County Commissioners Vow to Pursue Efforts For Fully Re-opening Teller

Casino Public Health Screening Mandates  in Question

Rick Langenberg

Do local casinos really need to screen every patron for the COVID-19 epidemic and face astronomical costs?

Is it fair to target an entire business industry with these types of expensive mandates that really don’t have any impact?

These questions and more highlighted a brief appearance at last week’s Cripple  Creek Council meeting by the Teller County commissioners.

In fact, if elected leaders had their druthers, they would like to axe this public screening restriction and probably a few others. Even though Colorado Governor Jared Polis has indicated that the mask mandate may end by this summer, along with other COVID-19 restrictions, area elected leaders want to see a faster pace at relaxing these rules.

This drum beat for fewer COVID restrictions was sounded  last week in both the Woodland Park (see related story) and Cripple Creek council chambers. Pressure is building for fewer COVID mandates, especially as the county is  making major strides in lowering its coronavirus risk level.

The current commission board, which now includes two new members, Dan Williams and Erik Stone, wasn’t shy in praising  Cripple Creek leaders and officials in their cooperative effort to help reopen the county.

They also assured city leaders they plan to continue this effort. “It wasn’t fun, but we made it,” said County Administrator Sheryl Decker.

The Cripple Creek  Council, likewise, praised the current and former commissioners in helping the city in dealing with their economic post-COVID struggles.

“As a team, we can do a lot together,” said Cripple Creek Mayor Milford Ashworth. “You guys are good team players.”

The commissioners echoed similar sentiments and made it clear their desire to further reopen Teller County and bring the area back to normalcy.

“We want to get some of these restrictions relaxed,” said Stone. “We want to ease up on health restrictions.  The risks appear to be quite low.”

Stone was referring specifically to the mandatory public screenings of every casino patron, as they enter the establishment.  In fact, since casinos reopened in mid-June, no patron can enter any gaming establishment without getting screened for COVID and wearing a mask. They, then are given an arm/wrist band for entry, which each casino provides.

Stone said the commissioners favor having employees screened daily for COVID, but questioned the screening of every customer. He maintained this is a tough cost for an industry already strained due to the pandemic. “They (Cripple Creek casinos) pay the heavy cost,” said Stone, the former chairman of the Teller Republican Party.

The commissioner, a frequent critic of the governor, claims  that hardly anyone has been denied entry due to these screenings. So, what is the purpose, questioned Stone.

The commissioner and his fellow peers stressed the importance of keeping the town’s economic engines running. “Cripple Creek’s problems are Teller County’s problems,” added Stone.

The Cripple Creek City Council lauded the commissioners for their efforts, especially in working  hard to keep the casinos open and in lessening restrictions for businesses. During a surge in COVID cases at the end of 2020, Teller faced the prospects of receiving a Level Orange rating, which would have shut down all local casinos again.  But due to repeated arguments made by Teller leaders, the state Department of Public Health and Environment, delayed this classification.

In recent weeks, the county’s COVID scenario has taken a definite turn for the better.

Cripple Creek Finance Director Paul Harris, who serves on the county’s coronavirus task force, told the council that the COVID case load continues to drop with the county experiencing a 50 percent-plus decline in cases county-wide in the last month of recording. He said Teller remains in a Level Blue zone, one of the less restrictive zones allotted.  The only area that Teller is not showing blue is in its rate of hospitalization, according to Harris.