GUNNISON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) – Visitors are no longer allowed in Gunnison County under the county’s latest public health order. Violators could be jailed.

In 1918, people in Gunnison dodged a flu pandemic by telling visitors to stay away. Now, the county is trying a similar technique to flatten its COVID-19 curve.

“We do have a reputation to uphold from 1918, but … we know the realities for us today,” said Joni Reynolds, Gunnison County public health director. “The reality is that we started this outbreak in Gunnison County earlier than what we saw happening around the rest of the state.”

Reynolds says her county of roughly 18,000 residents has one of the highest per capita rates of infection in the country.

“In Colorado, these are the strictest public health orders,” she said.

The latest order, issued Friday, requires any resident who leaves the county to self isolate for at least seven days upon return. The order also bans visitors, including homeowners who live in the county part-time. They must leave the county unless they can convince Reynolds to issue an exemption.

“I’m just reviewing those on an individual basis and then making a decision for each case, one by one,” Reynolds said.

Those who desire to visit the area should turn around at the county line.

“Frankly, lots of folks have arrived [who] aren’t aware of the public health orders,” Reynolds said. “They’re not aware of the situation here in Gunnison County.”

People who violate the order could be jailed for 18 months and fined $5,000, but that would be a last resort of enforcement. Education and documented warnings come first.

“We’re … not wanting to bring more folks into our jail,” Reynolds explained. “We’re really just wanting folks to be informed … My focus is on protecting the community.”

People from Gunnison who spoke on the phone Tuesday with FOX31 said they welcome the new order.

While visiting Gunnison County is no longer allowed, the order does not specifically ban people from drive through the county, stopping for gas or perhaps buying food. Hotels are closed.

No one had been fined or arrested as of Tuesday. The order does not interrupt the supply line. Deliveries are still needed for those who call Gunnison County home.

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