After receiving information that some people recently booked vacation rentals in the area and then sought medical treatment for coronavirus-like symptoms, Pitkin County’s Incident Management Team reiterated on Tuesday that the latest public health order bans short-term lodging.
Those who violate the order could face misdemeanor charges leading to fines and/or jail time. Officials also contacted vacation-rental agencies VRBO and Airbnb to inform them not to accept nonresident bookings of short-term rentals within county boundaries.
“We’ve gotten some information recently to lead us to believe that there are still some companies accepting short-term rentals and reservations, like VRBO and Airbnb. We’ve issued a letter to both of those companies today to ask that they stop accepting them per the Pitkin County public health order,” said Alex Burchetta, IMT spokesperson and chief deputy of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
“Specifically, they are not to accept any new reservations and they are to cancel any existing reservations,” he continued. “The intent there is to allow nonresidents of Pitkin County to return to their primary [place] of residence.”
Burchetta said the county doesn’t have the capacity from a public health and safety standpoint to handle an influx of visitors.
“As much as we love them … we love having you here, but just not now,” he said.
Being at an elevation of around 8,000 feet puts undue stress on a person’s immune system and health, he said. Small and less-noticeable illnesses can be exacerbated by the altitude. While the area has excellent health care providers and systems, would-be visitors might have access to a wider range of health services within their own communities, Burchetta said.
Section L of Pitkin County’s public health order issued on March 23 states, “There shall be no new bookings or reservations during the pendency of this Order. Furthermore, current reservations for the timeframe anticipated in this Order shall be cancelled for all short-term lodging, including but not limited to hotels, motels, short-term rentals (30 days or less), bed and breakfast establishments, lodges and retreats.”
Burchetta said officials were alerted by Aspen Valley Hospital doctors that nonresidents who recently booked vacation rentals in Aspen sought treatment Monday of “some symptoms” not necessarily associated with COVID-19.
He said he didn’t know how many people were involved in presenting those symptoms to the hospital. Even if it were just two people who got short-term rentals since the order was issued, “it still represents two too many,” Burchetta said.
“We started [notifications] with the global short-term rental market” like VRBO and Airbnb, he said. “Pitkin County and the Colorado mountain communities are not a place of refuge as they are most other times of the year. …We don’t have the ability to handle the increased capacity.”
Those who fail to comply with provisions of the order, including the mandate banning short-term vacation lodging, may be subject to misdemeanor charges and fines of up to $5,000 and/or up to 18 months of jail time.
“We’re just trying to reinforce [the order],” Burchetta said. The county’s “stay at home” order affecting residents and nonresidents was issued March 23 and runs through April 17. The order additionally states: “This Order is necessary to control any potential transmission of disease to others.”
Second-homeowners were not restricted from traveling to the county in the order, but they were “encouraged to return to their primary place of residence” when the order was announced, he said.
Burchetta added that officials aren’t seeing any evidence of a surge in COVID-19 cases at the hospital.
County Manager Jon Peacock said Tuesday that Pitkin County Board of Health would meet at 3 p.m. today to consider amending the public health order, with one possible change being a mandatory 14-day home quarantine of second-homeowners coming into the county. No other details were immediately available.
“The problem with people coming here to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic is that those individuals are coming into a higher altitude where there is less oxygen to begin with,” Peacock said, “into a rural community with very good but limited health care resources to take care of them.”
The prohibition on visitors is meant to protect both them and local residents from being infected by the coronavirus, Peacock added.
Drive for PPE items
Pitkin County’s public health department will hold a drive today to collect personal protective equipment, more commonly known as PPE among health care, public safety and government personnel.
The drive is set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Buttermilk parking lot. Items that are still packaged in their original boxes will be accepted, including: N95 masks, surgical/procedure masks, latex/nitrile gloves, disposable gowns, face shields, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.
“No homemade items will be accepted at this time. No receipts handed out for tax write-offs,” a county notice on Facebook reads.
The posting asks people not to attend “if you or someone you’ve been in contact with has [COVID-19 type] symptoms.”