Claim: Ski Town Locals, Not Tourists, Are Biggest COVID-19 Spreaders

Masks are to be worn at ski areas in Colorado "to the maximum extent possible."
Masks are to be worn at ski areas in Colorado "to the maximum extent possible." YouTube
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado ski season beckons. Wolf Creek opens today, beating Arapahoe Basin to first-run honors. Both have been given clearance to open under new protocols developed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but A-Basin is in Summit County, where coronavirus stats are spiking.

Summit is among the eleven Colorado counties at risk of triggering shutdown orders, with a two-week cumulative incidence rate of the disease that falls within the Stay at Home (Severe) range, at 490.6 per 100,000 people. That's even higher than the rate in Denver, which was just pushed to the Safer at Home Level 3 (High Risk) phase because of its elevated numbers. To get back to Stay at Home Level 2 (Concern), Summit — and Denver — must lower the rate to 175.

Against this backdrop, Alan Henceroth, A-Basin's chief operating officer, just published an open letter to Summit County residents on his popular blogspot in which he places the responsibility for the rising digits not on visitors to the area, but on locals who are engaging in risky behavior.

"Conventional wisdom tells us that these cases are being brought in by outside tourists," Henceroth writes. "Turns out that is almost completely false. Contact tracing has told us Summit County residents are spreading COVID to other Summit County residents."

Summit County was ground zero for COVID-19 in Colorado. The state's first reported case, back on March 5, was identified as an out-of-stater — a male in his thirties who had traveled to Summit County. In the weeks that followed, the county remained a hot spot for the disease, but the data improved markedly over the summer before climbing again in recent weeks.

Henceroth is known for speaking bluntly; back in 2013, he used his blog to issue a sharp warning about public pot smoking at the ski area. And his latest letter is no exception.

According to Henceforth, the rise in COVID-19 infections is almost entirely attributable to "socialization — an evening party, drinks after work, hanging too close with too many people. Many of the transmissions have occurred in the late evening, after partying, when peoples' guards are down."

He concludes: "If we want to enjoy winter in Summit County, we are going to have to turn things around quickly. Keep your face coverings on. Maintain your physical distances. Keep your groups small. The time to act is now."

The CDPHE's current COVID-19 safety guidance for Colorado ski areas and resorts includes these requirements:
Communications to skiers, riders, and visitors

In general, communication with skiers and visitors should start before they arrive at the ski area to the greatest extent possible. State and local COVID-19 requirements should be prominently displayed on ski area websites and shared when reservations are booked, when arriving at the resort, in lodging facilities, etc.

Areas should communicate:

• Expectations to wear masks and physically distance.
• Require mask-wearing in accordance with the ski area’s plan, encouraging mask-wearing in all indoor and outdoor public spaces, recognizing exceptions for safety, dining, and while individuals are actively engaged in skiing, riding, or other distanced outdoor activities.
• Ensure physical distancing in all public indoor and outdoor areas.
• How to use prevention tools like Exposure Notifications.
• Quarantine requirements in case of exposure.
• Communicate state and local orders that require individuals who test positive for or have been exposed to COVID-19, while in Colorado, to extend their stay at their own expense to complete isolation or quarantine requirements.
• What dial level the county currently is in and what that means. Out-of-state visitors should know that capacities may vary across counties and resorts.

Ski areas should adopt, promote, and coordinate on enforcing the statewide COVID-19 Commitments to Containment:

• Wear a mask in public places.
• Physically distance.
• Limit group sizes.
• Isolate yourself if you have symptoms or test positive.
• Regularly clean high-touch surfaces.
• Screen for symptoms.
• Protect at-risk people.

