Durango’s Covid ‘Cowboy’ Rounds Up Spring Break Scofflaws, Traces ’Em Up for Photographs

Bartenders have been pouring Previous-Fashioneds at a bar with a bullet gap straight by means of 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.

It was a Friday night on the Diamond Belle Saloon on the primary drag in Durango, Colorado. Outdoors, 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 seem, it might possible take the type of errant Texans.

“You may’t throw a stone round right here with out hitting a Texan,” recalled Scott Perez, the person within the marshal get-up.

This was the Wild West, in any case: 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 regulation and order on masks mandates — and even a little bit fashionable vaccine science.

Perez could be very accustomed to this block, having staged his demise a number of instances outdoors the saloon throughout summertime gunfight performances. The previous 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 folks to obey the town’s mandate to put on their dang masks.

Wearing Previous West apparel, Cathy Roberts (left) and Scott Perez (proper) combine it up with locals and guests whereas on a mission in Durango, Colorado: to encourage masks use throughout the pandemic. They offer out free masks and generally stand for a fast photograph alternative with vacationers.(Jeremy Wade Shockley / for KHN)
Scott Perez and Cathy Roberts make the rounds on the Diamond Belle Saloon in Durango, Colorado, on March 21, to verify everyone seems to be masked up and to supply complimentary masks. (Jeremy Wade Shockley / for KHN)
Previous West actor Cathy Roberts palms out complimentary masks to diners on the Diamond Belle Saloon in Durango, Colorado, on March 21. (Jeremy Wade Shockley / for KHN)

Early within the pandemic, some mountain cities and counties shut out guests. As of late, 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 advantageous and tow automobiles with out-of-county license plates a yr in the past, officers at the moment are telling guests, “When you’re right here and with us now, let’s get you vaccinated when 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 well being division that spans La Plata and Archuleta counties, mentioned greater than 30% of residents have gotten no less than 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 instructed vaccine suppliers to not ask for IDs or proof of residency, to keep away from creating limitations for immigrants or homeless folks, mentioned Brian Spencer, with the Colorado State Joint Info Middle. By extension, although, which means spring break vacationers or second-home guests can also partake.

“Whereas it could actually really feel like a troublesome burden to vaccinate extra people in your jurisdiction, it additionally helps preserve our total neighborhood secure,” Jollon mentioned. “We’ve had folks drive up for the day from New Mexico to get a vaccine.”

Usually 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 masks 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.

Among 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 bounce of no less than 30% in tax income from short-term lodging in December and January in contrast with the identical months earlier than the pandemic.

Coloradans concern what the guests might depart behind.

“In lots of our mountain cities, we’re beginning to see a brand new uptick,” mentioned Jollon. “We’re actually involved that after spring break we might see an uptick that may harm our colleges’ capacity to proceed to supply in-person studying choices.”

Round 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. Individuals have been fumigating their homes with formaldehyde, and children have been leaping rope to the tune “I had a little bit chook. Its title was Enza. I opened the window, and in-flu-Enza.”

Within the midst of the covid pandemic, native officers and companies in Durango, Colorado, have employed actors Cathy Roberts and Scott Perez, amongst others, for a particular activity: to get folks to put on their darn masks.(Jeremy Wade Shockley / for KHN)

“It was positively dangerous right here,” mentioned Perez. “That they had our bodies stacked up, notably those that died within the winter as a result of they couldn’t dig to bury them. They couldn’t discover the mortician. He was laying amongst the our bodies as a result of he died. … Lots of the women of the night turned nurses.”

So this time, the neighborhood desires to stop a resurgence, but in addition preserve the tourism {dollars} flowing.

Durango, which often 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 non-public safety agency to steer out-of-towners to don masks. That’s what the city of Breckenridge did. However then Rachel Brown, government director of Go to Durango, jokingly proposed Previous West actors as a substitute.

“I’ve been instructed that the enjoyable and theatrical method of the Masks Marshal program is being very nicely obtained,” Brown mentioned. “We’re glad that we selected this feature over non-public safety.”

The necessity for masks police puzzles Perez. “I can’t determine it out in any respect,” he mentioned. “I imply, there’s a lot proof about how this helps and but by some means it turned political.”

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

“She will be able to disarm anyone with allure,” mentioned Perez. “The aim is that I disarm them with some humor.” However he’s additionally clear they’ve a second possibility if issues go bitter: a direct line to the Durango Police Division.

“And the third possibility isn’t fairly,” mentioned Perez. To be clear, the one warmth he’s packing is 2 rounds of Pfizer.

Companies and officers in Durango, Colorado, have employed Previous West actors Scott Perez and Cathy Roberts to sort out a present drawback: the Wild West of spring break, through which guests from states like Texas and Oklahoma flock to the town. The actors’ job is to persuade vacationers into sporting masks. Durango doesn’t require folks to put on masks outside however does when folks enter any companies or public buildings.(Jeremy Wade Shockley / for KHN)

Because the pair entered the saloon Friday night time, Roberts recounted, a waitress gave her what she calls “the look.”

“That’s all they gotta do,” mentioned Roberts, who shortly noticed the issue by the door: 4 individuals who clearly weren’t accustomed to Durango’s masks guidelines. Individuals are required to put on 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 lads didn’t have masks in any respect.

Roberts walked up cheerfully in her crimson gown, 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 opposite sulked, zipping his coat up over his mouth. “I’m like, ‘Sorry, sir, it’s not over your nostril,’ and he pulled it up even greater,” 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.

“Masks compliance really is actually, actually excessive,” mentioned Perez. “There’s lots of people sporting masks even out on the sidewalks, the place they don’t must.”

The previous few weekends, he’s principally discovered himself greeting folks, 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 nicely obtained,” he mentioned, even among the many Texans, who may additionally go dwelling vaccinated.

Wearing Previous West apparel, Cathy Roberts (left) and Scott Perez (proper) are on a mission in Durango, Colorado: to encourage masks use throughout the pandemic. (Jeremy Wade Shockley / for KHN)


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