Ouray County will lift two public health orders requiring the closure of bars, restaurants and non-essential personal services and limiting mass gatherings, but will keep restrictions in place for second homeowners and seasonal residents returning to the area for now.
Commissioners Don Batchelder, John Peters and Ben Tisdel agreed with Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery’s suggestion to not extend two of the public health orders on Friday, in a special meeting. However, the majority of the commissioners said it was important to keep the two remaining public health orders in place – keeping restrictions on short-term lodging in place for non-essential workers, and requiring part-time or seasonal residents to quarantine for 14 days if they return to Ouray County.
The meeting, which lasted almost two hours, included public comments from other elected officials in Ouray and Ridgway as well as business owners and residents.
Commissioners said it was prudent at this time to end its public health orders on bars and restaurant operation as well as limitations on mass gatherings, in line with the state orders which mirrored what was happening on a local level. It’s not clear at this time exactly what the state’s guidelines on its tiered approach at loosening these restrictions will be, but commissioners said they expected more clarity from the governor as soon as this afternoon. The state previously issued information indicating restaurants and bars may begin to reopen as soon as mid-May. Gov. Jared Polis indicated the state orders related to these would expire on Sunday.
On Monday, some personal service industries will be allowed to open under the state orders, with certain guidelines in place which have not been determined yet. Other procedures, such as dental work and elective surgeries, will also be allowed to resume.
The recommendation on Friday to allow non-essential personal services businesses, like hair and nail salons and massage therapy, to reopen differentiated from the direction the county appeared headed on Tuesday, when commissioners appeared prepared to possibly extend all four public health orders.
Salon Monti owner Kendra Manley said she supported Kingery's initial recommendation to keep the non-essential personal services order in place and, though she and her stylists are hurting financially, she feels it's the right thing to do.
"There's no way we can social distance in a salon with a client," she said. "We might as well wear a full shield that all the healthcare providers are wearing to take care of patients."
The state has announced it will transition to a “safer at home” protocol replacing the “stay-at-home” order that has been in place for weeks. This new guidance relies mainly on continued social distancing, hand washing and other sanitation measures, and recommended wearing of masks in public to control contagion. The state is anticipated to release more details on how personal services can resume business, including hair salons,
Commissioners debated lifting restrictions on short-term lodging, and ultimately decided to recommend keeping May 15 as a possible date for changing its public health orders which don’t allow new bookings or stays of less than 30 days for non-essential workers or visitors.
Officials continue to receive changing information about infection rates, predictions and recommendations from the state on a daily basis.
Tisdel asked Kingery if any of the models predicting the spread of the virus being studied on the state level took out-of-state visitors into consideration.
“We’re trying to figure it out locally because we’re not getting it from anywhere else right now,” Kingery said.
Tisdel asked if somehow information on peak infection rates from other states where Ouray typically receives visitors from could be taken into account. He suggested basing the end of lodging restrictions on peak infection rates from states including Arizona, Louisiana and Texas, with a two-week buffer to allow for a decrease in cases in those states.
“There may be concerns about the accuracy of that,” Batchelder said.
Ouray Chalet owner Lora Slawitschka told commissioners that hotel owners need some certainty as to when they can begin taking reservations again, and expressed concerns that if they think they can reopen on May 15 but then things change and she has to explain that to those who have made reservations, it’s difficult.
Peters argued that short-term lodging, particularly small vacation rentals, should be allowed to reopen sooner than May 15 because they need to train their staff and develop protocols for cleaning and dealing with the virus. He also said he knows businesses are hurting and they should be allowed to take on the risk themselves of opening.
But Tisdel said the protocols need to be in place prior to allowing new bookings, and with a shortage of protective equipment for the workers themselves, more time is needed.
Batchelder agreed with Tisdel and added he wanted to see how the loosening of other restrictions went before opening up more risk.
“We are looking at, as a county, and more maybe as a country, the world is going to be very very different and we need to accept that and embrace that as part of the culture,” he said. “I am very hesitant to allow more risk at one point.”
If Ouray County experiences a spike in cases or hospitalizations, Kingery could issue new orders to protect public safety.
The lack of available testing remains a concern, something that was discussed with Colorado National Guard leaders Thursday. Unified Command members met in a group including Commissioner Peters, Ouray Mayor Greg Nelson and Ridgway Mayor John Clark with U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mike Loh after he and his team landed in a Black Hawk helicopter at the fairgrounds. Loh is the adjutant general of the Colorado National Guard. The stop was part of a tour Loh and Colorado Office of Emergency Management Director Mike Willis took around the state.
“We asked for their help to get us supplies, whatever they can do to get us more pertinent information, accurate information,” Peters said.
Batchelder closed the meeting by reminding attendees that everyone needs to take personal responsibility for keeping the public safe, and warning that the loosening of restrictions doesn’t mean there’s a “free for all” happening now.
“The county has abilities to restrict and or allow things but the county does not have the ability necessarily to watch you in a big brother fashion,” he said. “We need to be looking at an entirely different culture than we are all used to and we need to all adopt that.”
Editor's note: This story was updated late Friday afternoon. An earlier version of the story mistakenly indicated that non-essential personal services businesses were going to be kept closed.