least 239 people in the county are self-reporting COVID-19 symptoms.
In the midst of a world-wide pandemic, our mountain town has perhaps felt the effects of this coronavirus differently than other areas of the nation. Local leaders scramble to stay ahead of the spread in an effort to try to “flatten the curve” so that not everyone gets sick at once. No doubt they’re working tirelessly to keep residents healthy and safe in an environment of constant flux and change. But the valley has felt the impacts elsewhere; economically, socially and mentally as we watch a strange, foreign town temporarily take the place of the vibrant community that we love. And whatever another 10 days from now looks like, our hearty community will take it one step at a time and get through it together.