Some Eagle, Summit and Pitkin County ski resorts are implementing new measures to try and help curb the rapid spread of the omicron variant there, happening when resort towns are overrun by holiday week tourists.
"We’re on deck to have one of the busiest holiday seasons we’ve ever had," said Jeff Hanle, vice president of communications for Aspen Snowmass in Pitkin.
Aspen and Vail resorts have had indoor masking orders in place since the season started. The only thing that’s changed in Aspen in recent days is that employees in outdoor base areas are being required to mask up, Hanle said.
"We’re encouraging guests to do the same, but not requiring it," he said.
Weekly incidence rates of COVID-19 by county show steep spikes in new cases in three counties known for their ski resorts. All have been blamed on the spread of the new omicron variant of the virus, according to health officials.
Eagle County officials Wednesday instituted an indoor mask order as the county, flush with winter tourists, faces a crush of COVID-19 cases likely fueled by the omicron variant.
It will expire Jan. 17 and requires indoor masking and a minimum of 10-day quarantines for individuals who test positive. People who are not fully vaccinated and have not yet received test results but had close contact with a positive case must also self-quarantine.
The positivity rate in the county is 30%, public health director Heath Harmon told the health department board, up from roughly 10% last week. The number of cases per 100,000 residents has more than tripled in eight days, from roughly 300 to more than 1,000.
The demand for testing is limiting capacity, the county said, and wait times for results have doubled to 48 hours. The state has sent resources to help the county expand its capabilities, officials said.
Over the past three days, one in three tests run by Vail Health — including on out-of-state visitors — has returned positive for COVID-19. Vail has close to 100,000 visitors this week, said Chris Lindley, the chief population officer for Vail Health.
"Every hotel is full. Every Airbnb is full. People are up here skiing," he said.
Vail Resorts hasn't changed any of the COVID-19 related policies in light of the recent positive-case spikes, a spokeswoman said Thursday. The resort has had an indoor mask order in place since the season started. It is also requiring proof of vaccination in the large cafeteria-style restaurants, but not for its sit-down restaurants, which are better spaced and less crowded. Proof of vaccination is also not required to ride the lifts or at any outdoor restaurants.
"We’re asking everyone who is coming to a resort to understand what’s going on in the community," Hanle said. "They need to understand the impact this is having on staffing levels and service levels. Please just be patient and respectful — this is out of everyone’s control. We understand everyone is coming on vacation to have a good time and expect high service level. … Restaurants here could lose half their staff for 10 days."
Asked if the lack of significant snow, or omicron rise, has caused customers to cancel future reservations, Hanle said no.
"We’ve got more reservations on the books than we’ve ever had," he said. "We’re happy people can be here to enjoy themselves, but just adjust expectations accordingly."