Aspen is a tourist town — and one where visitation has surged over the last year and a half as tourists flocked to the area for incredible views and exciting activities to do outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, locals have had to adapt to a new normal of precautions and restrictions that keep changing as the pandemic does.
“December was when we changed basically how we’re measuring our success —
measuring our risk, I should say,” Aspen Mayor Torre said. “And what we determined was that (if we implemented) any new regulations and requirements primarily which would be a reduction in indoor capacities, those would be tied to our hospital numbers and data.”
Navigating those rules gets even more stressful when guests don’t always abide. Many businesses in Aspen are staffed by teenage workers like Jayden Bailey, a 17-year-old employee at the Snowmass Village ice cream shop Sundae who often finds herself as the enforcer of mask regulations.
“Every time I come to work, it’s extremely difficult because I constantly have to remind people that they need a mask and they need to wear it properly and that they can’t eat in the store, and it sucks for us because yeah, we do lose business,” Bailey said. “I’m sick of getting yelled at by people three times my age because I’m just enforcing something to keep my staff and my community safe.”
The changing rules — and some people not following them — added an extra layer of stress at school, too. In late December and early January, COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in the community and in our school district. Student after student was contracting COVID-19, causing them to miss out on prep for finals and essential classes. In-person learning went from feeling like a weird school day to a stressful one with strictly enforced rules that had existed since the start of COVID-19, and lots of sick students.
Brooke O’Sullivan, a sophomore at Aspen High School, said it is hard for kids to follow these COVID-19 protocols when the people who visit here don’t follow them either.
“I think that (Aspen) being a tourist town has made it especially difficult for the school and city to go about protocol,” O’Sullivan said. “There simply weren’t many models for us to learn from, so we just tried our best.”
Change is likely to remain a constant with the virus and with guidelines moving forward as officials learn more about variants and impacts, Torre said.
“You know, we’re going to be learning again,” Torre said. “What does that mean? What are the lasting impacts? How long does somebody’s immunity last, if they’ve already had it if they’ve just had or cleared the virus? What did they have? Do they have 30 days? non-susceptibility (or is)it 90 days? So we’re in another learning phase now,” Torre said.
Meanwhile, tourism officials like Snowmass Tourism online marketing coordinator Allie Welsh are working to balance the needs of both locals and tourists and communicate the importance of following those ever-changing guidelines for the wellbeing of the community.
“Tourists are like-minded with our community,” Welsh said. ”They love the outdoors. They care about spending time with family, so our message to those visitors is very much, you come here, and you get to experience this place, but you’re part of our community,” Welsh said.