Teller County Spared Any Punitive Action by State Health Officials Over Pandemic Spike

High Country Area Facing Major COVID-19 Test This Weekend As Bikers Roll Into Town

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

Teller County is on the right track in its battle against the coronavirus activity and won’t face any more COVID-19 mandated restrictions by the state.

More importantly, local businesses and casino operators don’t have to worry about any pending shutdowns or temporary closures.

In fact, the county’s designation as a problem area may get changed to moderate, which marks a big improvement from Teller’s classification recently as a very high-risk area. For a several week period in July, the positive case load of coronavirus activity in Teller spiked by close to 200 percent, prompting concerns that the county may get slapped with punitive penalties, such as lowering its capacity levels for indoor facilities and public gathering limits and possible forced closures.

Those conclusions capped last week’s  regular meeting of the Teller County commissioners. Both Commission Chairman Marc Dettenrieder and Teller Administrator Sheryl Decker cited the county’s turnaround.  “Everything seems to be going in the right direction,” said Decker.  “Our case load is flattening.”

In speaking directly with the variance case manager for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, Decker maintained that state officials are satisfied with the direction the county is taking.

In a response to a letter from the state, Teller officials outlined the actions they have taken in increasing tests, enhancing and publicizing their resources for inflicted individuals and minimizing their risks. They also attributed the spike to activities that occurred over the July 4th weekend.

The county experienced three outbreak locations, a fact that may have led to a further hike in positive cases. These occurred at the Charis Bible College, the Woodland Park City Hall and a local daycare center.

The Woodland Park area still leads the pack in coronavirus activity, reporting 59 percent of the cases, with Florissant and Divide, snagging the bronze and silver titles for COVID-19 inflictions totaling 33 percent of the pandemic inflictions. Cripple Creek and Victor only have recorded about 7 percent of the cases.

And once again, county officials lauded the work of casino operators, as zilch new cases have been traced to local gaming establishments.

Currently, the county is currently hovering around the 140 mark for coronavirus cases, which marks a huge increase since early July. In fact, last week Teller surpassed the cases recorded in Fremont County.

“It is fluid,” said Dettenrieder, in describing the county’s battle against the pandemic. “We didn’t see any more outbreaks.”  In addition, he said the curve is now flattening out.

Like Decker, the commission chairman stressed that the county has embarked on an aggressive testing program, and now does more than 70 tests per week, which is substantial for a small county. He also praised the surge hospital, located at the old How-To store site in the Gold Hill Square Shopping Center.

On the upside, the county has recorded a low hospitalization rate, among those testing positive for the virus. And currently, the county has only experienced three coronavirus-related deaths.

Based on the latest state findings, both Decker and Dettenrieder believe the county won’t t have to lower their capacity levels for indoor facilities, approved through their variances. They also won’t have to deal with any mandated business closures, such as a shutdown of casinos.

Despite Coronavirus Scare, Biker Recognition Ride Set to Roll

The region, though, could face a big test this Saturday during the annual POW/MIA recognition ride between Woodland Park and Cripple Creek. This was originally slated as a main prelude to the Salute to American Veteran Rally.

But due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, the Cripple Creek City Council cancelled the several-day event, which would have celebrated its 28th consecutive year. However, although the rally was canned, the annual motorcycle procession, done in honor of veterans and prisoners of war and those military personnel unaccounted for, is still a go. It is regarded as one of the biggest motorcycle processions in Colorado.

Last week, Interim City Administrator Ray White confirmed that the city’s police department will be closely monitoring the ride.  “We can’t stop motorcycle riders from coming into town,” said White. He made it clear they are more than welcome to visit Cripple Creek and frequent local shops, restaurants, casinos and area attractions, but must abide by the community’s strict COVID-regulations.

That said, the city administrator has some concerns due to the lack of support personnel. During past rallies, a good portion of the expenses went to security and law enforcement-related costs to help control the crowds. That won’t happen this year due to the cancelling of the event. White said officials are unsure about  how many riders will come into town.

The timing of the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota may benefit Teller County and Cripple Creek from a safety perspective. Normally, the South Dakota rally, dubbed as a big biker party, occurs right before the rally in   Cripple Creek, resulting in the natural flow of many riders from the Sturgis festival coming to the gaming community.  That wasn’t the case this year, with the Sturgis event occurring several weekends before the scheduled Salute Rally and recognition ride.

Still, some concerns are persisting throughout county leadership circles, as national media coverage depicted the Sturgis event as an all-out assault against COVID protection measures, with the vast majority of riders not wearing masks and discarding coronavirus restrictions.

As a result, White hopes the  event promoters, ProPromotions, do what they can to encourage participants to observe  the strict social distancing and face covering protocol.  That could play a major role in the city’s future decisions to act as a key sponsor for the Salute Rally event. Plus, ProPromotions  is seeking close to $20,000 in reimbursement expenses this year, resulting from the city’s decision to cancel the rally after initially giving the promoters the go-ahead.