Why Skiing Won't Work in a Pandemic

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Why Skiing Won't Work in a Pandemic

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Dear Director Silver Thread Public Health (Mineral County, Colorado),

I've had a few days to mull over the response made to my comments to the commissioners earlier in the-week regarding the ranking of Mineral County on the Colorado COVID 19 Dial and dashboard. Though I am not a resident of Mineral County I do spend the better part of my day in the county some 150 days a year, forgive me for commenting again, but I feel duty bound that someone goes on the record in hopes that a different viewpoint might have influence, even if in the back of the mind of the county's decision making as the pandemic progresses.
I see some flaws in the reasoning given for gerrymandering Dial levels, rather than using them as they are described:
Nowhere on the state’s Dial web pages is the decision process STH is using described or encouraged as its proper use. To say it is for guidelines mostly and not necessarily classification misrepresents the public’s perception and use of the dial. Changing classification to a county’s preferred level interferes with individual and the public’s crucial health options and choices.
There is an assumption in the explanation that because Mineral County is a small town that somehow the numbers of incidents per 100,000 would be treated differently. Is the known math of the virus and its tendency for spread somehow fortuitously different here than the rest of the planet? I think not. 1.7 deaths per 100 cases works for COVID whether there are 700 people present or 7,000 people present. Rates per 100, 000 are employed exactly to gauge the seriousness of outbreaks regardless of the size of communities. Dangerous spread in sparsely populated states made up of mostly small towns disapproves Creede’s desire for s special dispensation from the disease.
The explanation of ad hoc policies and improvised rankings and guidelines fall on the premise of a Public Health expert’s interpretation of “social responsibility,” an expert completely without the means to accurately monitor or enforce “social responsibility.” Social Responsibility, by the way, is also the governor’s preferred preventative and even his office has acknowledged that it has not worked.
As illogical as it is that the smallness Mineral County somehow protects it from the realities of a deadly virus that obeys its own rules (and we know its rules well) no matter where it is transmitting, the wishful thinking that a small town knows best how to make its own rules defies even the remnants of reason when the policies disregard that the county includes a resort where thousands of people have and are gathering. Even if ranking and guidelines (at the time of my comment or now) were helpful per the improvised policies of STH relative to Creede, if that logic holds, the ranking and policies for small Creede certainly could not logically also be applied to Wolf Creek Ski Area, which was and is gets visited by thousands of people per day packed into parking lots in an area about the same area as Creede and at much higher density of people per square foot. Many of the ski areas visitors have come from far flung states with high infection rates, and most are from cities where small town “social responsibility” is often something very different than enjoyed in Creede. (I’ve seen plates from over 20 different states and from literally every corner of the county.)
Small town or other norms of “social responsibility” also does not describe the atmosphere or the intent of a ski resort. It’s a vacationland where, in part, people travel a long way to take a break from their normal “social responsibility.” Indeed there is a strong element of maverick independence associated with the sports of snowboarding and skiing--including the apres socializing associated; It’s a place where, expectedly, we are allowed to break the rules a little, or a lot.
Even within the community, if the Dial is not accurate, it can be intentionally or unintentionally misused by leadership in organizations and businesses that have to make decisions about gathering. Not everyone understands the elaborate process described in the thinking of STH; even a reader of it might not be helped by its crafting. Some individuals and leaders predisposed to attitudes resistant to the realities of COVID 19 will inevitably use lower ranking to justify their own personal and organizational loopholes. Employers of that bent may use the misinformed ranking or juggled guidelines as leverage over employees who would otherwise be best protected by accurate “Level” and guidelines that adhere to the Dial’s published parameters.
Fiddling with the COVID Dial on a county level also ignores what public health experts are saying about the current dangers of the disease and models (which have, so far turned out to be pretty darn true) forecasting a debacle this winter, for everyone, including small towns. Fatalists and skeptics of the virus are using today to deny what we know is going to happen in a near tomorrow. Those tomorrows could be better or worse depending on what is done now. Fiddling for little windows of “freedom” will enable the most likely to spread among us to spread, and delays or manipulations of accuracy will cost lives, lives that in a small town count very, very much to all of us.
The danger of taking liberties with vital Public Health information by debating the application and inventively blending the facets of a Dial Level leans towards a see-saw of levels, downgrading too soon too much and upgrading too late too little.

I sincerely hope that Mineral County will make more effort to educate the public and leadership how to understand and use the dial instead of explaining (or not publicly explaining) the reasons for toying with and complicating it. It might also cut down on your mail, and relieve Mineral County’s health decision makers from the burden of taking on extra potentially egregious extra-personal responsibilities, pressures and culpability for public health outcomes. Used properly, the Dial is a tool that uniformly makes those responsibilities a matter of conferred, collaborative public policy and record rather than an ever shifting discussion inviting undue blame (or undue congratulation) for decisions that might be identified as personal.

My prayers are with you as you make these excruciating decisions, and I pledge my personal social responsibility to your efforts.
No need to reply. I know you are busy.
Wayne Sheldrake
South Fork, CO

PS I don’t put this all on STH or Mineral. I know adjoining counties are also picking and choosing from the Dial. All the better reason to keep it descriptive rather than interpretive.

W. K. Sheldrake (Wayne) is the author of Instant Karma: The Heart and Soul of a Ski Bum, #1 on Outside Magazine Online’s list of “6 Adventure Books We’d Read Again and Again,” and Foreword Magazine’s ‘Gold Medal’ Adventure Book of the Year (2007). He is recording his pandemic experience in a memoir THE19: Confessions of a Mad (American) COVIDodger. He lives in Southern Colorado with his “high risk” wife where there is plenty of wide open space. They do not currently have a dog.

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This item was submitted on January 9, 2021 by W.K.Sheldrake using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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