Teller County Officials Confident of Maintaining Variance, Despite Surge In COVID Cases

Stay Safe and Stay Open Campaign Continues Throughout Region

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Despite a huge spike in coronavirus infections in Teller County and across the state, local officials and leaders are confident about their prospects of not getting slapped with punitive action, such as the yanking of a variance allowing for nearly all businesses to open and for limited public gatherings.

As of late last week, officials said the county was still not placed on the state danger list. Moreover, they believe  the county can avoid any more restrictive action, which could include closing certain businesses and restricting public gatherings.

County Administrator Sheryl Decker said Teller is pursuing full-blown with plans for increasing education, upping its testing capacity, adding volunteers and doing more contact tracing.  County leaders are continuing to use the slogan, “Stay Safe, Stay Open.”

At last week’s county commissioners meeting, Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder stressed the importance of residents and business operators “doing the right thing” and “following common sense.” That means wearing masks when indoors and for many outdoor activities, abiding by social distancing requirements and avoiding big crowds.

At the same time, he didn’t downplay the fact that Teller has experienced a big increase in positive COVID-19 cases. The county’s COVID-19 case load has nearly hit the 90 incident level, as of late last week. This represents a 48-case hike since July 3, and the bombardment of three “outbreak” locations.  The majority of these coronavirus outbreaks were linked to a bible conference, hosted by Andrew Wommack Ministries (AWM), according to officials.

Other recent outbreaks occurred at the Woodland Park City Hall and at a local daycare center. It doesn’t take much, though, to qualify as an “outbreak” location, with only two or more new cases from an event, facility or specific location, according to state guidelines.

This increase has taken its toll on Teller resources. At last week’s commissioners meeting, Dettenrieder said the local hospital, the UCHealth/Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, is running at nearly full capacity. “They have two beds open and are close to being maxed out,” said Dettenrieder.

He made it clear that the county will remain vigilant in responding to the pandemic crisis. “Our contact tracing has increased here across the county,” said Dettenrieder at last week’s meeting. “We are in the process of training volunteers and will actually be brining on temporary employees to help. We have received 400 (COVID-19) test kits.”

In earlier conversations with state officials of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on July 8, following the first surge in cases, the commission chairman said, “They did not express concerns.”

Not the Time to Party

But that scenario could change now. Plus, the state is reining in on bars, alcohol consumption and other activities, with a ban on any alcohol sales after 10 p.m.

“This is not the time to party,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis, during an appearance on a national cable television show last week, hosted by Brian Williams of MSNBC. He elaborated on his order for a 10 p.m. last call at bars/restaurants, liquor outlets and even big box stores. Big signs are now exhibited at such chains as Safeway, informing customers of the cut-off times for purchases of beer and wine.

This growing crackdown extends locally to huge festivals.

The Cripple Creek City Council, citing economic and community concerns, decided last week to cancel the biggest festival of the year, the Salute to American Veterans Rally. They feared a possible closure of the casinos, if coronavirus outbreaks from the rally did occur. Moreover, they labeled such a development as a devastating blow to southern Teller. This 4-1 verdict was made, despite strong support by military veteran representatives and proponents of the event. Supporters of the rally said the festival is especially needed this year to develop more comradery among veterans, who have been hit hard emotionally by the coronavirus restrictions. But most council members contended that is just too risky for the city to host the event this year (see related story).

On the upside, Dettenrieder reported last week that none of the new coronavirus cases have  been linked to the casinos. He lauded the effort taken by casino operators.  “We send our appreciation to casino operators; they are doing a good job up to this point,” said the commission chairman.

In a recent interview with several casino managers, they told TMJ that the vast majority of patrons are abiding by the mask requirements and social distancing rules.  The casinos reopened, with stern restrictions, on June 15.

And on a county-wide basis, Decker last week reported that only 7 percent of the COVID-19 cases are attributed to Cripple Creek, and only two have involved Victor residents. The lion’s share of the coronavirus activity has occurred in Woodland Park, with the “City Above the Clouds” garnering 59 percent of the COVID-19 positive cases. The Florissant area has snagged the runner-up hot spot with 19  percent and Divide has  maintained a 12 percent rate of COVID-19 cases.

A Record Plunge in Foreclosures

The coronavirus epidemic has crippled the region economically since mid-March.

About the only good news financially is that the county’s foreclosure rate has plunged to an all-time low, according to Teller County Treasurer and Public Trustee Mark Czelusta, based on the most recent quarter findings. The county only had three foreclosures during a three-month period, a new recent record for an all-time low. This comes from a county that once snagged the reputation as one of the leading foreclosure hubs of Colorado on a per capita basis.

Czelusta, though, attributes this trend partially to banks and lenders working closer with property owners more in making payment arrangements. Plus, when the coronavirus threat hit, state officials asked for a moratorium on action against delinquent mortgage-holders and renters. A  number of utility companies have extended this same courtesy.

However, this payment forgiveness is now screeching to a halt.