The confusion Saturday resulted in clarifications after it appeared the older set would be banned from any establishment or event where more than 50 people were gathered. That would mean no trips to the City Market in Gunnison for groceries or the neighboring Walmart store, or any other store where more than 50 people might be shopping at one time.
A clarification issued Sunday specified that over-60 folks could go to medical facilities, hardware stores, grocery stores and discount department stores – as long as the 50-person limit wasn’t exceeded. But the county discouraged people in that age group from doing so.
“We were fielding a lot of questions and we got some complaints so we clarified the order,” Sandstrom said.
There may be more changes in store for the Town of Crested Butte and Gunnison County Monday. The Crested Butte Town Board, in an emergency session Sunday afternoon, considered closing all businesses to the public with the exception of grocery stores, gas stations, liquor stores/dispensaries, medical offices and hardware stores.
Some businesses, including bars and restaurants, might be allowed to have limited engagement with the public. They could only offer food through to-go or delivery, or they could be allowed to stay open if they maintain maximum social distancing and offer anti-bacterial wipes. Retail stores could only serve customers by appointment. Only one customer at a time would be allowed inside. Businesses with no public interaction or that have only one member of the public at a time could remain open.
Violations could result in 30-day closures of the businesses.
Those measures could be enacted Monday. Gunnison County will also be considering stricter measures Monday.
Gunnison County is one of those mountain counties in a particular coronavirus bind because it is rural and off-the-major-beaten-path. But until Gov. Jared Polis ordered ski areas to shut down for at least a week, the area was drawing many visitors to mountain amenities in Crested Butte and Mount Crested Butte. Like its neighboring mountain-resort counties, it is also particularly vulnerable to being quickly overrun in a pandemic because its medical facilities are small in comparison to its number of visitors.
The issue is health care capacity at county’s one small hospital
The Gunnison Valley Hospital – the only hospital in the county – has just 24 beds. It currently has two ventilators for serious coronavirus cases, with two more on order. An attempt to borrow more was unsuccessful.
The county has a population of 16,000 people, and 3,000 of those are in the higher-risk category of the 60-and-olders, who might end up needing a ventilator if they become critically ill with the virus.
Gunnison County on Sunday had eight confirmed cases of the virus, but that number was expected to change quickly. The county’s first case of the virus was a woman who traveled to Crested Butte two weeks ago.
One of its next cases was a 50-year-old Crested Butte nurse practitioner who traveled to Hawaii in February and returned with the virus. It wasn’t diagnosed quickly and she unknowingly had many contacts with people before she became ill with pneumonia and was quarantined following a positive test.
Sandstrom said taking exposures like that into consideration, the decision to target the over-60 crowd with bar and restaurant exclusions is an attempt to protect that vulnerable population – not discriminate against it — and to stretch the county’s meager resources should people in that age group become seriously ill.
He said the county is trying to avoid the spike of more than two dozen cases in Eagle County that have overwhelmed medical facilities there and put that county in a crisis.
“We are trying to be very aggressive,” Sandstrom said. “We are making hard decisions now so we don’t have to make even harder decisions later.”
While Gunnison grapples with its coronavirus problems, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Sunday said he would not rule out a national lockdown of all the restaurants and bars in the U.S.
In Massachusetts, restaurants are closed to all but take-out patrons and in California bars, nightclubs and wineries must close and restaurants must reduce their capacity by 50% to maintain a safe distance between customers. Hoboken, New Jersey, ordered residents to remain at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless they work outside the home during those hours. New York City on Sunday evening enacted a ban on all but to-go and take-out from restaurants and bars.
Sandstrom said Gunnison County’s situation is very fluid and more drastic measures may become necessary as the virus spreads.
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