San Miguel County

San Miguel County commissioners declared a state of emergency during a special meeting Monday morning. (Photo by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

It’s official. San Miguel County commissioners declared a state of emergency, specifically a local emergency disaster, during a special meeting Monday morning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration is not surprising, as officials alluded to the possibility during a special meeting Friday in discussing an emergency response plan and team — both of which were activated Monday after the commissioners unanimously approved the action item.

“We are obviously under federal and state emergencies,” said Commissioner Hilary Cooper, who is also the board chair. “We are doing so (locally) now to ensure that we have the most access as possible to state and federal funds and resources that we will we have access to at the time that we declare this.”

The declaration included two public health orders introduced by public health director Grace Franklin — bars were to close for at least 48 hours, effective as of 3 p.m. Monday; and all public gatherings of 50 or more people were banned. Governor Jared Polis announced Monday afternoon that all dine-in service across the state was banned for at least 30 days, though take-out and delivery services were still permitted. He also shut down gyms, casinos and theaters for the same period of time in an effort to hinder the spread of COVID-19, which is commonly referred to as coronavirus. 

“We are doing our best with amazing people who are working really, really hard day and night making extremely tough decisions in order to implement this as strategically and thoughtfully as possible,” Cooper said.

The declaration came a day after 70 Colorado National Guard members started to arrive in town to set up a temporary testing site at the Lawson Hill intercept lot. On Tuesday, 100 county residents were tested in an effort to collect state data. Officials expect test results to come back Friday or Saturday. Though the county didn’t have a positive COVID-19 test as of press time Tuesday afternoon, officials are preparing as if there already is one.

“Last Monday my brain had to switch from, ‘This is overreacting. This can’t be really happening,’ and it flipped,” said Sharon Grundy, county medical officer. “I’m fully engaged. This is the real deal people. We have to continue to help visitors that are here leave our community and go home safely.”

As Susan Lilly, who is handling all communications in regards to the county’s COVID-19 response and is the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office public information officer, said at the meeting Monday, “I think we all see a tsunami coming, and we don’t want anyone on the beach.”

New information and government orders at all levels are changing seemingly hour by hour. County officials talked about how the ever-changing situation will most likely lead to more “drastic action,” as Cooper put it.

“Be prepared for what is looking like will be some pretty drastic action,” she said, citing the possibility of quarantine measures. “Everybody should just keep that in mind.”

Lilly reiterated the sentiment in asking for the community’s patience and compliance.

“It is reasonable to expect that there will be additional orders and directive, whether they come from the federal, state or local departments of health as we learn more about the virus,” she said. “We need to remind people that this is a fluid and rapidly changing situation, and we are acting in the best interest our community.”

Officials stressed the importance of taking proper precautions, such as social distancing and practicing good hygiene, especially since anyone can be a carrier and spread the virus, no matter what age they are and if they have symptoms or not.

The Chondola closed for the season Tuesday night. The gondola, which plans to operate until April 5, at least as of press time Tuesday, was limiting cabins to one passenger or related parties. New gondola operating hours will be from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Shuttles will begin running between the Meadows and town hall today (Wednesday) 7 a.m. Schedules will be posted at bus stops, and the bus will run concurrently with gondola hours, according to a Mountain Village news release.

San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) buses are also limiting passengers, according to an announcement Tuesday.

“Effective Tuesday March 17th 2020 until otherwise noticed, all SMART buses will be allowing only half of our seats to be filled while in operation,” it said. “Cutting our passenger capacity in half on all buses is a move we are voluntarily making based on a request from the San Miguel County Public Health Department in an effort to help stop the spread of coronavirus in the communities we serve. This policy will impact the availability of seats on the Norwood, Down Valley, Rico, and Lawson Hill routes. We trust that our riders understand why we're making this decision and will work with us to adhere to these temporary capacity constraints and most importantly, spread out when you're on the bus!”

Public health officials have also been talking to the Town of Telluride about possibly adjusting Galloping Goose rider capacity.   

The seriousness of the situation can be a lot to process. Before the meeting ended, Cooper reminded everyone to be there for one another.

“We all need to be in this together. Treat each other really well with love and respect. There are people out there that are up all night trying to figure all this out and we need to provide them backup and take this seriously,” she said. “ … We’re doing as thoughtfully and carefully as we can. Let’s just all work together on this and take as much self-responsibility as we can.

“Self isolate and get outside, go for a walk. Don’t forget your dogs or animals. Just do it in a safe way. Get some fresh air at a ski-length distance.”

For the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 county updates, visit sanmiguelcountyco.gov/coronavirus.