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COVID-19 is surging in many places in Colorado, including Chaffee County and public compliance with practices to avoid wider transmission is becoming more imperative, officials said Friday.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced Friday that all counties in the Safer at Home phase of reopening, including Chaffee County, need to limit personal gatherings to no more than 10 people from no more than two households to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Colorado is at the highest point in cases since the pandemic began, said Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) director Andrea Carlstrom at a county COVID-19 town hall meeting Friday, Oct. 23. The state’s assessment; the third wave of infections has begun. Hospitalization rate has been growing, and are now equivalent to the statewide rate in May.

According to The Denver Post, the order doesn’t apply to settings with their own regulations, such as schools, or to “life rites,” such as funerals. State restaurants already were required to limit parties to no more than 10 people, but they are not bound by the two-household rule.

The current report from CCPH shows a total local case count of 395, said Carlstrom, including 117 infections from the Department of Corrections, (DOC) and Columbine Manor Health Center, in addition to 35 more among Columbine and DOC staff.

According to the latest CCPH dashboard report, this includes three more DOC staff cases  and four additional community infections. The data shows more than 100 tests are still awaiting results.

A total of 19 deaths have been recorded since the pandemic’s start in the county, most near the beginning of the pandemic. The most recent report showed 28 new cases in the past week and 32 in the past 14 days, boosting the testing positivity rate up to 4.69 percent. A total of 53 infections have been confirmed since Oct. 1.

“If these trends continue, we will have to have conversations with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on exploring our mediation and suppression plan; there’s a lot at stake here,” said Carlstrom.

Most state health experts say positive infection rates above five percent are troubling because it may mean many more cases are going undetected.

Earlier, DOC Public Information Officer Annie Skinner told Ark Valley Voice that 15 staff of the Buena Vista Correctional Complex (BVCC) had tested positive, nine of them county residents. It’s unknown if their latest three cases are residents.

Skinner said 15 inmates had tested positive as well, and all results were not back from testing on Monday. The current population at BVCC is 967 inmates. Skinner said the same type of testing kits are used for both staff and inmates, and more results are expected soon.

Carlstrom said it is important for residents to take the virus seriously, and adhere to the health recommendations to prevent the further spread of the virus, including wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds.

Commission Chair Greg Felt said he would also give positive reinforcement to those who ‘are doing it right’ with the rules rather than criticizing those who don’t, for instance, not wearing a mask, especially indoors.

He referred to those working in a retail environment, who, he said could “set a great example or not set a great example.”

“Disparaging people who are not quite with the program, does not build support for the program nearly as much as reinforcing in a vocal way your support for people who are doing their best to follow those five commitments,”  said Felt.

A representative of Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center on the town hall call talked about recent infections of staff and one patient at the hospital. The staff who were community infections are isolated, and the other exposed staff are in quarantine. In addition, a tent has been erected outside the hospital Emergency Department to protect staff in anticipation of changing weather, affecting drive-up testing. Testing is being increased to include surgical patients who are undergoing any procedure. Rules will also limit visitors for those patients.

Carlstrom acknowledged the COVID-19 fatigue that many are feeling. She said healthcare workers are as tired of the coronavirus as anyone after eight months of COVID-19 and the procedures that have to be followed to keep people we love safe.

“However, we have some tough days ahead of us,” stressed Carlstrom and everyone needs to protect the health of the community. “There will be an end to this, she added, “but that time is not now, and it will happen sooner if we all work together.”