Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom will tell you that one of the silver linings of her role as incident commander of the county’s response to the coronavirus known as COVID-19 is she has learned how strong and resilient she is.
Carlstrom was at an opioid conference in Washington D.C. when Chaffee County got its first COVID-19 case. She left the conference immediately, representing the proactive stance taken by the county throughout the crisis. Her schedule has been 24/7 from the moment her plane touched back down in Denver on March 2.
With one Democrat, Independent, and Republican commissioner, Chaffee County is politically purple. It was clear that a collaborative approach was indicated.
“From the beginning, it’s been a coordinated approach; county, municipalities, law enforcement, schools, health care providers, our local media, all focused on keeping our community healthy and safe. The support of our county government and business community has been tremendous – decisions here are not made in a vacuum.”
“We do early morning Colorado Public Health calls, touch base with numerous local officials, search for personal protective equipment (PPE), file case reports, answer hundreds of calls. Late at night (and early morning), is spent developing community messaging.
We do contact tracing, write procedures around isolation and quarantine, monitor everything from short term rentals to the construction industry,” said Carlstrom. “We write public health orders. Monday through Friday I do a noon COVID-19 social media briefing, and then a public 4 p.m.with all county response entities.”
If something like this were to ever happen again, Carlstrom said she would stress “It takes teamwork. Not one person or one entity can or should make these vital decisions that impact the health and wellness of a community.”
“The hardest thing is we are losing lives – that’s what keeps me up at night,” said Carlstrom.
“Our world has been blindsided. I’ve worked hard on honest conversation, so our community was not blindsided by this. Public health professionals are trained in emergency preparedness and response. No matter what we do, this will not be a win for public health in our society; public health has been underfunded, under-supported, and certainly, other facets of our society have dominated our cultural priorities.”
“I’ve seen an overwhelming display of generosity and kindness despite the darkness here in our community, on a daily, sometimes hourly basis; thoughtful gestures of support between neighbors, between strangers,” said Carlstrom. “Our community is special and the majority of people are doing what it takes to preserve the amazing place we live in.”
This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. Ark Valley Voice joined this historic collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms, all part of the Colorado Media Project, across Colorado to better serve the public, documenting a single day, April 16, during the COVID-19 pandemic. As it turns out; April 16 was the single deadliest day in the U.S. to date, during the pandemic.