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Vail Mayor Dave Chapin on Saturday told RealVail.com he’s well on the road to recovery in his own battle with the COVID-19 virus but that his heart aches for the friends and family of Rod Powell, the longtime après-ski musician who became the first local victim of the virus Saturday.
“Rod was a friend to a lot of people and he was the first one that if there was a benefit for somebody and it involved music, I know Rod was there, he was there, man,” Chapin said, choking up a bit. “Bless his soul, and I just pray that there’s not many more, and there may be. That’s the reality of it.”
Vail and surrounding Eagle County have been an early epicenter of the disease in Colorado – likely due to its alure as an international ski destination. Now in Colorado it’s second only to Denver (97) with 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Powell,64, had underlying health conditions and died after more than a week in a Denver ICU. Chapin, 61, also has previous health issues – a massive heart attack six and a half years ago – but he warns this virus can hit anyone anytime and people from every demographic need to take it seriously.
“That’s one of the issues right now is that a lot of people don’t think they’re COVID-19 material, and we need to get by that and people need to understand that everybody’s vulnerable here,” Chapin said in his first interview since acknowledging his illness in a letter to the community on Friday.
“At first this was projected as an older individual’s problem, and we’re coming to find out that it can affect all demographics and this can bring up an underlying health situation that somebody might not be aware of and then all of a sudden that spiral of going downhill is dramatically increased,” Chapin said.
Chapin said he started out just feeling “crummy,” then developed a fever, chills, a bad headache, shortness of breath and a cough. Anyone with those symptoms should self-isolate and call their doctor, he urged, staying calm and not just charging into the hospital.
“I want to make it perfectly clear to you that clearly I’m sick, but I’m well on the side of recovery and expect to have nothing but a complete recovery, and unfortunately many are not in that same position at this point,” Chapin said.
Now he’s slowly recovering, isolated even from his wife — who’s shown no symptoms — until at least the middle of next week. Chapin says he has no idea how he contracted the disease and never felt desperately ill, but he’s urging everyone to take it seriously and follow all protocols – including younger members of the community.
“We need to emphasize to the young people that they too can be afflicted by this,” Chapin said. “When we’re taking up hospital beds, as we should be, with the critically ill, that really puts a strain on the hospital. And that’s why it’s so important right now for people to understand, stay calm, be rational. Even if you think you’re sick, please contact your doctor first, virtually or by a phone call, because going to the hospital right now is not helping.
“These health care professionals, who truly are heroes in this fight we’re undertaking right now, they are at their wit’s end. And we just don’t need people going there,” Chapin added.
Chapin is strongly urging people to strictly adhere to social distancing and stay home if they’re sick, calling their health care providers and reporting their symptoms.
Vail Health President & CEO Will Cook on Wednesday wrote: “The real number of local cases in the Eagle River Valley is more likely hundreds if not thousands of people. It is everywhere here; we just don’t have the test results to prove it, and we won’t anytime soon.”
Cook added the local hospital may soon be overwhelmed.
“The truth is, if we don’t commit to disciplined social distancing now, our 56-bed Vail Health Hospital will be overflowing within 2-4 weeks. We will not have enough respirators to keep people alive, and locals of all ages will be dying. The other hospitals in America will be full too,” Cook added.
Editor’s note: A version of this story also ran in the Colorado Springs Gazette.