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COVID Restrictions In Colorado: Spring Break Parties, Variants Threaten Summit County's Level

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (CBS4) - Summit County could be the second county in the state to move backwards on the COVID-19 dial as cases continue to rise. Health officials say new variants and spring break crowds are to blame.

"You know this spike, I'm sure, is because of all of the guests, and a lot of people are coming from places that have not been as cautious as we have been and that's a bummer," said Eric Mamula, Mayor of Breckenridge and owner of Downstairs at Eric's.

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Currently under Level Yellow, Mamula has finally been able to enjoy a fuller atmosphere inside of his restaurant. It's not the normal crowd that Downstairs at Eric's is used to, but nearly 80 people is the most he's served since the pandemic began.

"For my place, that's taken us from 50 people to 75 or 80 people so that's a huge difference, and there's definitely a difference in sort of the psyche of the community. That everybody is feeling like now we can sort of see the end of the road," said Mamula.

While he will still be able to operate under Level Orange, the many smaller restaurants around the county will suffer greatly.

"There's other guys this is going to affect drastically, and that is a huge bummer, so I hope things stabilize. I really do," said Mamula.

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The county saw an average of around 20 cases per day in the month of March. Its one-week positivity rate currently sits at 9.7% with around 387 cases. In order to stay in Level Yellow, the county would need to remain below 10% and 300 cases for the remainder of the week.

"The next few days are critical to see what's going to happen we're closely watching our numbers to see if we can reset, remain in Level Yellow, not have to move to Level Orange, and see if we can remain open for the next couple of weeks," said Elisabeth Lawrence, Summit County Commissioner.

Mountain communities have been struggling to find a balance between the tourism industry and safety since the beginning of the pandemic.

"Look," said Mamula, "you invite a bunch of people into your town for spring break, you have to expect some of this. From what I hear though a lot of people have been having house parties and stuff and that's the kind of behavior that we need people to know, it's still not acceptable. It's still not right that we're doing that stuff."

Last week Pitkin County was the first in the state to move to Level Orange, while many others were preparing to lift restrictions. Much like Summit County, Pitkin officials said it's hard to manage tourists coming from areas with different expectations.

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On top of tourism, both counties say the new variants have become an increasing burden.

"We're definitely concerned about variants. We believe that 50% of our new cases are tied to variants and so certainly that is attributed to high tourism in our community," said Lawrence.

The other factor she said can be attributed to the workforce in Summit County.

"I believe the last rate was over 40% of our cases that we knew about were all folks that have gone to work sick," said Lawrence. "They are faced with a really tough decision. 'Do I go to work sick during this critical spring break time? Or do stay home to protect the community?' and it really comes out of their pocketbook, so that's an unfortunate situation."

The good news is that nearly 50% of Summit County residents have received their first round of vaccinations and starting Friday, the state will open vaccinations to the general public.

"We are certainly hopeful that this is just a blip related to high tourism and we know here in Summit County will slow down in the next couple weeks," said Lawrence.

RELATED: Estes Park, Other Popular Colorado Mountain Destinations Try To Balance Tourism And Uptick In Cases

Lawrence reminded those who are still waiting to be vaccinated, testing remains a critical way to control the spread and encourages unvaccinated Coloradans to stick with it.

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