Local health department orders out-of-state visitors to leave, stay away

by Mark Craddock


OUR WORLD — Visitors to Las Animas or Huerfano counties are asked to please go home now, and those thinking about visiting the Spanish Peaks region should just not, under a new directive by the district health department.

On Saturday, March 28, the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department issued its own order reinforcing Gov. Jared Polis’ March 23 stay-at-home order (#20-24).

“Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department (LAHCDHD) anticipates that, due to the contagiousness of the COVID-19 virus and the fact that numerous travelers from around the world visit our area, Las Animas and Huerfano Counties will see cases of the virus and its transmission within the community,” Director Kim Gonzales said a Saturday press release. “Developing social distancing policies prior to an extensive outbreak has been a proven means of helping to contain COVID-19 outbreaks.”

The language goes above and beyond state coronavirus-prevention guidelines, but it is becoming a growing trend among small, rural mountain communities who see an influx of out-of-towners in the midst of a pandemic as a real danger.

One trend, whose legality remains in question, is rural counties closing off public land to all but local residents.

In a March 16 order, the Southeast Utah Health Department said only “primary residents” and “essential visitors” who were working in the counties “may utilize public lands for primitive camping purposes.”

Closer to home, San Juan County on March 21 issued a “locals only” order prohibiting all but essential services in the county. In addition to limiting access to public land to county residents only, the order said all vehicles parked on U.S. 550 — the famed “Million Dollar Highway” — were subject to tickets or towing, unless they were registered in the county. San Juan County is roughly 249,000 acres, with 71 percent of that San Juan National Forest and 18 percent Bureau of Land Management property.

In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock went a step further than Polis in a March 24 stay-at-home order. The order bans non-essential travel outside the city limits, in part to curb day trips to nearby mountain communities and resorts.

The Las Animas/Huerfano Counties order does have an enforcement clause. Violators could potentially get up to a year in county jail and a $1,000 fine. “This order will be enforced by all appropriate legal means,” it reads. “Local authorities are encouraged to determine the best course of action to encourage maximum compliance.”

But don’t look for a shelter-in-place posse turning folks away on Raton Pass. That’s not the point, said Robert Bukovac, emergency preparedness and response coordinator for the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department. In trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19, he said, people should already know this is a bad time to travel.

“We’re just trying to say, if you’re traveling through, we don’t want to bring infected people in,” he said, “and we don’t want to infect people either.

“Especially here in Trinidad, we see a lot of ‘marijuana tourists.’ They come up from Texas, they come from Oklahoma, they come from New Mexico,” Bukovac said. “Before COVID, they’d go to bars, hotels, restaurants. They’d buy their weed and go home.

“With hotels, retail food, bars — pretty much everything – closed right now, why would you want to come? You can’t enjoy it.”

The order also requires residents of Las Animas and Huerfano Counties who have traveled out of state starting March 23 and going forward to do a 14-day self-quarantine. This is for all residents who have traveled out of state for a period of 24 hours or more.

Local residents who work in a neighboring state are exempt from that requirement.

Besides rolling up the welcome mat to out-of-state visitors, the local health department order basically mirrors orders by Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding quarantining, social distancing and sheltering in place in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19.

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