level orange

In Level Orange, the county allows for limited indoor dining as COVID-19 numbers continue to decline. (Courtesy image)

San Miguel County moved from Level Red to Level Orange on the COVID-19 risk dial Monday morning, which is the result of declining metrics, including the virus’ prevalence in the county over the past two weeks. State and local officials worked in conjunction to determine the ability to shift the risk dial down a level, with Governor Jared Polis crediting Coloradans’ “stepping up and taking the steps to protect themselves and others” for the declining cases of COVID-19 across the state.

Local officials have carefully tracked county positivity and incidence rates, which as of press time Tuesday had declined to 19 active cases in the county. The positivity rate declined to 4.1 percent for the Dec. 21 through Jan. 2 period, down from its peak of 13.3 percent in the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving. The county’s incidence rate is now just over 300 per 100,000 people, down from a peak of 1,285 in mid-December.

“The diligent work of our county residents is showing results,” county public health director Grace Franklin said in county news release Thursday. “Since moving to Level Red–Severe Risk, we have successfully controlled an alarming spike and have seen a clear decline in positive cases across San Miguel County.”

The shift to Level Orange allows restaurants to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity or 50 people, whichever is fewer. Personal gatherings may not exceed 10 people from a maximum of two households, while non-essential travel is still not advised. Changes to lodging limitations are being discussed at Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting.

While the county inches towards normalcy with the arrival of vaccines and the measured loosening of restrictions, officials urged caution and continued adherence to wearing masks in public, social distancing, hand washing, and staying home and getting tested if feeling ill.

“While we were preparing with the state to enter Level Orange, the quick move does not factor in the potential spike in cases we might see in the coming weeks after the holidays,” noted Lindsey Mills, county public information consultant. “It's important to continue diligently practicing the five commitments as we continue to support local businesses.”

Many local businesses have suffered revenue losses since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a busy summer of road trippers and nature seekers favoring some sectors more than others. In December, the county issued support in the form of grants to 87 qualifying local businesses with funds from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.

“The county applied for $3.3 million, and we got it,” county manager Mike Bordogna said. “We were able to help those 87 businesses significantly,” adding that state requirements for receiving the funds had to be met and were predicated on demonstrating revenue loss during the pandemic.

While some businesses experienced a surprisingly busy summer with customers perusing local offerings in lieu of corralling into festival grounds, others, such as those in the events and weddings industries, arts and entertainment, and gyms and recreational facilities, sustained heavy losses.

“Part of what we wanted to do was help them as much as we could with the hope that they’ll be able to return to post-COVID normal operations later this summer and fall,” he said. “We didn’t want to see an organization that was able to employ, even seasonally, 40 or 50 people, go under just because of one year of being unable to operate.”

Although not all businesses that applied were eligible, another program to support businesses impacted by COVID-19, the Small Business Relief Program, opens its application period Friday. The application period is open for three weeks with grant awards ranging from $3,500 to $7,000 dollars.

While the grants are intended to provide a life raft for businesses in need, the “true path to recovery” lies in continuing to reduce the coronavirus’ prevalence within the county, noted Bordogna.

“The grants are a Band-Aid to a bleeding wound, but it's not the answer,” he said. “The answer is getting our COVID impacts continually lower so we can open up our businesses more fully.”