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The numbers of cases of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 across Colorado are not as concerning as they are for other areas of the country, but health officials remain cautious regarding the further opening of activities.

In Saguache and Rio Grande Counties, a reported outbreak that has nearly quadrupled cases since late May is being closely followed. Health officials in Saguache and Rio Grande Counties are continuing to investigate and track the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 cases, first reported last week.

Microscopic view of COVID-19 virus. Image servprodowneyca.com

Robert Woeltz, Director of Saguache County Office of Emergency Management, told Ark Valley Voice last week about responding to the outbreak.

“We can confirm that most, but not all, of the new cases in Rio Grande and Saguache Counties are from the Town of Center,” he said.

“San Luis Valley (SLV) Epidemiologist, Lilian Coll, believes we are seeing “community spread” of the virus and that the recent rise in COVID-19 cases is not due to an increase in testing.  The concurrent rise in activity in healthcare provider offices and the increase in call-line queries with COVID-19 symptoms reported by healthcare providers strongly suggests that we are seeing an increase in community spread in the San Luis Valley,” he said at the time.

Some health officials said the cases were also connected to migrant agricultural seasonal farmworkers. As of June 19, Woeltz said the investigations are continuing.

The latest tally shows 99 total positive COVID-19 cases. 92 of those cases have completed isolation, he noted, and seven active cases are still being tracked by Saguache Public Health and six test results are currently pending.

The San Luis Valley Regional Public Health Department Operations Center (DOC) is currently tracking eight outbreaks located in Costilla, Alamosa, and Rio Grande Counties. The local data from Public Health and healthcare partners suggests that the SLV is currently experiencing a surge of COVID-19. While outbreaks are occurring at facilities and workplaces in several locations across the San Luis Valley, much of this surge is attributed to community spread.

Downtown Center, Colorado. Image courtesy of The Armchair Explorer

Valley-Wide Health Systems conducted its fifth testing clinic, in the Town of Center, June 18. Another testing event, for the Town of Center, is scheduled for June 24, Woeltz noted. Saguache County has also advertised for a new county health director recently.

“COVID-19 testing trends are monitored by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC).  CDPHE has recently provided the San Luis Valley with support to assist with contact trace investigations, as well as a team of epidemiologists who have been working with local public health agencies to help with local outbreak responses in all of our counties. Public health does case and contact investigations with positive cases, including those involving agricultural workers in Center,” said Woeltz.

On June 19, he said the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) met with the San Luis Valley Regional Public Health Department Operations Center (DOC), along with Emergency Management staff, to specifically discuss the State’s support to COVID-19 mitigation for agricultural, migrant, and seasonal farmworkers in the San Luis Valley. Senior Advisor on Colorado Rural Policy for Senator Michael Bennet Erin Minks, who is also his San Luis Valley Regional Representative joined the Chaffee County COVID-19 Roundtable call last week. She confirmed the reports of an outbreak in the Center, CO area in seasonal agricultural workers and added that state resources were being offered to quickly address the situation.

“A locally-led, state-supported team has been identified to assist in two specific areas: 1) disease control and mitigation to slow COVID-19 transmission across the region and 2) support for communities, individuals, and families to reduce any hardships. The State has also delivered 2,000 cloth masks to the Town of Center,” Woeltz added.

As of June 12, Saguache County had a total of 99 positive COVID-19 cases, 78 of those cases have completed isolation, leaving 20 positive cases still in isolation. As of June 18, 30 additional cases had been reported, bringing the total in the San Luis Valley to 346. Alamosa County had listed 20 more cases, bringing its total to 152; there were three more cases in Conejos County, up to 13; two additional in Costilla County, up to 17, and five more cases in Rio Grande County, to a total of 63.

As of June 12, five deaths had been reported from the virus, 28 people were hospitalized and a total of 239 had had isolation completed and were symptom-free.

In Chaffee County, the most recent totals are virtually unchanged with positive cases, including probables at 76 cases and an official death total at 19, 14 of which were listed as directly attributable to COVID-19. A majority of the deaths were tied to an outbreak at the Columbine Manor Care Center in Salida.

In Colorado overall, the State Department of Public Health and Environment reported more than 30,000 cases as of June 18, with more than 5,300 hospitalizations since it started, and 1,643 deaths among those infected, with 1,429 directly attributed to COVID-19.