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Aspen Public Radio will keep you informed on the latest information about the coronavirus here in Colorado and the Valley.

Skiing This Week? Mostly Safe. Thanksgiving Meetups? Not So Much. Colorado’s Top Doctor Weighs In

Alex Hager
Aspen Public Radio
Public health experts are urging Coloradans to keep their Thanksgiving gatherings small, as meetups with family and friends could spread the virus, which has surged to unprecedented levels across the state.

State health officials are urging Coloradans to avoid meeting with family and friends for Thanksgiving festivities, as indoor gatherings could exacerbate already-high levels of the coronavirus.

“My hope is that every household is just staying home,” said Eric France, chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

France is advising people to celebrate Thanksgiving the same way he will – in their own homes, only with immediate household members. Meetups with family and friends are ripe for new transmission, at a time when one in 49 Coloradans is currently contagious with the coronavirus.

“I’d hate to have a memory in 2021 of Thanksgiving which would be – I went to this place, a bunch of people got infected, some were hospitalized, some even died,” he said. “What a terrible thing to think on Thanksgiving for years to come.”

There are some early indications that November’s staggering spike in new COVID-19 cases may be beginning to slow, France said. But he worries that Thanksgiving meetups could “ruin the good work we’ve done to date.”

While informal gatherings aren’t the only culprit for the dramatic statewide increase in new cases this month, France said the colder weather is driving activity of all kinds indoors, which is likely the broader reason for the uptick.

While Thursday is a national holiday, Wednesday is practically a holiday in its own right for some parts of the Roaring Fork Valley. Aspen Mountain and Snowmass opened for skiing and snowboarding, ushering in a season with unprecedented safety measures.

France said skiing itself should provide a low-risk “mental health break.” It’s the indoor areas on and around the mountain – like restaurants and bathrooms – that have him worried.

“I think more about the bottlenecks,” he said. “Where are people going to gather indoors that’s related to skiing? And indeed skiing generates the opportunity for people from multiple places to come indoors where they can generate spread.”

As the winter season gradually builds to a head, attracting visitors from across the country, there’s a chance for even more transmission.

“It’s important not to forget that some of our earliest cases came from ski communities where people were getting together and having parties and spreading this virus,” France said. “If that kind of behavior happens associated with opening up the ski industry, our state is going to be in a lot of trouble from a growth of cases.”

France underscored the importance of distancing and mask wearing as measures that could help mitigate the further spread of the coronavirus.

Alex is KUNC's reporter covering the Colorado River Basin. He spent two years at Aspen Public Radio, mainly reporting on the resort economy, the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, he covered the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery for KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska.
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