In another step that keeps in sync with Colorado’s public health orders, San Miguel County public health and government officials amended the current orders to allow county businesses to allow employees outside the county to come to work.

Officials explained that those in non-critical businesses can extend their workforce beginning Friday to residents of the Western Slope.

“Our goal is to thoughtfully loosen our restrictions categorically based on what is happening in our county and to mirror the state orders where it makes sense to do so,” Grace Franklin, County Public Health Director said in a recent news release. 

Further loosening of restrictions will continue as Franklin and others eye data such as COVID-19 caseload, availability and ability to test, contact tracing, and regional health care capacity.

In order for businesses to begin accepting out-of-county employees, employers much register with the county online so that the number of employees coming in can be tracked. The form also asks that incoming workers from other counties read and understand San Miguel County orders.

“Employees coming from different counties may have very different rules,” said county manager Mike Bordogna at Wednesday’s county commissioners meeting. “We want to make sure they have read San Miguel County rules.”

Given that the county is anticipating a large influx of registration forms to review, Bordogna urged employers to wait until they’d heard back from the county before green-lighting employees.

“It’s unreasonable to think all the forms can be processed the same day,” he said.

County health officials anticipate opening child care businesses with strict precautions June 1. In concert with state public health orders, the county will wait on deciding about summer camps, restaurant dining and any changes to group sizes. Franklin said it is unlikely that large group gatherings will be permitted. The state’s orders are in effect until May 27.

“We anticipate that Governor Polis will address these items and possibly others when he amends the state’s orders. We will likely follow his lead when we look at our new orders for June,” Franklin said.

According to the news release, still to be determined are when to loosen orders involving visitors, lodging and the 14-day quarantine for second-homeowners. Since COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets and  “hitchhikes” on the unprotected and the vulnerable, local and state guidelines emphasize limiting travel, especially to mountain towns, which are typically at high altitude and often popular recreation areas.

 “We know we are more vulnerable as a tourist destination,” said county medical officer Dr. Sharon Grundy. “We have limited health care resources, and it gives us pause to open to visitors too early. We need to take all of this step by step.”

At Wednesday’s meeting via Zoom, commissioners and county staff also heard from county emergency planner Henry Mitchell, who said that there will be a debrief next week with all affected officials to discuss a potential second round of testing for county residents. While Franklin, later in the meeting, explained the numerous variables up for consideration, Mitchell said that he had determined ways to reduce the cost to the county for conducting any future tests.

“We can reduce costs on the second round of testing,” Mitchell said. “Through streamlining, we can save our county some money.”

The county spent $270,000 on the first round of antibody tests, which were made possible by United Biomedical Inc. (UBI), a company owned by a local couple. UBI has not charged for the testing, but costs such as salaries came to $140,000, while out-of-pocket costs amounted to $130,000. That figure, according to Mitchell, can be reduced.

Bordogna said that was only a part of overall costs, as those figures did not account for costs incurred by area fire departments, the clinics in Telluride and Norwood, and the Telluride School District.

“All those entities were instrumental in pulling off this large-scale testing,” he said.

Franklin and Grundy explained that timing, testing and the process will be taken into account at next week’s meeting in order to formulate a plan.

“There are still so many unknowns,” Grundy said. “It’s still a useful test and a tool that adds to our understanding. It’s still an opportunity UBI is offering us. We want to make sure we’re good stewards of our community’s health. We can take our time with it. We can be in a holding pattern.”

Other concerns that could factor into the timing of any potential second round is the upcoming wildfire season. For the first round, members of Telluride and Placerville fire departments comprised a large part of test site personnel. Telluride Fire Protection District Chief John Bennett reminded meeting attendees that wildfires would be his team’s first priority.

San Miguel County officials meet nearly daily to discuss COVID-19 updates. Visit sanmiguelcountyco.gov for more information.