Novel Coronavirus Brings New, Unusual Issues to Gunnison County

Trail Adjacent to Western Colorado University

Unusual times. The curriculum at Western Colorado University is being delivered remotely for the remainder of the spring semester. And the trails adjacent to campus are open only to residents of Gunnison County.

We have been referring to this virus as Novel Coronavirus. The virus is not the only thing novel to our little valley. Novel also is our need to respond responsibly to a global pandemic. That’s novel to everyone who has put a shoulder to the wheel these past three weeks to keep people safe.

Some large body of nonresident homeowners has felt aggrieved by emergency response orders asking they not come to the valley. As well, nonresident homeowners here at the outbreak of the virus were understandably anxious that they should have to apply for a waiver to stay where they were at the time—namely, at their home in the valley. What would happen if the waiver wasn’t granted? A forced departure?

Truly, this could turn into an Us vs Them.

As in so much of life, a failure to communicate clearly leads to unnecessary troubles.

As it turns out, Gunnison County Public Health Director Joni Reynolds has approved all nonresident homeowner requests to stay on site for those who were caught here at the sudden end of the ski season. This includes the elderly who Joni judged would be put at more risk by travel than if they simply stayed put.

Someone pointed out to me that Pitkin County had a more enlightened response to nonresident homeowner residency than we. Nonresident homeowners to our north were given a blanket exemption to stay and at the same time asked to leave the Roaring Fork Valley. Joni has done something different. She has welcomed nonresident homeowners to stay, and for the benefit of their safety. She has not said, “You’re welcome to stay but I wish you wouldn’t,” which is how I read the Pitkin County communication.

Then there is the question of nonresident homeowner travel to our valley. Non-essential travel is banned both in our state and in our valley. Thankfully, for those of us here, included in essential travel is to liquor stores and Hartman singletrack. For that I am personally and forever grateful. But what qualifies for essential travel to the valley for those whose homes are someplace else? If someone were to have left a pot roast in the refrigerator, is it essential to return to the valley to put it in the freezer? Even considering the refrigerator in the future will need some baking soda to be returned to normal. Waivers for travel back to the valley have generally not been granted.

As for the legality of keeping nonresidents from their second homes, I will let the county and the Texas Attorney General mud-wrestle. I will say that there are illegal actions that I think are perfectly fine, and legal actions that I think are perfectly awful. It is more than a shame that in this novel time, legal action is being undertaken to challenge local decisions that were taken in good faith and with the best of intentions for all, including those nonresident homeowners who found themselves here in mid-March and are still more than welcome to remain here.

Here is, then, the clarification of Joni Reynolds’ thinking on the nonresident homeowner order:

We understand that Gunnison County’s ban on non-resident homeowners, with exceptions, needs more explaining. And that there has been extreme angst, anger, and fear that have followed this decision. Rest assured that was not our intention.

A blanket ban cannot account for extenuating circumstances. Many non-resident homeowners were here before the coronavirus rocked our community.

We have received 199 non-resident exemption requests to date. Those waivers applied for by nonresident homeowners who were here in February and, later, when the lifts closed, have all been approved.

At the same time, almost all requests for waivers for travel into our valley by non-resident homeowners have been denied. Non-essential travel is banned here in our valley and across our state.

The COVID-19 outbreak event will shift in the future and Public Health Orders will also be reflective of those changes.

The non-resident exemption form can be found on our website here.

-John Norton, Executive Director, Tourism and Prosperity Partnership

Author: John Norton

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