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Hordes of people from outside the county, disrespect for social distancing, and public health mandatory mask orders. What’s next: a swift rise in Chaffee COVID-19 cases?

As out-of-county and out-of-state people streamed into Chaffee County this past weekend, it quickly became apparent that vast swaths of people are ignoring the state’s request to go no more than 10 miles from home, as the state deals with the impact of the coronavirus known as COVID-19. They are also ignoring Chaffee County’s announcement that the county is closed to outsiders until June 1 as it sets in place the processes to reopen business safely.

Just as concerning as the crowds, is this reality; it appears a considerable number of those streaming in, as well as county residents, are also ignoring the Chaffee County Public Health order that requires the wearing of masks in public, and social distancing guidelines.

As reported to Ark Valley Voice by readers, large swaths of people aren’t just ignoring the county’s rules. When this was pointed out, some have reacted belligerently, with rudeness and name-calling. Can violence be far behind?

In Buena Vista on Saturday, it appeared that some 70 percent or more of the people roaming Main St. and at major retail locations, weren’t wearing masks and were congregating in groups with no social distancing.

In Salida on Sunday, droves of people descended upon the river, and Riverside Park. In at least one case, a local business owner who told a group of 15 to disperse was called names, and a frightened Salida resident wondered if it was even safe to take a walk to the river.

What is this? Is it macho man syndrome? Is it childish rudeness?

Is it disrespectful for the science telling us that the only defense we have right now against a highly contagious virus is social distancing and masks?

Is it politics? We don’t have a blue virus and a red virus; we have a dangerous, deadly virus that doesn’t care about what party you belong to.

“You don’t wear a mask to protect you – you wear a mask to protect me, and every other person. I wear a mask to protect you,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for probably the tenth time last Monday morning. “You could kill someone because you didn’t want to wear a mask.”

Chaffee County announced a phased reopening timeline, attempting to stem the flood of second homeowners and the deluge of tourists to this tourist-centric economy. The plan requires everyone in the county to wear a mask and practice social distancing. The timeline outlines a carefully-phased reopening timeline predicated upon COVID-19 case rates remaining low. If those cases rise, the timeline (some retail reopened May 1, second homeowners may return with 14-day mandatory social distancing, reopening restaurants and bars with proper social distancing May 16 and lodging and tourism on June 1) will need to change.

The Chaffee County Public Health Order 202-5 has teeth: Page 14 specifies that “failure to comply with this order is subject to penalties contained in section 25-1-516 and 18-1.3-501 of Colorado Revised Statutes, including a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment in the county jail for up to 18 months.”

As Chaffee Chair of the Board of County Commissioners, Greg Felt has reminded us, social distancing and wearing masks is part of the four-part COVID-19 containment strategy recommended by top epidemiologists. Reader comments on AVV articles this week are asking why the county isn’t enforcing the fines established for noncompliance with social distancing and mask rules.

The CDC working document, which came out Monday morning, contained the sobering warning that based on the way that the states are reopening, there could be as many as 3,000 deaths a day in the U.S. by June 1 and more than 120,000 deaths by fall. These are not the statistics of a contained virus. This is a 9-11 tragedy happening every single day.

“What is keeping the virus in check is social distancing,” Dr. Lena Wyn. She cautions that ICUs remain filled with very ill patients and that already-observed behavior could quickly overwhelm rural healthcare systems. As states reopen, she encourages Americans to keep a diary of the social contacts they have, so that if they become infected, contact tracing can be done.

President Donald Trump, who is out on the trail promoting reopening the country, puts it this way: “There’ll be more death.”

Just Monday afternoon, Chaffee County reported its first new positive case of COVID-19 with no connection to Columbine Manor (where most recent cases have occurred) since April 11, its 68th. The infected person is male, with a prior county address connected to the Department of Corrections, and the test was performed in a lab in northern Colorado. So far, he has not responded to attempts by Public Health to begin contact tracing, something that Chaffee Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom says is concerning. “Up to now, county residents have been so willing to cooperate to help us trace how the virus has spread. This is unusual.”