Pleas for distancing as Aspen surge predicted for mid-April

Local officials don’t think Aspen and Pitkin County residents are taking social distancing and isolation rules seriously enough, and reiterated Monday their importance in controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re seeing a little bit of restlessness in the community in relation to the (stay-at-home) public health order,” Pitkin County Public Health Director Karen Koenemann said in a phone interview. “This is really hard and the longevity is really difficult for folks.

“But what we’re doing is really important.”

Local public health officials said social distancing is of particular importance especially during the next two weeks because the latest models show the coronavirus surge not showing up here until mid-April, she said.

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“The surge might not happen in our community until the second week in April,” Koenemann said. “(Meanwhile) social distancing and hygiene are the best things you can do.”

Officials have access to a Google data that tracks cellphones and can see that, for the most part, county residents are faithfully observing the order to stay at home except for essential errands and exercise in groups of less than five people, she said.

However, officials have received “anecdotal information” about increasing traffic on area roads and reports of soccer and basketball games, Koenemann said.

During an interview Monday, Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn — who is acting as spokesman for the team managing the local response to the outbreak — said he could see two people outside a window of the building he was in batting around a volleyball. The two people touching the ball is a violation of the public health order, he said.

Police received at least one report over the weekend of a party atop one of the local ski mountains as well, though Linn said he wasn’t sure which one.

Koenemann said getting outside for exercise is important to people’s mental health during the present quasi-lockdown conditions, but that maintaining social distancing of about 6 feet is crucial.

“Especially as the weather gets nicer, it’s hard to maintain social distancing,” she said. “We understand you’re getting restless. But the next couple weeks will be very important.”

Aspen Valley Hospital and public health officials have not seen a surge of COVID-19 patients yet, Koenemann said. Hospital data will indicate when a surge occurs, she said.

Strategies for combating the virus, like social distancing, will likely be in place until a vaccine is developed, she said. Federal officials have said that might not occur until next year.

“We need to buy time for (the development of) vaccines,” Koenemann said. “We’ve never lived through a full cycle with this virus.”

Pitkin County reported 39 positive COVID-19 cases and two virus-related deaths as of Sunday, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment website. The state reported a total of 5,172 positive cases in 54 of the state’s 64 counties, with 150 deaths.

jauslander@aspentimes.com