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Chaffee Countians are divided and concerned. On one side we are working to relax movement restraints under which we’ve been living. Many are concerned the restraints are leading to economic ruin. On the other side, we are cautioned to not move too hastily which risks a second, and a perhaps deadlier wave of the COVID-19 disease.

Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker. Image by Luke Urbine, Arkansas Valley Digital Imaging/AVDI.

Both perspectives are valid and each has experts who support it. Add to this dilemma, an absence of specific guidance from federal and state authorities and a seemingly unending change of directives. Visitors from outside the county are arriving despite admonitions from state leadership regarding the “Safer-at-Home” phase, which clearly details Coloradans should recreate near their own homes and not visit mountain communities.

Chaffee County hasn’t had any positive COVID-19 tests since April 11, and recent community testing of 13 symptomatic Chaffee County residents was all negative. These results are due in no small part to Chaffee Countians’ adherence to social distancing, wearing face coverings, frequent hand washing, and observing gathering restrictions.

Due to the need to transition and gradually reopen Chaffee County to visitors, the state has offered the opportunity to counties to request a variance from state orders. Chaffee County submitted a variance request on Friday, May 8 in order to place us in better control of our own destiny.

This request – (the details of which have been covered in the May 12 Chaffee County Public Health press release found on our county COVID-19 Resource web page at was created in partnership with the Chaffee County interagency crisis management team. This team consists of elected and appointed officials from the county, municipalities, school boards, and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) stakeholders – all coordinated and endorsed this request.

To date, twenty-two other Colorado counties have also requested or been granted a variance tailored to their circumstances. Chaffee County qualifies under the broad outlines given, due to the stable epidemiological and health care capacity data our county has demonstrated. If approved, we will carefully monitor healthcare data to assure the best Center for Disease Control (CDC) practices and requirements are followed to safely and gradually reopen Chaffee County in a phased approach.

We are dedicated to the ongoing response to COVID-19, at all levels of government to continue to balance the economic and public health impacts of COVID-19.

Keith Baker

Chaffee County Commissioner