Slope operations, including gondolas, chairlifts, and staging areas

• Promote remote purchasing of lift tickets online or by phone, instead of in person.
• Symptom and exposure screening questions (in person) or agreements to self-monitor (remote) prior to patron arrival at the ski area is encouraged.
• Require mask-wearing in accordance with the ski area’s plan, encouraging mask-wearing in all indoor and outdoor public spaces, recognizing exceptions for safety, dining, and while individuals are actively engaged in skiing, riding, or other distanced outdoor activities.
• Require masks in lines for and while riding on chairlifts and gondolas.
• Display signage reminding guests of distancing and masking policies.
• Ski area guests will not be required to ride on a chairlift or gondola with people outside of their party.
• Individuals who are not from the same party may ride a chairlift together with a minimum of one seat separating the unrelated individuals or parties; however, ski areas should generally encourage more space between different parties when possible.
• Gondolas should keep windows open, even in inclement weather. Gondolas should be limited to no more than two separate parties with adequate spacing, and not more than 50% capacity if more than one party rides a gondola together (single parties may reach full capacity). Specific spacing configurations and requirements should be addressed with the LPHA [Local Public Health Agency] in the ski area plan. Consider posting reminders of these requirements within gondola cabins.
• Ensure 6-foot spacing between separate parties, in all directions, in chairlift and gondola lines by employing tactics such as extending staging areas and marking 6-foot increments for suggested standing. Instances where this requirement is unworkable should be addressed in the ski area’s plan and discussed with the LPHA.
• Consider the typical volume of visitors, and whether crowd volume management tactics (such as reservations, congestion-based pricing, and/or remote ticket sales) are needed to successfully implement physical distancing.
• Safety on chairlifts is paramount, and maintaining seating distance is not required for ski school groups with students too young to ride chairlifts by themselves safely, or those who require additional assistance or have additional needs to ride chairlifts safely.

Parking lots

• Require appropriate physical distancing and mask-wearing.
• Remind guests to stay in small groups, limited to members of their party.
• Consider increasing base area drop-off opportunities and locations and encouraging drivers to be the only member of their party to use transit or shuttle systems after parking.

Restrooms and locker rooms

• Ski area plans should include detailed plans for restrooms and locker rooms that address:

Limited capacity and adequate physical distancing.
Avoiding crowding in waiting lines or waiting areas.
Require masks in all public and staff restrooms and locker rooms.
Post reminders of mask-wearing, physical distancing requirements, and importance of handwashing with soap within and outside of restrooms and locker rooms.
Establish staging areas for restroom lines that allows for adequate physical distancing.
Maximize ventilation.

• Consider employing the following tactics:

Adding additional handwashing areas outside of restaurants.
Providing port-o-potties to reduce indoor congestion.
Blocking off certain stalls to reduce the number and proximity of people in a restroom at one time.
Disabling air dryers.

Shops and rental services

• All retail and rental shops must adhere to retail guidance and capacity limits based on the dial level.
• Encourage reservations and pick-up time windows for rental equipment to manage customer congregation.
• When possible, provide rental pickup outdoors or through a drive-up site.
• Require masks, reduce contact, and minimize interactions when fittings are necessary.
• Utilize techniques like floor decals, one-way traffic, and plexiglass screens at checkout to maximize physical distancing.

Restaurants and other dining facilities

• Adhere to all restaurant guidance, including the appropriate capacity limits for the dial level.
• There are no capacity limits for outdoor dining. Outdoor dining spaces must allow for 6 feet between parties, per local zoning.
• Utilize tactics to reduce density indoors, such as maximizing outdoor dining opportunities, encouraging guests to pack their own lunches, providing pre-ordered and grab-and-go meals, or encouraging restaurants to take dining reservations.
• Review CDPHE’s guidance for outdoor structures for restaurants and events. Consider weather-resistant structures with appropriate ventilation and space heaters to increase outdoor capacities.

Hotels and lodging

• Ski area plans should address coordination with community leaders, local businesses, and lodging and housing entities, particularly at base villages, to identify possible gaps in outbreak prevention systems or where lines of responsibility are less clear.
• Ski area-owned or -managed après-ski venues like hotel lobbies, bars, or restaurants should manage guest volume, limit congregating, and adhere to physical distancing requirements and all relevant state guidance in accordance with the area’s current level on the state dial.
• Ski area-owned short-term lodging should adhere to all short-term rental guidance and CDC COVID-19

See the CDPHE's full list of requirements for ski areas here.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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