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Chaffee County Leaders Lead by Example, Ask Visitors to Don Masks in Public so Chaffee Can Remain Open and Safe.

Summer is here and as of this Memorial Day weekend, the visitors are back in Chaffee County following nearly nine weeks of Stay-at-Home and Safer-at-Home public health orders. It is not an understatement to say we’re all anxious to get out and enjoy nature.

The Chair of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners Greg Felt, sporting his face mask. Courtesy photo.

County leaders, most of whom have been visible only via Zoom meetings for the past several weeks (facemasks in their pockets), will tell you that most Chaffee residents are glad to see our visitors.

We like showing our beautiful valley to tourists and returning guests and acknowledge that our local economy depends upon our visitors.

But the county reopening comes with this caution: local public health orders stipulate that residents and guests follow social distancing guidelines and wear face masks.

Over and above their published statements, county leadership is united on the county’s only weapons to confront a virus that not only has no known cure, but could quickly overwhelm the county’s health care system.

As the Chair of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners, Greg Felt pointed out in a guest OpEd in Ark Valley Voice on April 30. “The [reopening] model doesn’t work if it is not embraced by the entire population. All vulnerable populations [still] need to stay home. Everyone else should stay home or reduce contact whenever possible. And all people should wear a face covering when around people outside of their household.”

The CEO of Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center Bob Morasko sports a hospital-grade mask. Courtesy photo.

The Town of Buena Vista elected and staff leaders reinforce that position.

“As the spring weather warms and the days lengthen, the Town of Buena Vista is excited to have our residents and visitors back out-and-about enjoying our parks, our shopping areas, our restaurants, and our recreational facilities,” said Buena Vista Town Administrator Phillip Puckett.

“We’re delighted to see everyone having fun in our beautiful mountain town and are looking forward to a safe and busy summer season.”

But, he continued, “We ask that our citizens and guests continue to exercise their good judgment by observing safe practices when encountering other people in public and in businesses, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.”

Added Puckett, “Remember–these safety measures help us protect each other so that we can all stay happy and healthy this season.”

Salida Mayor P.T. Wood sports a full size mask outside his distillery on First St. in Salida. County leaders have reinforced the message of masks, some in eloquent explanations, others in typically blunt language.

Other county leaders have reinforced the message of masks, some in eloquent explanations, others in typically blunt language.

“Wear a face mask when you go out,” said Salida Mayor P.T. Wood. You can’t get more clear than that.

The Chaffee County Public Health Order matches the State of Colorado health order in calling for the wearing of face masks when out in the public.  Yet an element of the population is claiming it is their right not to wear a mask in public settings, shops, and stores.

Most people do not realize that if you enter a business that has announced that a mask is required to enter, and you refuse, that business has the legal right to tell you to leave their premises. Failure to comply is trespassing and they have the legal right to call the police to enforce it.

There are signs the local population has gotten the message. Chaffee Commissioner Keith Baker said he went for a long bike ride this past Sunday in Buena Vista, and took a turn down Main Street. “ I was really pleased with the level of masks being worn and the social distancing I saw.”

Being required to wear a mask shouldn’t be the main reason to wear a mask, say many. Caring about other people is.

Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom. Courtesy photo.

“I wear a mask to protect my community. Realize that 50 percent of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. That means that I might have COVID-19, not know it, and spread it to someone I love. It is a simple prevention strategy, and I’m happy to do it,” said the Director of Chaffee County Public Health Andrea Carlstrom.

Carlstrom speaks with the benefit of statistical data. She received a disturbing new piece of data on Wednesday afternoon; a number to which she says everyone in this county should pay attention. The State of Colorado has a social indexing dashboard, which breaks out, county by county, how much social distancing is occurring.

“It pings cell phone locations and aggregates the signals and reports how close people are [to each other]. A few days ago we were at 60 to 65 percent social distancing in this county; about where we should be to prevent the renewed spread of COVID,” said Carlstrom during the county’s COVID-10 leaders roundtable on Wednesday afternoon.

“Today we are at 38.9 percent, That’s a huge dip since May 13. This is concerning when to combat this thing what we have are social distancing, face masks, and hygiene,” said Carlstrom. “Those are our weapons against this, folks.”

Courtesy photo; Keith Baker in his mask.

“Do I know for a fact that masks work? No, but anything that is that easy, that inexpensive, that improves our odds, I’m for it. I wear a helmet when I ride a motorcycle. I mountain bike, I rock climb, I don’t live in a rubber room, but when I do something dangerous, I like to improve my odds,” said Commissioner Keith Baker.

Chaffee Commissioner Rusty Granzella. Photo by Jan Wondra.

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” said Commissioner Rusty Granzella, who paused outside the county administration building this week on his way to a meeting. “It’s such a simple thing, wearing a mask to help keep you and other people safe.”

The need to follow the county’s public health orders took on new meaning today for another reason.

A part-time Emergency Medical Services staffer from the Front Range, filling in as some Chaffee County EMS full-time staff got a rotation, tested positive for COVID, exposing nine members of the county’s EMS team while asymptomatic.  In addition, one staffer at HRRMC might have been exposed, and all are now all in full quarantine.

While there is no chance that their exposure impacts anyone else, this is a significant impact on the county’s ability to respond to a COVID-19 spike in cases, and demonstrates how infectious this is.

“We work in a home environment; on duty, our crew lives together. We get a call … we respond. Our staff was exposed to this provider. They were all within six feet and greater than a one-hour exposure,” said EMS Director Josh Hadley. “So now even within our [EMS] home we are masked 24/7. This is our home…we let our guard down within our own family … Now half of our full-time staff is out, in quarantine.”

As Chaffee County enters this first holiday weekend of the summer season, the test is before us. Will residents and visitors adhere to the county’s public health order and practice social distancing and wear the required face masks when out in public? Or will they risk the health of this community, the economic future of this county, as well as the future freedom to make visits here? These appear to be the choices before us.

Featured Image: Staff Members of the Buena Vista Administration demonstrate social distancing and face masks outside Town Hall. Courtesy photo.