Silverton, CO – San Juan County Sheriff Bruce Conrad announced a “locals only” policy in his county on Saturday and asked residents to voluntarily quarantine themselves at home.
“Our community is geographically unique, allowing us an opportunity to experience less of the tragedy associated with COVID-19,” Sheriff Conrad said in a statement posted to the department’s official Facebook page.
The sheriff said that minimizing the county’s exposure to the outside world was the key to avoiding the pandemic locally.
“These are not extreme measures in these extraordinary times, and we are not the first community to enact them,” Sheriff Conrad wrote. “It is not a cavalier decision made without regard for our economy or for the well-being of our citizens. It is in fact, our well-being at stake here.”
He said locals’ travel should be restricted to “obtaining necessities” or “solo or small party exercise outings.”
Sheriff Conrad’s policy also applies to the backcountry recreation the county is so popular for, including skiing and snowmobiling, The Journal reported.
“We’re a small community,” San Juan County Emergency Management Office Spokeswoman DeAnne Gallegos explained. “On a good day, San Juan County has limited search-and-rescue infrastructure and the same people who would be part of a search and rescue are the same EMS personnel who provide services to our community. We don’t want them to be overtaxed.”
The policy enacted on March 21 allows for drive-through traffic on U.S. Highway 550 but travelers may not stop, according to The Journal.
“We are worried about a high number of out-of-county vehicles parked off Highway 550 for backcountry trips,” Gallegos said. “Now, with COVID-19, our search-and-rescue services are even more limited. We understand the forest is a prime recreational opportunity and with everyone at home it might seem like a good idea to hit the backcountry, but it is our county’s first responders who are responsible for helping people if they get in trouble, and with the current situation we can’t afford to have them pulled away for a backcountry rescue.”
Non-local vehicles found parked at backcountry access points or parked on county roads will be ticketed and towed, The Journal reported.
Gallegos said she expected San Juan County to issue an order early in the week banning new check-ins to hotels, motels, Airbnbs, and vacation rentals.
“These are unprecedented times, and we are doing what we can to secure San Juan County residents. So we want to limit the number of unnecessary people in the county,” she told The Journal.
Neighboring Ouray County shut down hotels, non-essentials businesses, and limited gatherings to 10 or fewer people a day before Sheriff Conrad’s announcement, the Ouray County Plaindealer reported.
As of Monday afternoon, Colorado had 591 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with six deaths in the state, according to the Bing COVID-19 Tracker.