Gunnison County Effectively Shutting Down Public Life To Fight COVID-19

Colorado Weather
Nathan Bilow / AP
A small snow blower machine and a snow shoveler work in the early morning to remove the snow from the sidewalk for pedestrians who will occupy the main street, Elk Avenue of Crested Butte, Colo. on Monday, Dec. 20, 2010.

Gunnison County today released a public health order prohibiting groups of 10 or more from gathering in public spaces including bars, restaurants, child care centers and a host of other places as officials try to stymie the spread of COVID-19.

Gunnison and other mountain towns have been hit especially hard by the the new coronavirus, and have some of the highest rates of infection in the nation. Gunnison County has had 8 confirmed cases as of Sunday afternoon, and state health officials have confirmed community spread in Gunnison, Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties.

This isn't the first time the mountain town has faced a global pandemic. In 1918, Gunnison declared a “quarantine against all the world,” during the Spanish Flu outbreak. This public health order is not quite so extreme, but it does go farther than any other order in any county or city in the state so far.

Joni Reynolds, public health director of the county, issued the public health order Monday. It includes the closure of all childcare facilities, schools, libraries and recreation centers, pursuant to all events of 10 people or more being prohibited. That's despite recommendations from the state to keep childcare facilities open even if schools are closed, according to reporting by Chalkbeat. Events at restaurants and other retail stores are also being prohibited.

"So activity is severely diminished from what it would be," said Christopher Biddle, News Director at radio station KBUT in Crested Butte. "We're in the middle of what would be spring break and the busiest time of the entire year really here in Crested Butte. So normally the parking lot that I'm standing in would be jam packed, Elk Avenue would be lined with cars and there would be maybe 50 people lining up to get on every bus that runs about every 15 minutes. There's none of that." 

Over the weekend, Gov. Jared Polis closed all ski resorts in the state for a week. The Gunnison County order includes bars and restaurants, which may provide take-out and delivery food but no seating on location.

Today, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a public health order closing restaurants and bars in Denver for the next eight weeks.

Read more: I'm young and feel fine. Why should I stay home?

All short-term lodging, hotels, motels, public transportation and retail services are closed, but medical care facilities, hardware stores, grocery stores, gas stations, government facilities, public utilities and discount department stores — like Walmart — are exempted from the order.

Additionally, officials are urging visitors to the county return to their homes as quickly as possible and self isolate upon return. Courts are excepted from the order but have been asked to reschedule all lower level proceedings to a later date.

Events with fewer than 10 participants may operate, officials said in the order, but they must meet strict criteria on social distancing and hand washing availability. The events are also prohibited from having participants who are older than age 60.

The order in Gunnison County remains in effect until April 8.