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Thoughts From Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt and Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom

Last Saturday morning [Feb. 6] Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) moved Chaffee County from Level Orange to Yellow on the statewide COVID-19 Dial. This was not due to a fundamental improvement in our public health metrics but rather was reflective of the agency “changing the markers on the field.” This change in the Dial will allow us to increase our capacities for restaurants, gyms, churches, and many other venues that have been operating under tight restrictions.

An additional change from CDPHE is that our metrics will be monitored on a seven-day average, rather than fourteen, and we will be subject to immediate changes in color coding and increased restrictions if we exceed any of the new tolerances. This new averaging period is meant to engender greater accountability from both individuals and organizations, but we fear it may also generate periodic episodes of “COVID Whiplash” within our community. As Andrea Carlstrom, Chaffee County Public Health Director, has pointed out, with the new Yellow category allowing for only sixty new cases per week, Chaffee County is just one outbreak away from CDPHE returning us to the Orange.

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Nevertheless, we are excited to be transitioning Chaffee County to Yellow! This will create better opportunities for our businesses by removing some restrictions and increasing capacities. We have earned this greater flexibility and opportunity through nearly a year of adherence to the Public Health Commitments of facial coverings, social distancing, hand washing, staying home when sick, and testing when appropriate. We need to protect our investment!

Over the last eleven months, we have worked hard to develop the programs that maintained open businesses, allowing for a strong summer tourism season, managed a COVID testing program, kept our schools open for in-person learning, and developed an efficient and effective vaccination program. This has been the result of amazing cooperation and collaboration across jurisdictions, agencies, industry sectors, and among our individual residents themselves.

As a community, we have worked so hard to get to this place! We now need to prove to ourselves and CDPHE that we can continue to succeed under these new guidelines and expanded capacities. It is critical that all Chaffee County residents continue to practice the five Public Health Commitments and to limit the overall size, and the number of households represented, at gatherings of people. These are the practices that got us to this point – it would be reckless to give up on them now!

With each new week comes greater vaccination capacity and supplies for our county. This will compound the effectiveness of the Public Health measures we have implemented over the last year. As we gain ground each week, the virus will have fewer potential hosts among us and we will incrementally move closer to a life without restrictions. In the last week alone there were over two thousand doses administered in Chaffee County! Not only will our COVID caseload improve with increasing vaccinations, but by focusing on our high-risk populations early in the process, the outlook for morbidity and mortality will improve as well.

The sacrifices we have all made to get to this chapter of the pandemic are great and should not be understated.  It is reasonable to feel exhausted, frustrated, and “over it” after almost a year of making tough decisions and canceling, modifying, or postponing events and activities that have historically been taken for granted in order to protect ourselves, the people we care about, and even those we don’t know personally from this virus.

We are in the home stretch, and it is going to take all of the endurance, patience, and diligence we can find to get to a place where we can truly begin to feel normal again. We want to thank everyone for their patience, their resolve, their commitment to the community, and their sacrifices. If anyone can get from here to the finish line, it is the incredible people of Chaffee County!

Thank you,

Greg Felt, Chaffee County Commissioner

Andrea Carlstrom, Chaffee County Public Health Director