Late Wednesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, calling the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic “a test of our Colorado character,” encouraged those 60 and older and/or those with compromised immune systems to refrain from traveling to the state’s mountain towns. With the month of March a busy time with spring breakers and others heading for the slopes, Polis’ warning comes as Colorado braces for the impacts of the novel virus on its tourist economy. Polis declared a state of emergency Tuesday.
There are currently no known cases of coronavirus in San Miguel County and 44 in the state, as of press time Thursday afternoon.
The economic implications in a resort town are obvious. Lodging, dining, retail and numerous other ancillary businesses rely on a steady flow of visitors on the mountain and patronizing businesses. While cancellations are a reality, Telluride Tourism Board CEO Michael Martelon had calculated numbers that reflected only a slight diminishment of bookings.
“It looks like we’re going to be OK,” Martelon said. “People are coming here.”
Despite the 30-day federal ban on travelers from most parts of Europe President Donald Trump imposed Wednesday night, Matt Skinner, CEO of Colorado Flights Alliance, reported that, “Air traffic has been solid to date, but we are monitoring it and have seen some drop in late season bookings.”
Both Martelon and Skinner agreed that even if there is softening in the numbers leading up to the last day of the ski season — April 5 — the success of the season so far left them both feeling confident.
“We’re hoping to finish as strong as possible,” Skinner said.
In Telluride, event organizers and business leaders are following the lead of county health and government officials who have established up-to-the-minute websites and employ other forms of communication such as email blasts.
The San Miguel Board of County Commissioners has scheduled a special meeting at noon today (Friday), and will be conducting business in the board’s capacity as the San Miguel County Board of Public Health and Environment to discuss and act on “potential measures for public safety,” according to the published agenda.
Measures taken could include limiting the number of people at larger gatherings and other methods to minimize the opportunity of sharing the virus.
Local government officials, business owners and area health leaders are focusing on what Skinner described as “containment and education.” The county issued a flyer Thursday with a list of protocols for schools, home and the workplace that include effective methods such as frequent and proper hand washing, avoiding sharing food, covering mouths when sneezing and coughing, and staying home when ill, as well as how to safely care for sick family members.
Many local restaurants and businesses have enacted in-house protocols aimed at keeping both employees and visitors healthy. At the New Sheridan properties — the hotel, the Chop House and parlor bar restaurants, the historic Sheridan Bar, and the Phoenix Bean — general manager Ray Farnsworth’s protocols include having employees no longer greet guests with hugs or handshakes, doubling down on keeping all surfaces disinfected, required hand washing every 30 minutes, and providing alcohol-based sanitizer for guests to use. Additionally “any employee showing flu-like symptoms shall be excluded from the New Sheridan until they are symptom free,” according to the list of protocols.
The historic boutique hotel has seen its bookings slide since the beginning of March, Farnsworth said.
“Cancellations are rampant,” Farnsworth said. “We began tracking hotel cancellations about 10 days ago. To date, we have received 26 hotel cancellations in March, resulting in 107 lost room nights, and $32,000 in lost revenue.”
Restaurant reservations can be canceled online without explanation, he said, but other guests canceling reservations named the pandemic as the reason.
“We have lost at least 60 confirmed covers (dining guests with reservations who have canceled) directly because of coronavirus, and this number is growing,” Farnsworth said.
As part of Polis’ state of emergency, he wasted no time in addressing a concern shared by the thousands of workers in Colorado who make a living in food service, the hospitality industry, child care and other fields that often do not offer paid time off. To help keep sick employees from showing up to work, Polis has, “ordered the Colorado Department of Labor (CDLE) and Employment to develop emergency rules requiring that workers in the food service, hospitality, child care, education and health care fields be guaranteed paid sick leave when they exhibit flu-like symptoms and seek testing for COVID-19.”
Polis has also ordered other measures to aid the state’s workforce, including ordering the CDLE to replace wages for those in those fields who test positive, but lack paid sick leave; urging the private sector to voluntarily guarantee paid sick leave for its workers; and said that state employees who’ve been placed in quarantine or isolation after a positive test or exposure to the virus be permitted to work from home.
The New Sheridan is “working on setting a temporary coronavirus policy regarding paid time off for this life threatening illness,” Farnsworth said.
Polis also said the importance of testing for the virus cannot be overlooked and promised making more free testing sites available across the state. Testing for coronavirus locally is currently limited, according to local health care officials who held a public health panel in Rebekah Hall Tuesday.
Telski officials were unable to respond before press time Thursday afternoon.
Editor’s note: This is an ongoing story. Check for updates at telluridenews.com.