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For nearly eleven weeks, each weekday 30-45 community leaders have met online for a virtual roundtable to determine a collective response to COVID-19. In that setting, we have designed a coordinated best path forward for the gradual re-opening of Chaffee County.

We have reopened retail and other non-essential businesses. We have worked through joint permitting of construction sites via a collaboration between Public Health and the Building Department, and last week implemented approval of a variance from the state Public Health Order allowing Chaffee County a limited opening of restaurant dining, campgrounds, gyms, guided activities, and places of worship.

These meetings have been a remarkable shared experience. At the core have been Chaffee County Public Health and its intensely committed director, Andrea Carlstrom. In my opinion, she has thus far achieved the impossible – helping us find that balance between economic and public health.

This is not a static equation but rather an extremely dynamic one. It will be informed in the months ahead by our COVID-19 metrics regarding positive tests, the number of hospitalized patients, and, most difficult of all, the rate at which patients succumb to complications of the novel virus.

Every model or informed projection I’ve seen predicts additional outbreaks or surges of the disease. As Andrea has said, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Whether and to what extent we experience a COVID-19 resurgence in Chaffee County will be significantly determined by the cumulative impact of our daily decision-making and behavior. The responsibility falls on all 20,000 of us. Yes, we also have visitors arriving, and their very presence brings risks. The consensus of the roundtable group is that we do not want to prevent the visitation; rather, we will help equip our frontline tourism businesses to enroll visitors in our preventive strategies.

I would urge Chaffee County residents to keep two things in mind.

The Chair of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners Greg Felt, sporting his face mask. Courtesy photo.

The first is that our outcome truly will be the result of thousands of little decisions made by 20,000 of us over the next six to 12 months. Whether or not we wash our hands, or have dinner with friends outside, or continue to reduce our in-person interactions, or wear that face covering when among others.

Each of these decisions are not particularly weighty or statistically significant. However, taken in the aggregate, they add up to an outcome that all of us will face from both an epidemiological and economic perspective.

The second thing to remember is that it is a luxury to have only one challenge at a time.

Late last week, as we prepared for Memorial Day weekend, the issue of fire restrictions and wildfire risk was raised. Always on the job, Office of Emergency Management Director, Rich Atkins, reminded us that, “We need to be preparing for the next emergency now.”

It was a discouraging thought at the end of a very long week, but he was absolutely right. Preparation is a lot like prevention – a lot of little decisions, made by many people, taken in the aggregate, add up to an outcome that is a reflection of that community’s values and commitment. It’s incremental, it’s cumulative, and it should be our collective priority in the months ahead.

Greg Felt

Chair of Chaffee Board of County Commissioners