In a small Colorado ski town, a community adjusts to a new normal

Jacque Garcia | 040320  
︎Telluride, Colorado 

I wasn’t ready for this. I take comfort in the fact that nobody was, really.

I’m impressed with the way Telluride has handled the emergence of COVID-19. Colorado, on the whole, was quicker than most of the nation to realize the severity of the coming pandemic- in a sudden and shocking move, Governor Jared Polis closed all Colorado Ski resorts on March 15th-three weeks early. I got the message while I was at work slinging cocktails and my heart dropped. While this move was not enthusiastically supported by everyone in town, and even less so by tourists, it signaled to me just how serious of a threat COVID-19 was going to be. The next morning, the coffee shop I worked at closed its doors for the season. At 3pm that day, Telluride ordered all bars and restaurants in the city to shut down, effective immediately.

This was a Monday. The Tuesday prior, I bought plane tickets to Cuba in May, thinking this would all blow over by then- something that’s looking less and less likely by the day. Not even a week later I lost my ski season and both my jobs. A few days later all out of town visitors were asked to leave and we were ordered to shelter in place.

Our town council has started to refer to a “new normal,” which feels like a gentle way to say, ‘we don’t know when this will end, but we can assure you it will not be for a while.’ So far, my new normal consists of cooking a lot, reading more, nervously scanning the news for new and useful information, and wondering if the world has ended or if on a trip to the grocery store I unwittingly killed someone. 

Then there’s the moral dilemma of living in a town with access to wealth and power. As a service industry dirtbag, I’ve always felt separate from the elite ruling class of second home owners here- until now. Now, they’ve realized that if anyone can get sick, they can get sick, too. So, our med center is well stocked with PPE and just about as prepared as it can be for an outbreak, and more remarkably a private biotech company is paying for the entire town to receive antibody blood tests to track the effect of COVID-19. I feel so fortunate to have access to a resource like this, but am plagued with the guilt of knowing that so many other areas that may desperately need something like this will not receive such help.

Amid it all, though, I’ve seen how this town is so much more than its money. The vast majority of people who live here- most of them working class like me- care deeply for their community and are willing to go to near extreme measures to ensure its safety. The food bank is working with the network of local restaurants that shut down unexpectedly to distribute excess food. Artists like Brandon Berkel and Brooke Eindbender are engaging in projects that encourage lightness and humor. The Telluride Dance Collective posts a daily dance prompt on instagram so people can have a dance party in their homes. The town council is working double and triple overtime to keep the community safe and informed, and people are listening. As it turns out, in some ways our new normal is looking a lot like our old normal, and I’m not yet tired of the view.

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Interested in contributing to The Dust Magazine? Check out our submissions page.