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The sobering statistics keep coming; by Friday evening, March 27, Chaffee County had nine confirmed cases of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, with more positive tests expected. Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center has confirmed that it has one hospitalized case and expects more.

Governor Jared Polis asks Coloradans to Stay at Home with Executive Order. Screenshot taken of the press conference held by Polis announcing the Executive Order.

Colorado statistics grew substantially between Thursday and Friday evening. Total cases grew by more than 300 in 24 hours, up by more than 21 percent, and cases were reported in three additional counties,

As of 4 p.m. Friday the Colorado COVID-19 data stood at:

Cases of confirmed COVID-19                          1,734

Hospitalizations                                                     239

Counties                                                                     42

Tested                                                                 11,676

Deaths                                                                       31

Outbreaks at residential health care facilities    9

Chaffee County reported the following cases:

The Chaffee County Department of Public Health (CCPH) reports nine confirmed cases, with many pending tests.  CCPH reports many negative tests as well, with one death already reported:

Tested positive:

46-year-old man, ‘reported doing better’

83-year-old man, died

72-year-old man, who had traveled to another county

72-year-old man

80-year-old female, Columbine Manor

69-year-old man, Columbine Manor (of the two from Columbine, one is recovering, the other in critical condition.)

67-year-old man, in hospital

43-year-old man

1 new case, age and gender as yet unreported

While eight of the nine confirmed cases in Chaffee County are men, this differs significantly from state data; which shows that 51 percent of the positive cases are women, and only 49 percent are men.

The rate of positive test in Colorado appears to be following the same growth curve being experienced by other states who have exceeded 1,000 positive cases; steep, rapid, and relentless.

Colorado Cases per 100,000 Population

Just as concerning is that the four Colorado counties with the highest percentage of cases per 100,000 population are all mountain counties:

Gunnison    384.32 per 100,000

Eagle            309.86 per 100,000

Pitkin           139.83 per 100,000

Routt            46.72 per 100,000

Chaffee County Public Health

By contrast, Chaffee County currently stands at 24.97 per 100,000 population, but that number is already rising.

The significance of the positive cases per 100,000 cases to rural counties is simply capacity. Rural counties lack the density of healthcare facilities – meaning hospital beds, first-responder staff, intensive care units and ventilators necessary to treat high levels of positive cases. Healthcare facilities in these counties are already experiencing strain. Experts continue to point out that neither the state, nor the country, are anywhere near the peak of this pandemic, which is still at least a few weeks away.

During the Friday, March 27 COVID-19 town hall session, Chaffee County Director of Public Health  Andrea Carlstrom announced that Chaffee County will instigate a self reporting tool on the county website this weekend. “If you believe you are symptomatic, [once the site is up] you can report that information there. Then, if you think you are a mild case, you can isolate,” said Carlstrom. “We can test here in Chaffee County, but with so few tests available, this will help us sort mild cases from the more serious ones.”

Carlstrom discussed isolation. “Isolation’ is a stigmatized term – it only ends when the criteria has been met. You are no longer at risk to pass this on only when you’ve had no fever for at least 72 hours without medication. Even then, stay separate and wear a face mask.” She added that “ healthy people don’t need to wear masks, but wash your hands.”

Carlstrom reinforced the enhanced Colorado public health orders. “This week Gov. Polis issued amended orders to stay at home….those ill can only leave home for medical care, and the order allows for minimum operation for business…payroll, HR functions, but that’s it, except for essential services.”

Alert sent out on March 26 to Colorado Residents enforcing the Executive Stay at Home Order from Governor Jared Polis

She reiterated that the Chaffee County local public health order states that that any short term lodging entities are only allowed to accept guests for critical workforce needs, housing insecure and emergencies. “Our public health order is more strict than the state’s and we want people to listen and obey it.”

The Chair of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners Greg Felt reinforced Carlstrom’s message.

“I want to express gratitude to everyone on the front lines. With the calls into public health and the medical community this week, those working essential functions, people who are really tired and stressed …. we’re sort of in this calm before the storm. Let’s try to err on the side of caution – think what would happen if something goes wrong now; think if I hurt myself, if we get a power outage like some experienced this morning (Salida area). Just think– and be careful.”

Felt had a social media message as well. “Let’s continue to be kind – social media is a tool, but it’s too easy to vent your anger and not so easy now to [be] shrugged off. I love the humor, the photos of what people are doing as we social distance. Just think before you post.”