County to seek variance from state

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Testing ramps up as locals continue to navigate uncertainty of ‘safer at home order’

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Ouray County will seek a variance to resolve a new issue created by the state’s “safer at home” order which conflicts with the county’s plan to allow lodging bookings to resume on May 16.

The state didn’t previously restrict lodging, but Ouray County had its own public health order in place to discourage visitors from outside the area coming and staying in hotels, short-term rentals and other lodging. The county plans to allow that order to expire on May 15, and allow lodging to resume for those from outside the area with limits on capacity and other protocols, including increased sanitation.

However, the state’s newest health order specifically singled out short-term vacation rentals and said they couldn’t operate unless they house healthcare workers. This health order expires on May 27. It’s the latest in a series of layers of local and state orders that local businesses have had to navigate in trying to reopen.

Ouray County Public Health Department Director Tanner Kingery said he plans on seeking a variance from the state on this issue, which would require him to submit a detailed request to the state to allow Ouray County to stray from this portion of the statewide order. Two other counties have received variances recently to allow for public gatherings and for restaurants to serve diners at partial capacity, among other activities. If Ouray County continues to follow state guidelines for these types of activities, the state has said it is looking at loosening these orders potentially in mid-May but has not provided specifics.

Some have advocated for applying for variances to re-open restaurants beyond take-out, to allow outside dining or reduced indoor seating, as well as a variance exempting the county from enforcing a state-mandated limit on recreational travel to within 10 miles of a person’s home or within their county.

Kingery said Wednesday he’s considering those options also and plans on visiting with the other members of Unified Command as well as the commissioners about these ideas.

It’s unclear exactly when the state new or what they will look like at this time. Ouray Police Chief Jeff Wood cited this uncertainty as a reason for pursuing more variances during a Wednesday meeting with stakeholders.

Wood advocated for applying for a variance for restaurants to have expanded operations as well as for the 10-mile rule, and said pursuing the variance now might provide more certainty in case the state doesn’t lift restrictions in mid-May.

Community leaders are also navigating uncertainty about summer celebrations and graduation. The Ouray City Council is scheduled to discuss a modified or canceled Fourth of July celebration today. Some other communities, including Telluride, have announced they’ve decided to cancel their Fourth of July celebrations.

Kingery said he doesn’t expect the state’s orders on mass gatherings to be lifted anytime soon.

“I see the gatherings of 10 or fewer being in place for most of the summer,” he said. Groups are defined as anyone gathering in the same area, participating in the same event or activity. This means concerts, celebrations, sports events and any other sort of gathering would be limited to to or fewer, even if it takes place outside.

Ridgway and Ouray school leaders are planning to visit with Kingery today about graduation options. The Colorado Department of Education issued a list of guidelines, including rules prohibiting graduates from actually receiving their diplomas or other awards at graduation. Handshaking or hugs is prohibited and all the participants must stay at least 6 feet apart from each other. The state also has said any celebrations shouldn’t include tossing mortarboard hats into the air or any sort of activity that would exchange items between people. Some schools have opted to do car parades instead, hold a virtual graduation ceremony online, hold graduations at drive-in theaters or other outdoor locations or opted to delay their graduation ceremonies until later.

In the meantime, the state has expanded testing and released more information about the number of tests reportedly completed in each county. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is now reporting that 8o COVID-19 tests were performed on people living in Ouray County, though the majority of those tests were not actually performed within the county, meaning they had them done in other locations but live here. The county has has five confirmed cases of COVID-19, and one death so far.

The state mistakenly listed Ouray County as a “community testing site” on its website this week, which local health officials said is planned but not offered currently. Testing is still available at Mountain Medical Center (even for non-patients), which is offering the swab test as well as a new blood antibody test from Quest Diagnostics. According to clinic staff, none of the antibody tests have come back positive yet. Health officials have advised these blood antibody tests should only be used for research purposes and should not be used to determine whether someone is actually immune or protected from the virus.

According to Ouray County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd, Montrose Memorial Hospital has a new saliva test it’s starting to use this week, which requires the patient to spit in a cup and can have results within 24 to 72 hours. This test measures active infection.