What’s good for public health is not necessarily good for business, and what’s good for business is not necessarily good for public health.
Governmental leaders and decision-makers at all levels are pondering a perplexing dilemma that forces them to address mounting financial concerns and loss of revenue on one hand, and continuing public health concerns on the other.
It is becoming increasing clear, however, that the premature easing of social distancing standards is directly related to the cost, and the resources, required to care for the sick. The greater our social liberties, it seems, the greater the cost in terms of treating new coronavirus cases.
Despite Governor Polis easing social distancing measures slightly last week with his “Safer at Home” mandate, and despite the fact that private and public sector entities are reporting unprecedented losses that grow more daunting with each passing day, some local officials are making it clear that public health concerns still top the list of immediate priorities.
And as annual summer events draw closer, and the stark possibility of more lost income due to a lack of tourism appears increasingly likely, local officials are seemingly standing firm in their “health comes first” approach to governing.
In other words, according to local officials, risking public health is bad business for everyone.
What local officials are saying
Authorities at the county level would all like to see relaxed social distancing standards and a return to economic normalcy. But if relaxed social distancing standards equate to an uptick in new coronavirus cases, then the math simply doesn’t work.
“The biggest problem Park County has is that so many people come here from other places, and many of those places have been hit hard by the pandemic,” said Park County Commissioner Dick Elsner.
“We are going to be cautious because if Park County got hit with a bunch of new cases, then we could be back to stay-at-home status for another sixty days.”
Elsner noted that a Wal-Mart in Aurora was recently closed because it had been deemed a public health concern and was linked with new coronavirus cases, and that locations in Park County could conceivably suffer the same fate if they were identified as a potential risks.
Elsner cited short-term rentals as a prime example. In addition to Park County’s recent restrictions on short-term rentals, neighboring counties such as Summit and Clear Creek County recently followed suit with similar restrictions through the end of May.
“Another reason we have to be cautious is that if you catch this virus in Park County, you will be transported to a county nearby that has hospital beds,” Elsner said.
“And those counties have been hit harder than we have and might not have hospital beds available. As we loosen restrictions on social distancing, all those factors have to be considered.”
Elsner also mentioned that the average age of Park County residents is amongst the oldest in the state, top three, in fact, and that the number of at-risk citizens in the county also warrants an especially cautious approach.
Elsner added that, because of the health concerns he enumerated, the time, scope and location of the County Fair could be impacted. Elsner said the most likely scenario is that the fair could be postponed until a later date than usual, or that the scope of the fair could be scaled down somewhat.
“We want to make sure that the 4-H activities continue, and we have been looking into a number of options to assure that the auction takes place in some form. We’ve even been considering a virtual auction if that became necessary.
“Our 4-H kids work hard, and they have been preparing this year just like any other. So they deserve our best effort to see to it that the auction isn’t lost.”
Elsner asserted that how Park County citizens handle loosened social distancing restrictions would ultimately determine how soon, and to what extent, a return to normalcy can occur.
“We can actually prove that common sense social distancing measures actually equate to more freedom in the end, but that depends on whether or not people actually abide by them,” Elsner said.
“But I am pleasantly surprised by how Park County has fared so far, and I hope people continue to be cautious.”
The official Park County website, www.parkco.us, also utilizes cautionary language in the wake of the governor’s announcement:
“The Governor presented a Safer-At-Home phase to be implemented on April 27. The Executive Order is expected to be issued soon. What does Safer-At-Home mean for the general public?
“It means that you should stay at home as much as possible, and if you leave, do it for very specific tasks.
“It means continued social distancing and continuing to wear a face covering.
“It means recreating close to your home.
“It does not mean a free-for-all.
“It does not mean going to the mountains to spend the weekend.
“It does not mean conducting unnecessary travel.
“It does not mean having parties or get-togethers.”
The website also stated:
“The County will continue to provide updated information as soon as we can about the “Safer-At-Home” phase for Park County businesses, such as guidance for curbside retail businesses, offices, elective medical and dental services, childcare, personal services and real estate.
“For now, only critical businesses and critical government functions will be open in the county. Retail food establishments (including restaurants, bars, taverns, etc.) remain curbside only.”
Fairplay Mayor Frank Just and the Town of Fairplay Board of Trustees are faced with a myriad of agonizingly difficult decisions in the coming days.
Burro Days, the Fourth of July, summer concerts and art festivals are just some of the always-lucrative events that the town hosts during the summer months.
And, as of April 29, it is not certain that any of those events will occur. At the board’s last meeting, April 20, Mayor Just announced that decisions regarding those events would not be forthcoming until the next meeting, slated for May 4.
Like, Elsner, however, in an April 21 interview with The Flume, the mayor was clearly leaning heavily to the side of caution.
“We can find a way to make up for lost income due to the cancellation of these events,” Just said.
“But when it comes to putting lives at risk, or doing something that poses as a health risk to the general public, we don’t have that luxury. I would hate to be a part of any decision that contributes to anything like that.”
Meanwhile, Alma’s Town Council voted to cancel all summer events, including Festival in the Clouds. The council will review that decision in August.
Restaurants have been amongst the hardest hit businesses throughout the course of the pandemic. The Rustic Station restaurant in Bailey, for example, has successfully scrambled to keep employees and to maintain carry-out services throughout what is now a six-week-plus period of closure to in-house dining.
“We have kept every one of our employees,” said Rustic Station Restaurant co-owner Lynn Griffin. “Some of them have worked fewer hours, but we have managed to keep them all working.”
While Griffin and other local restaurant owners have seen revenue drop off sharply during the closure to in-house dining, she said that carry-out business has been improving.
“Our carry-outs have actually picked up quite a bit, especially Thursdays through Sundays,” Griffin said.
“We would like to thank all of our customers who have supported us during this time. We really appreciate the community, and its continued support.”
Griffin added that she was optimistically encouraged that social distancing measures will be relaxed in the coming weeks, and that she looked forward to seeing business return to normal.
In the meantime, business owners can do little more than maintain what customers they have, and what services they offer, until restrictions are loosened or lifted altogether.