You could get 18 months in jail for visiting Colorado county in coronavirus pandemic

Maddie Capron

Tourists are not welcome in a Colorado county during the coronavirus pandemic, and they could face jail time if they come.

Gunnison County officials initiated a public health order last week that says non-residents and tourists must stay out to help slow the spread of coronavirus, and it comes with hefty consequences if it’s violated, according to county documents.

If someone doesn’t follow the public health order, they could be hit with a fine of up to $5,000 and spend 18 months in county jail, according to the order.

“The public health director finds that non-residents, visitors and non-resident homeowners from lower altitudes are at a greater risk for complications from COVID-19 infection than residents, who are acclimatized to the high altitude environment of Gunnison County,” the order said. “The public health director also finds that non-residents, regardless of whether they own a residence in Gunnison County, are imposing unnecessary burdens on health care, public services, first responders, food supplies and other essential services.”

Non-residents can request a waiver explaining why they need to stay in the county, Western Slope Now reported, or they need to leave as soon as possible.

“Our goal is to maintain the health and safety of our residents and the integrity of our healthcare system,” Daniel Kreykes, public information officer for Gunnison County Emergency Operations Center, told Western Slope Now. “To that end, there’s some language in that healthcare order that allows for folks to apply for an exemption. We realize there are certain things going on with our residents that may require that. We want to give people that option, if needed.”

It’s not the first time Gunnison County has shut itself off to visitors, though. During the 1918 flu epidemic, the county acted similarly, NPR reported.

“When the isolated mining town saw the deadly Spanish flu sweeping across America, it imposed extreme measures,” NPR’S John Burnett said on “All Things Considered.”

“For four months, residents were forbidden to leave, and travelers were turned away. Police erected barricades on the highway at Monarch Pass outside of town.”

At that time, people were arrested and put in jail, according to the news outlet. It was effective, though. Gunnison had no deaths, and neighboring towns lost 10% of their populations, NPR reported.

As of April 6, there were 93 reported positive cases of COVID-19 and one death in Gunnison County, according to the county.

The order didn’t say how it would be enforced or if county officials intend to follow through with the violations.