Durango’s Covid ‘Cowboy’ Rounds Up Spring Break Scofflaws, Lines ’Em Up for Shots


Bartenders have been pouring Old-Fashioneds at a bar with a bullet gap straight via the wooden. Servers in corsets and fishnet stockings roamed the room, passing an previous piano that, twice every week, fills the constructing with ragtime tunes.


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It was a Friday night on the Diamond Belle Saloon on the primary drag in Durango, Colorado. Outside, a person in boots, a cowboy hat and a button-down vest adorned with a U.S. marshal badge patrolled the block, eyes scanning the streets for hassle. If hassle have been to look, it might doubtless take the type of errant Texans.

“You can’t throw a stone around here without hitting a Texan,” recalled Scott Perez, the person within the marshal get-up.

This was the Wild West, in spite of everything: spring break 2021. And leaders of this metropolis of about 19,000 are keen to carry covid-19 at bay with a little bit of old-time legislation and order on masks mandates — and even a little bit trendy vaccine science.

Perez may be very accustomed to this block, having staged his demise a number of occasions outdoors the saloon throughout summertime gunfight performances. The former cowboy and present actor, stuntman and historical past buff additionally pretended to rob the steam prepare that takes vacationers to the previous mining city of Silverton. Now, a consortium that features native companies and the tourism workplace has employed him and some different actors for a really particular activity: to get individuals to obey the town’s mandate to put on their dang masks.

Early within the pandemic, some mountain cities and counties shut out visitors. These days, they’re welcoming vacationers with open arms — and, in some circumstances, a shot within the arm.

The well being division that serves Durango’s La Plata County is amongst these providing covid vaccines to outsiders. In neighboring San Juan County, the place the sheriff was threatening to wonderful and tow automobiles with out-of-county license plates a yr in the past, officers at the moment are telling guests, “If you’re here and with us now, let’s get you vaccinated if you’re eligible,” county spokesperson DeAnne Gallegos mentioned. Andrew Sandstrom, a spokesperson for the Gunnison County covid response, mentioned his county is doing the identical however officers are simply asking that guests obtain each doses in the identical place.

Liane Jollon, government director of the health department that spans La Plata and Archuleta counties, mentioned greater than 30% of residents have gotten at the very least one vaccine dose, placing the counties forward of the curve. They aren’t promoting their vaccine provide as a lure for vacationers, however so long as guests match Colorado’s vaccine eligibility standards, Jollon mentioned, they aren’t turning anybody away.

The state told vaccine providers to not ask for IDs or proof of residency, to keep away from creating limitations for immigrants or homeless individuals, mentioned Brian Spencer, with the Colorado State Joint Information Center. By extension, although, meaning spring break vacationers or second-home guests can also partake.

“While it can feel like a difficult burden to vaccinate more individuals in your jurisdiction, it also helps keep our entire community safe,” Jollon mentioned. “We’ve had people drive up for the day from New Mexico to get a vaccine.”

Typically this time of yr, guests are available spring break waves from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Oklahoma’s governor has refused to impose a statewide mask mandate, and the governor of Texas lifted that state’s mandate and totally reopened companies shortly earlier than spring break vacationers started arriving in Colorado.

In La Plata County, cellphone information analyzed by the well being division exhibits that, from the primary week of March to the third, cell units belonging to nonresidents shot from 15% of the overall to 40%, with most coming from Texas and Oklahoma.

Some of the inflow began even earlier. Gunnison County, which banned guests throughout final yr’s spring break, has seen tourism greater than rebound previously few months. It had a leap of at the very least 30% in tax income from short-term lodging in December and January in contrast with the identical months earlier than the pandemic.

Coloradans worry what the guests could depart behind.

“In many of our mountain towns, we’re starting to see a new uptick,” mentioned Jollon. “We’re really concerned that after spring break we could see an uptick that would hurt our schools’ ability to continue to offer in-person learning options.”

Around this time 102 years in the past, Durango was closing its colleges and opening an emergency hospital — once more — to cope with a resurgence of the 1918 flu pandemic. People have been fumigating their homes with formaldehyde, and children have been jumping rope to the track “I had a little bird. Its name was Enza. I opened the window, and in-flu-Enza.”

“It was definitely bad here,” mentioned Perez. “They had bodies stacked up, particularly the ones that died in the winter because they couldn’t dig to bury them. They couldn’t find the mortician. He was laying amongst the bodies because he died. … A lot of the ladies of the evening became nurses.”

So this time, the group desires to forestall a resurgence, but additionally preserve the tourism {dollars} flowing.

Durango, which normally attracts an estimated 1.5 million guests every year with its brick buildings, steam prepare and bluffs crumbling into the Animas River, initially deliberate to rent a personal safety agency to influence out-of-towners to don masks. That’s what the city of Breckenridge did. But then Rachel Brown, government director of Visit Durango, jokingly proposed Old West actors as an alternative.

“I have been told that the fun and theatrical approach of the Mask Marshal program is being very well received,” Brown mentioned. “We are glad that we chose this option over private security.”

The want for masks police puzzles Perez. “I can’t figure it out at all,” he mentioned. “I mean, there’s so much evidence about how this helps and yet somehow it became political.”

His right-hand girl in masks compliance is Cathy Roberts, a fellow reenactor, plus an animal advocate and navy veteran. She wears a red-and-black cancan costume and goes by “Miss Kitty,” after the saloon proprietor within the TV and radio sequence “Gunsmoke.”

“She can disarm anybody with charm,” mentioned Perez. “The goal is that I disarm them with some humor.” But he’s additionally clear they’ve a second possibility if issues go bitter: a direct line to the Durango Police Department.

“And the third option is not pretty,” mentioned Perez. To be clear, the one warmth he’s packing is 2 rounds of Pfizer.

As the pair entered the saloon Friday evening, Roberts recounted, a waitress gave her what she calls “the look.”

“That’s all they gotta do,” mentioned Roberts, who rapidly noticed the issue by the door: 4 individuals who clearly weren’t accustomed to Durango’s masks guidelines. People are required to wear masks indoors, even in a bar or restaurant, until they’re seated and consuming or ingesting. The ladies had on masks, however their noses weren’t lined. The males didn’t have masks in any respect.

Roberts walked up cheerfully in her ruffled costume, greeted them, welcomed them to Durango, and supplied masks that mentioned “I [heart] Durango.” One man accepted it, she mentioned, and put it on. The different sulked, zipping his coat up over his mouth. “I’m like, ‘Sorry, sir, it’s not over your nose,’ and he pulled it up even higher,” she recalled.

Perez hung again behind her, silent beneath his bandanna and white mustache. Technically talking, all noses had been lined, so the pair moved on.

“Mask compliance actually is really, really high,” mentioned Perez. “There’s a lot of people wearing masks even out on the sidewalks, where they don’t have to.”

The previous few weekends, he’s largely discovered himself greeting individuals, welcoming them to Durango, chatting about native historical past after which slipping within the guidelines about masks.

“And 99.9% of the time, that’s well received,” he mentioned, even among the many Texans, who might also go dwelling vaccinated.

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is without doubt one of the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering info on well being points to the nation.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is without doubt one of the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering info on well being points to the nation.

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