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Gunnison County Bans Sixty-Year-Olds From Restaurants

Fighting the flu in Gunnison County in 1918.
Fighting the flu in Gunnison County in 1918.
History Colorado

Gunnison County, Colorado, has a reputation as being tough in tough times, an image that dates back over a century to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, when the county cut itself off almost completely from the outside world.

But banning people sixty and over from restaurants? That's the upshot of a new order issued by the Gunnison County Department of Health and Human Services, issued to clarify an order issued on March 12 that already had people up in arms over the ban, particularly in Crested Butte.

The Crested Butte taproom last month; it's closed today.
The Crested Butte taproom last month; it's closed today.
Montanya Distillers Facebook

Montanya Distillers was one of the first to sound an alarm over the original order, which prevented more than fifty customers at a time in its Crested Butte taproom, and also prohibited any people sixty and over from coming in at all. In response to the controversy, the department admitted that the order contained "very confusing language," and said a clarification would be issued. But it turns out, the confusion was regarding whether anyone sixty or over could go to a grocery store (they can).

The new order, issued March 15, clearly lays out the rules for restaurants: "folks 60+ are not allowed into restaurants."

"It is for their own protection," a department spokesperson tells Westword, noting that older people are in a higher-risk category.

Here's that new Gunnison County order:

In order to clarify confusion surrounding the public health orders issued, there has been a new order signed that clarifies the language. While folks 60+ are not allowed into restaurants, they may, "enter into a medical service provider’s office or facility, hardware store, grocery store or discount department store for the purpose of obtaining medical care, food, clothing or other necessary items if such location is otherwise in compliance with this Order. However, At Risk Persons are discouraged from engaging in such activities wherever possible."

We ask that you take care of your friends and neighbors. If you are not a part of the higher risk population, we ask that you call and make sure the older folks in our community have all that they need to self isolate. We will post the official order shortly. Here is the language regarding the restrictions.

II. ORDER

A. All Events of 50 people or more, including employees and attendees, are prohibited.

B. All Events at the following locations are prohibited, regardless of the number of attendees: Day care centers, child care centers, private schools (including pre-schools), private day schools, community recreational centers, ice rinks, and libraries.

C. Events with fewer than 50 people, including employees and attendees, and including gatherings at all restaurants regardless of capacity, are prohibited unless event organizers take the following steps to mitigate risks:

a. Older adults (age 60 and older), including employees, and individuals with underlying medical conditions that are at increased risk of serious COVID-19, including employees (collectively, “At-Risk Persons”), are not permitted to attend. For the avoidance of doubt, an “At Risk Person” who is a federal, state, local or special district government employee, an employee of a medical service provider, an employee of a place or house of worship, or an employee of a public utility or utility service provider may report to his or her job site or other location(s) if necessary to perform his or her official job duties, so long as such location(s) are otherwise in compliance with this Order. An At Risk Person may also enter into a medical service provider’s office or facility, hardware store, grocery store or discount department store for the purpose of obtaining medical care, food, clothing or other necessary items if such location is otherwise in compliance with this Order. However, At Risk Persons are discouraged from engaging in such activities wherever possible.

b. Social distancing recommendations must be met. These include limiting contact of people within 6 feet from each other for 10 minutes or longer, and any other guidance. See Section III, below.

c. Employees must be screened for coronavirus symptoms each day and excluded if symptomatic.

d. Proper hand hygiene and sanitation must be readily available to all attendees and employees.

e. Environmental cleaning guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed (e.g., clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily or more frequently).

The capital of Gunnison County is Gunnison, and that town's response to the 1918 influenza pandemic was so impressive that the University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine researched it while working on a study for the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency over a decade ago.

According to that Michigan study, "influenza arrived in Colorado on or about September 20, 1918, when 250 Montana soldiers arrived in Boulder for special training at Colorado University. Thirteen of the soldiers arrived seriously ill, and from them the disease spread quickly across the campus and the town. By the end of the first week 91 cases had developed. At the same time, a small detachment of 200 Montana soldiers arrived in Colorado Springs for training there; 25 of them were ill with influenza. From these two areas, according to the report, influenza spread across Colorado."

The first death was University of Denver student Blanche Kennedy, recently returned from Chicago. She died on September 27.


On October 7, 1918, Governor Julius Gunter issued an executive order calling on all health officers and members of the press to advise citizens of the danger of public gatherings, and to urge city and town officials to take appropriate action to halt the spread of the disease by closing public places. On October 16, Gunter proclaimed all public and private gatherings prohibited across the state.

Unlike most other western Colorado counties, the report notes, Gunnison took a very early and active interest in stopping the spread of influenza. On October 8, immediately after Gunter's first warning, schools were closed across the county, and officials also implemented social distancing measures, decreeing places in the county closed for at least four weeks. As news trickled in that other nearby areas had been hit hard, a strict protective sequestration was implemented across the entire county on October 1, and that remained in full force until February 4 in Gunnison, February 5 in the rest of the county.

Through it all, the railroad continued to come through Gunnison, but any passengers disembarking were required to enter a two-day quarantine period. Barricades were erected on the main highways near the county lines, and lanterns and signs warned drivers to continue through the county without stopping, or they and any passengers would be forced to submit to quarantine. (Two Nebraska motorists en route to Delta were arrested and jailed when they tried to bypass a barricade and enter Gunnison County.)

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Around the world, an estimated 50 million people died from the Spanish flu, 8,000 of them in Colorado. In Denver, an estimated 1,500 people died; in Gunnison County, five. Four people there contracted flu-related pneumonia after the restrictions were lifted. The other death came earlier, after Ellen Gavette met her infected sister at the train station when the latter returned from a recent trip; a few days later, Ellen was dead.

She was 25, not sixty.

By the way, even before he ordered all ski resorts in Colorado closed — name-checking community spread in Gunnison, Pitkin, Eagle and Summit Counties — Governor Jared Polis had urged anyone over sixty to not go to the mountains.

Especially if they're hungry.

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