I was struck this past week by a breaking news notice from the Vail Daily. To save the 2020-2021 ski season, Vail officials are taking new measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, limiting virtually all gatherings only to members of the same family.
Those of us in the news business often keep track of each other’s news, so that in and of itself was not unusual. But the message — that Vail public health officials and the County Board of Health had issued an emergency order that only immediate families were allowed to gather for the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond — was. The order read:
“… Private gatherings may only include individuals from the same family.”
“For indoor dining … Only members of the same household may be seated together.”
Personal freedom versus responsibility
Town leaders are describing the situation in Eagle County as being “at a critical stage”, with case numbers for COVID-19 rising in Eagle County, and just about everywhere else.
Vail Town Council Member Jenn Bruno said the current virus’ spread appears to come primarily from private gatherings, with only negligible spread from bars, restaurants and retail shops. “If we all make a concerted effort in the next couple of weeks, we might have an impact on the season,” Bruno said. “We’re asking our neighbors to sacrifice a little right now… we believe we’ll prevail by having a full season.”
Eagle County is not alone in its alarm; which is focused not just on residents’ health, but an urgent plea to save their economy. Last week some 20 Colorado Counties moved to ‘Red’ Covid-19 concern. While Front Range municipalities and counties have diversified economies, we mountain communities have seasons primarily tied to recreation and tourism. The winter ski season is absolutely critical to our ability to economically survive this dark winter of 2020.
Chaffee County residents should take note of what our neighboring counties are facing as the doughnut hole that is Chaffee County continues to shrink. We may be ‘Yellow’ with highlights of Orange this week, but next week and the week after — who knows?
Which is what makes the inexplicable behavior by no less than a Chaffee County municipality even more bizarre; the Poncha Springs Trustees showing up in person for a Trustee meeting this past week, mostly mask-less, thumbing their noses at the Chaffee Board of Health, the Chaffee Department of Public Health and even a fellow trustee who said he didn’t attend because they weren’t respecting public health orders.
This isn’t just contrarian — it is irresponsible behavior at the highest magnitude. It disrespects science, county leadership, and the hundreds of businesses and thousands of county residents fighting hard to stay alive. This attitude is especially shocking when compared to the admirable approach taken by Monarch Mountain CEO Randy Stroud.
Stroud has planned for months, quite literally changed the entire operational practices of what is our local ski resort, and trained hundreds of employees. A few weeks ago he even offered to set back the opening of the ski season if it was needed to help his fellow businesses and neighbors.
While those who are “against” COVID-19 continue to claim personal freedom and their constitutional right to be reckless, Stroud and all the members of the Chaffee COVID-19 leadership round table established by County Commissioners show the other side of democracy. With freedoms come responsibilities — and one of them is not to act so recklessly as to endanger other people; Your freedom to be stupid doesn’t trump others right to live.
This isn’t a new concept. Read AVV Columnist Adam Silverman’s latest Thinking Security on what happened in 1918, the last time this nation faced a pandemic of this magnitude. That pandemic was not an isolated instance. In 1932, my own mother’s entire family contracted scarlet fever — and a six week quarantine notice was slapped on their door. This was Wisconsin, not North Korea.
Our Reality is “We’
Today, the U.S. officially passed 13 million Coronavirus cases. Health experts are saying that the official U.S. COVID-19 case numbers may actually be eight times higher than the official numbers.
COVID-19 isn’t a hoax. It doesn’t care what your politics are, whether you are elected, appointed or a volunteer, whether your business is fighting for survival, or you’re hopelessly trying to decide what bills to pay. It doesn’t care if you’re old, or young, rich or poor, conservative or liberal. It doesn’t care if you are just trying to live.
The Atlantic set up what we are facing in this way: “We can’t prepare for a tsunami,” said one physician representing the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. For medical facilities large and small, “there is a sense that chaos is on the horizon”.
The only reality that should matter now and over the coming months is ‘we’. This is the moment when all of us need to ask how true this mantra really is: “We’re all in this together.”