Possible major restriction downgrade in May
[ By Mark Reaman ]
If the local coronavirus numbers continue on their current trend — with significantly fewer positive test results and increased numbers of people obtaining vaccines — Gunnison County could move to the state’s “green” level by the end of May. While there could still be some health restrictions in place, they would be much lighter than what has been implemented during the last year.
Just two positive COVID-19 test results were recorded in the county in the last 10 days and Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom described that development as being great. “We are all very excited to see that,” he said. “To be near the end of the ski season and having kept it together as much as we did as a community is exciting.”
Sandstrom said that trend is not being seen everywhere in the country and Colorado. In fact, he said Pitkin County, home to Aspen, is seeing quite a few new cases. While the Front Range is not seeing an increase in numbers, they are on a high plateau.
“We are on what Joni (Reynolds) described as a low plateau with no growth rate,” he described. “There are multiple factors. The community has done a really good job. More and more people are getting vaccinated. There is probably an element of dumb luck in there too. But all those things add up. We are certainly in a good place.”
To get to the state’s “green level” the local incident command team said three things have to be in place. The first is that at least 10,000 people out of the 17,000-person county population have to be fully vaccinated. He said there should be more than 5,000 such people fully inoculated by the end of the week.
“If we can keep the current vaccination trajectory we could be in green by the end of May,” he said. “The second thing is we want more than 70 percent of the local population over 65 years old to be fully vaccinated and we’ve already hit that with 75 percent. The third factor is to have 70 percent of the people in the county who stated they had a health condition to be fully vaccinated. That one is a little tricky but by our best guess, more than 90 percent of the people who have claimed to have such health conditions should have at least one dose by the end of this week. That should be completed then in the next three or four weeks. So the last metric to hit is getting 10,000 people fully vaccinated. There is a light at the end of that particular tunnel.”
Sandstrom was careful to include caveats with his May projection. If a COVID variant invades and blows up the county it could change things, especially if a variant is discovered that does not react to the vaccine. While one case of a Southern California variant was found in the county earlier this month, it is not yet an issue. “If a so-called ‘variant of concern’ gets here, it could change things quickly,” he emphasized.
He also said that currently the mask mandate is tied to the overall county health order so the mandate could remain in place until that health order expires at the end of June.
In the meantime, the state has already loosened some restrictions and Sandstrom said capacity regulations have been modified. Indoor event capacity is at 50 people while up to 250 people can now gather outdoors for events. He said the state is expected to allow some increase in the percentage of people allowed into various businesses but that is not yet official.
Sandstrom again urged residents to sign up on the county website to register for a vaccine. He said the county is zipping through the various levels so individuals might be eligible faster than expected. In fact he said it is anticipated that vaccines will be available to anyone in the county sometime in April.
He also is encouraging people to participate in this weekend’s public testing events so the county can build a timely data base now that spring break is over. You can walk up to a testing facility and get a free test in Gunnison on Friday at the Fred Field House at the fairgrounds from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. A similar community testing event will be held Saturday at the Crested Butte Community School from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sandstrom said if you can’t make either of those, free testing is available at the Gunnison Valley Hospital with an appointment.
“We are on a good trajectory and things look great given the numbers,” Sandstrom concluded. “If we all pull together, we can keep moving fast and return to a more normal situation pretty quickly. So sign up for your vaccination.”