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While COVID-19 is a global pandemic, nowhere on earth is it taking such a toll as it is here in the U.S. In the absence of any discernible leadership at the national level, each state has been left to make up its own rules.

Such is the case in Colorado, where 12 more counties move to the state’s Level Orange “high risk”  level by this weekend. Ten counties will move to Level Orange on Friday: Douglas, El Paso, La Plata, Phillips, Prowers, Sedgwick, Otero, Crowley, Gilpin and Clear Creek. Pueblo and Conejos will move to that level on Saturday. Lake County is being allowed to remain in yellow until Monday, Nov. 16  as the state assesses whether its case situation will require it move to orange.

The numbers are numbing — if they weren’t so terrifying. There were more than 148,000 new cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday across the U.S. and Thursday we beat that record with 157,000 new cases. This marks the ninth day in a row where new cases of COVID-19 topped 100,0000 and every day the case numbers rise to a new record. Every number is a person — a life.

The list of COVID-19 firsts is sobering:

  • In just nine days, we have added more than a million people being diagnosed as COVID-19 positive. Nine days.
  • We have crossed the 10.6 million case count.
  • More than 67,000 people are in the hospital today, fighting for their lives.
  • More than 249,000 U.S. residents have already died.
  • The prediction is the U.S. COVID-9 death toll will reach more than 400,000 by Feb. 1, 2021.

In Colorado, new positive cases have doubled in the past two weeks. The state’s Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE)  says that data shows that 25 of 27 counties actually have COVID-19 case incidences high enough to qualify for Red ‘Stay at Home’ levels.

Colorado continues to move into more conservative categories of protection as COVID-19 statistics move in unfavorable directions nationwide.

A continuous uptick is being recorded here in Chaffee County says Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH). Just today, there were another eight new cases, bringing our COVID-19 cases to 41 new cases in the past seven days and 56 new cases in the past 14 days.

Our county positivity stands at 5.48 percent … we’ve moved beyond the five percent limit we had to stay at to avoid our health care resources from being overwhelmed. After months with low numbers and no deaths, Chaffee County recorded a death today; a 51-year-old man with no underlying health conditions. He tested at the end of Oct., got a COVID-positive result on Nov. 5 and died Nov. 12.

“People need to realize this is real,” said Chaffee County Public Health Director, Andrea Carlstrom. “This can impact any of us. An otherwise healthy adult can lose his life!”

“All the modeling is moving in the wrong direction,” added Carlstrom. “Cases are up, hospitalizations have reached the highest level…we are exceeding capacity in parts of the state. We’re holding strong here but experiencing that pressure point. Transmission isn’t decreasing. We expect we will exceed our ICU capacity in late Dec. … sooner if there are unprotected holiday celebrations.”

Carlstrom said that the state as well as the county is trying to ramp up more testing. Currently, the county is using Curative testing and will be launching another type. more commonly used where serial testing is needed; at schools and residential care centers, home health care, and hospice, where people need to be tested every few days.

She said that CCPH is in what they call a harm reduction phase. “We hope we start catching these positive cases earlier. Some 50 percent are asymptomatic, but we need to pull out all the stops to support local businesses and schools. Our contract tracing in the state has maxed capacity. Across the state, counties can’t keep up. In preparation for when that comes to our county, I’ve posted for a third contact tracer position.”

Three weeks ago CCPH submitted a county COVID-19 mitigation plan. But in a follow-up call, she learned that “our mitigation plan wasn’t aligned with what they have been asking other counties to do to prevent them from moving into the orange level of the “Safer at Home” stage. Carlstrom said that in all honesty, the conditions in Chaffee fall between yellow and orange on the state’s COVID dial.

CDPHE is asking the county to look at the categories in the orange level to see what might be incorporated into our plan to reduce the spread. “We are moving to orange in county after county…. they are in the mitigation plan or they have implemented greater restrictions…so with that said, I submitted a proposal to state and I offered this entire COVID roundtable group to meet with the state representative. You are all part of the public health team and should know that I see the writing on the wall. We may not get a choice about what we must do [to reduce the spread].”

To address the rising cases, CCPH Public Health  proposed the following to take effect this Saturday, Nov. 14, until further notice:

  • Indoor places of worship at 25 percent capacity
  • Only necessary events can take place – using space calculations; 6 ft. between parties, 25 percent or a 75 person cap of a standing group.
  • In-person events highly discouraged.
  • Limited non-sports events unless a public health plan is in place.
  • Personal gatherings not to exceed 10, or more than two households, whether inside or outside.
  • Encouraging remote work arrangements and staggered shifts.
  • Volunteer self-quarantine of 14 days when doing out-of-county travel.
  • All residents who engage in activities  with exposure to positive or potential positive cases to inform CCPH

The potential new restrictions purposely leave out businesses and schools, because of the county’s strongly stated mission to keep schools open and businesses operating. But CDPHE requirements could very likely be more restrictive, among other things, requiring further reductions in group sizes, lower “Last Call” timeframes, lowering restaurant capacity, and limiting private gathering size even further.

“We are hovering between yellow and orange right now – we are doing whatever we can to keep our businesses and schools open as long as possible….transmission isn’t happening at the school level,” said Carlstrom. “We want to protect our schools to carry out their plans at least until Thanksgiving … our intent was to put guardrails on gatherings to allow our businesses and schools to operate status quo as long as possible. I am hopeful the state will hear that and allow us some time to get grounded with the new restrictions and have two weeks to course-correct. We are about a week to two weeks behind the counties being required to move to an orange level.”

While other counties got no warning and simply got reclassified, it looks as if Chaffee will get a few days notice; “inching toward orange” is how Carlstrom described it.

“We know what can happen and what you can do to prevent [COVID]. Yes, we want to keep schools and society functioning but we also don’t want to lose anyone else in their prime,” said Commissioner Greg Felt, reminding people to take to heart the “Chaffee Has Heart” new campaign promoting safe practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “This is our moment to shift into high gear; to have a moment to have control over our fate. This is our reality.”