Health officials in Summit County reinstated an indoor mask-wearing mandate Thursday as Colorado’s high country becomes one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 hotspots.
The mountain-community surge is happening while tourists flock to ski resorts for the busy holiday season.
The new mask-wearing order, which is in effect until Jan. 31, requires anyone age 2 or older – regardless of their vaccination status – to wear a mask within any public indoor space, including schools. The county is also encouraging restaurants and bars to require any patron age 12 or older to show proof of vaccination.
Violators of the mask order can face up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Summit County had the highest per capita incidence rate of COVID-19 in the country on Wednesday at about 400 cases per 100,000 people. Health officials there described the case rate as “skyrocketing.”
The surge in cases in Colorado’s high country has been driven by the new omicron variant, which is believed to spread more easily than previous coronavirus variants. Omicron is being blamed for a spike in cases across the U.S., infecting people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and who have received a booster shot.
Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that the omicron variant makes up at least 91% of new COVID infections in Colorado.
“If you get COVID-19, the chances are very, very high it’s the omicron variant right now,” he said during a news conference.
Pitkin County, home to Aspen, and Eagle County, home to Vail and Beaver Creek Resort, are also experiencing a surge in cases.
According to The New York Times, Pitkin County had the highest per capita COVID case rate of any county in the nation Thursday, followed by Summit County. Eagle County was fourth on the list.
The Telluride area is also experiencing a surge in cases.
Polis said the per capita numbers in high country counties may be inflated because they don’t take into account second homeowners and tourists. “Not saying rate isn’t high,” the governor tweeted, “but tourist-area calculations are often off because of fluctuations in denominator.”
Last week, Pitkin County said its COVID-19 cases had quadrupled in the span of five days.
Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing hard-hit mountain counties with technical assistance and testing supplies.
Bookman said the state is also “making sure that we are here to support their health care systems as they see this potential surge in patients.”
Colorado’s high country was also a COVID hotspot when the disease first arrived in the U.S. in 2020. Health officials blamed mountain areas’ high number of visitors from other countries and other states.