GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.- Mesa County has a much higher population than surrounding counties, yet a fraction of COVID-19 cases.

As Mesa County is well into its second phase of reopening, Montrose and Garfield counties were granted their own reopening variances over Memorial Day weekend.

As fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases are reported, counties are able to get reopening variances from the state and implement their own plans.

According to Mesa County Public Health about 145 applications have been submitted for the county’s Phase 2 of reopening. This includes any public space in the county, including bars. The director of Mesa County Public health says this is because of the lower case count than the rest of the state.

“We weren’t an early tourist destination,” said MCPH director Jeff Kuhr. “Thinking about Montrose, for example. The Montrose airport serves a lot of the skiers going to Telluride. So it was kind of a travel hub there.”

The chief medical officer at a Grand Junction hospital agrees. He says Mesa County’s lower case count, despite having a higher population than other Western Slope counties, is all about location.

“Some of the outlying counties that are less populous than us ended up with higher numbers,” said Dr. Thomas Tobin of Community Hospital. “There were very specific instances of people either from out of the country or hotspots that entered those communities that then caused a spike in those numbers.”

Jeff Kuhr at Mesa County Public Health says a critical determining factor right now is making sure new cases remain low to ensure more approved reopening variances.

“What the state bases their decision on is what’s happened in a two week period,” Kuhr said. “Have you flattened out your curve in a two week period? All these folks (counties) who have received variances have done that.”