Pitkin County moving back to Red Level, businesses react

Pitkin County moving back to Red Level, upsets restaurants.png
Posted at 7:40 PM, Jan 13, 2021

ASPEN, Colo. — Meat and Cheese, a restaurant in Aspen, isn't serving the numbers it’s accustomed to this time of year.

“It’s unfortunate,” Meat and Cheese restaurant manager Sam Hayes said.

On Monday, the Pitkin County Board of Health decided to move back to Level Red on the state's COVID-19 dial this weekend, which closes all indoor dining. The change only adds to the restaurant's pandemic problems.

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“You know, I’m really tired today, to be quite honest," Hayes said. "Just because of the amount of energy that we’ve all put in. It’s a lot for sure."

Pitkin County has one of the highest incidence rate in the state, which prompted the move. But for an area that thrives on tourism, this really hurts.

“We really felt like it was time to take more significant action in order to get that incident rate reduced,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said.

It's not a move the county said they wanted to make, especially in the middle of tourism season.

“These are our busiest times, so this is a particularly painful time for our business community to have limited activity,” Peacock said.

Since the county began mandating affidavits from all tourists in December, more than 45,000 tourists have signed in — numbers that add insult to injury with the health department’s decision.

“Mountain is still open — everyone’s going out there. Still, hotels are still open. They’re still rocking,” Hayes said.

However, the number of international visitors has plummeted, and the slopes are accessible without a reservation.

“Travel restrictions are too tough, so we’ve got space," said Jeff Hanle, Aspen Skiing Co. vice president of communications.

Hanle said they haven't had to undertake additional traffic limitations on the mountain, which helps despite the requirement for resorts to stop indoor dining.

“It impacts us less than it impacts the restaurants downtown. It’s the restaurant owners, but it’s the employees,” Hanle said.

The impact of closing indoor dining is far reaching, affecting lodging businesses in Pitkin County as well.

“We’ve had the lowest number of people in the lodge since we reopened for the winter. Which is not good news for anyone,” Aspen Lodge manager Allison Campbell said.

Aspen’s lodging industry has kept up with the tourists who are still coming. Even with lower numbers, Campbell is on board with the decision.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s really the only thing to do. We are a very small community and we have a very small hospital,” Campbell said.

Campbell said she understands the short term impact comes with some pain.

“Being in the red is a bad, bad thing, but we’re going to fix it, Campbell said. "I think we’re taking the right stance on it as a community, and I still think it’s OK to come here."

Restaurant owners hope to be approved for the state's 5 Star program. Before approved restaurants can operate, though, there needs to be a two-week drop in COVID-19 numbers.

“It’s very unfortunate, and it’s kind of saddening,” Hayes said.

Pitkin County officials said it was a tough call, but they hope it will help avoid an even tougher winter and spring.

“Nobody likes what’s happening, but we have to get healthy,” Campbell said.