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

ESTES PARK, Colo. (CBS4) - The streets of Estes Park are still quiet as the tourist season is still ahead. With the likely onslaught of people comes concern.

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"This community is older than most of them in Colorado. It's largely a retirement community," said 10 year full-time resident Liz Geweke. "We do see an awful lot of cars coming up here with Texas and Louisiana and Kansas license plates and a lot of people walking around town without masks on."

Those trends could spell difficulties if the sidewalks in town get crowded with people who may be bringing COVID-19 in from places with lower rates of vaccination, but not yet.

"We're seeing a little uptick right now. That's a bit concerning. We have a lot more variants in the county and within the state. That are more transmissible," said Larimer County Public Health and Environment's population epidemiologist Jared Olson.

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He doesn't see a troubling number of cases coming from the outside yet.

"We continue to have so many cases here in the county itself that a few cases coming from Wyoming, coming across the border from Weld or Boulder County aren't going to make a significant difference in our case rate."

Ski towns, in the middle of their busy season, have it tougher right now.

"Whether it's Brazil or the UK variants or whatever else might be popping up on the scene next, we've gone some concerns about that," said Summit County manager Scott Vargo. They have tried to get the state to deliver more vaccine doses because of the potential of exposure to outside sources from other states and countries.

"We have absolutely made that known to the state that as resort region counties that we are susceptible, more susceptible than some other areas perhaps, and we'd like to see some attention in that area," said Vargo.

RELATED: Spring Break Parties, Variants Threaten Summit County's COVID Dial Level

"It has been difficult walking that edge," said Vargo about balancing the hope to keep business going and to welcome people in, but keep the population safe.

The next hurdle could be getting people to get the vaccine to reach herd immunity. Larimer County, like many others, has many people under the age of 50 not yet vaccinated.

Olson would like to see more people of all ages get vaccinated.

"I think it's unclear whether that vaccine hesitancy is a kind of temporary phenomenon where some folks just need some time to see what happens with other individuals, they want to get some more information or whether they're likely to be holding on to for a longer time."

The county is working on ways to ensure that the influx of seasonal labor for the tourist season ahead are able to get vaccinated before being potentially exposed. A little over a quarter of the county's population has now gotten at least one vaccination. That's a long way from herd immunity.

CBS4 asked Vargo whether there's been any discussion of something like a vaccine passport and he said yes.

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"We we are looking at, is there a difference in terms of restrictions that we might offer? So for folks that are coming and visiting, what are the rules for lodging guests that haven't been vaccinated versus those that have? Is there more flexibility for those folks that are vaccinated and perhaps that's another incentive for folks that are coming from elsewhere to go down the path to get vaccinated themselves?"

Both said they may look at seeking longer mask mandates from the state.

"I think it's one of the lowest cost interventions that we can possibly have," said Olson. "We all have masks. We're all used to wearing masks in public indoor locations."

Vargo says a mask mandate is much easier to maintain when it's a statewide rule. Earlier in the pandemic when rules varied in different communities, it was harder to enforce, he said.

"Once it was a statewide order it became much easier for folks to enforce and it became just much easier to folks to be aware of it."

That plus getting outside in free moving air said Olson, will hopefully help.

"Let's spend April outside so we can preserve as much of our summer as possible and get to that herd immunity point faster."

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