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Pitkin County health officials make plan in case COVID-19 conditions worsen

The plan lays out what mitigation strategies would take place depending on Aspen Valley Hospital's capacity.

PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. — Ski season is just around the corner for hotspots like Aspen, and that means travelers from all across the state will be hitting the slopes. 

But with COVID-19 surging across the state and experts worried this latest surge may surpass last year's peak, Pitkin County's Board of Health decided on their 'Winter Planning Triggers and Mitigation Plan.'

The plan lays out what mitigation strategies would take place depending on Aspen Valley Hospital's (AVH) capacity. 

Among other things, the plan would bring back capacity restrictions if hospital capacity were to worsen.

Pitkin County already has a reinstated indoor mask mandate, and several businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to help prevent the spread. 

The board decided on the plan at a meeting on Friday. 

"We're being thoughtful now so that we don't go into panic mode later. And I also think that this puts the onus on our community regarding thoughtful event planning and thoughtful operation of their restaurant or their hotel or tourist operations indoors or out," Greg Poschman, a board of health member and county commissioner said at Friday's meeting. 

Credit: FILE

As of Nov. 9, Aspen Valley Hospital capacity is listed as 'comfortable,' which is based on an evaluation of inpatient hospitalizations, transfer capacity and COVID-19 testing, among other things. 

"Where we are experiencing challenges, is in transferring patients out," said Jordana Sabella in an interview Friday. Sabella is the public health director for Pitkin County. 

Aspen Valley Hospital's Inpatient Hospitalization and Transfer Capacity indicator in the hospital's capacity matrix is listed as "cautious."

The change, the web site says, "is directly related to a reduced transfer capacity to hospitals with higher levels of care, and not based on hospitalizations at AVH, which remain comfortable."

Right now, 75% of Pitkin County residents are fully vaccinated.

The winter plan has certain levels, or 'triggers,' that would cause implementation of certain restrictions. 

According to the plan, "the suspension of all elective surgeries at the discretion of AVH," would call for 50% capacity indoors, or 100% vaccination verification. 

That does not include schools, which were briefly discussed at the meeting Friday. 

"Things are always changing in the schools. The kids are getting vaccinated today, the 5 to 11. So there are a lot of moving parts still there," said Jeannie Seybold, a health board member for Pitkin County. 

The mitigation strategies go further if Aspen Valley Hospital has to move to "crisis standards of care," which is defined as "guidelines for how the medical community should allocate scarce resources such as ventilators and intensive care unit beds in the extreme case when patient needs exceed the resources available."

If that were to happen, the mitigation strategy would include a stay at home order, travelers would be ordered to return home, only essential businesses would operate, all events greater than one household would be cancelled, and schools would have to consider going remote. 

Pitkin County also has a Travel Responsibility Code, which outlines the mask mandate, and reminds people to check on local requirements. 

"And so part of this effort is for us to be able to think about how can we continue to operate, you know, now and throughout the winter and be able to communicate out the importance to those that are visiting here of taking those two important steps of getting vaccinated, as well as wearing a mask indoors when you're here," Sabella said. "We do all of these things that we know work, we're going to be better off and better able to protect that hospital capacity and enjoy a winter season."

Some businesses, like Meat and Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop in Aspen, will begin requiring all guests to show proof of vaccination in order to dine and shop indoors (a photo of the vaccine card will be accepted). They say 100% of their staff is fully vaccinated. 

Aspen Skiing Company says all of their employees are required to be fully vaccinated in order to work. 

Guests aged 12 and over will be required to show proof of vaccination, either an approved physical vaccine card or an approved vaccine verification application and proof of identity at their full-service dining areas like Cloud Nine, Alpin Room Restaurant at High Alpine, Sam's Restaurant (for sit-down dining access) and Lynn Britt Cabin (indoor dining area). 

The following hotels will also require proof of vaccination required at check-in:

  • Limelight Aspen
  • Limelight Snowmass
  • Limelight Ketchum
  • The Little Nell

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