“It’s being called the hammer and the dance,” said Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom describing the phases of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 and how public health departments across the country are dealing with the current surges. “If you read the piece the ‘Hammer and the Dance’ – we got through the hammer, and our new reality is we’re doing this dance – looking at trends, seeing where we need to tighten. We’re working on ensuring our communities most vulnerable continue to be protected.”
“What we are seeing across the nation, we will start seeing this across our county soon,” added Carlstrom. “We’re going to be dancing for quite some time here as we move to this new era of this public health crisis.”
Chaffee County is tracking a low number of new COVID-19 cases, and some of its municipalities may be about to ramp up more communications on social distancing and masks. At the same time, the county is cautiously proceeding to support Colorado’s moves toward reopening from COVID-19 – but not without some concerns.
Chaffee county leadership held an extra leadership roundtable on Monday June 29, at which it discussed recent cases, concerns over the behavior of visitors to the county, and its ability to maintain the current low level of CVOID-19 diagnosed cases.
New cases being reported in the county are all related to travel. Over the weekend a positive case of COVID-19 was identified at the Chaffee County Jail, but contact between that woman and others was limited.
“The person remained asymptomatic for a long time – we found out weeks later,” said Director of Public Health Andrea Carlstrom. “We need to do immediate testing for incoming inmates, so we are confident to release them into the general jail population.” She said more testing kits were being delivered to the jail. At this point, she explained there is no reason for concern about close contact with the community from this person; defined as six feet from a positive person for 15 minutes or longer.
While that incident might be isolated, such might not be the case with other positive cases. “We’re tracking phenomena at our BV Health Center, seeing a slow increase of out-of-towners becoming symptomatic and then going to urgent care for a test,” said Carlstrom, who indicated there were three on Thursday, who had then gone to Urgent Care for testing, and a few more on Friday. “All of these cases have had travel associated with them. They are visiting our county or county residents who traveled.”
“One of the key points with the opening up was providing local emergency info to guests, so I guess it makes sense that they reach out to local urgent care resources,” said Buena Vista Town Administrator Phillip Puckett.
“We have been handing out bandanas at the farmers market,” said Salida Mayor P.T. Wood. “There is a LOT of concern within the community about folks traveling here from other places – lots of our guests come from Arizona, Texas…where there are COVID surges. But we’ve had other social issues to deal with too.”
“I second the mayor, I spent my entire weekend and today, working through issues related to issues, in some ways desperate acts, that people have been performing in town,” said Salida City Administrator Drew Nelson. “Hanging a sign, or stealing stuff from another business, or painting over a piece of public art downtown, it’s unfortunate.”
He added that the city would be doing a concerted communications effort related to the need to wear facemasks. “We got more than 600 responses to a city survey and the overwhelming majority of people were concerned about two things: A) that people should be wearing facemasks, and B) people coming from out-of-town. They’re concerned about it being spread. Since Andrea says that travel is the common denominator in the most recent cases, this makes sense.”
The business community weighed in, with Director of Economic Development Wendell Pryor saying he’d heard lots of concern over the wearing of face masks: “If we get known as a community that is lax on masking, that’s not good,”
“We’ve heard the national news, the Sunday press shows, there are plentiful examples of places that opened too fast, relaxed guidance, that are now seeing a big uptick in cases. We cannot afford to have that happen here,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “Fortunately we’ve avoided the worst, but it’s a lot tougher to go back than to slow down going forward … the bumper sticker is ‘stay healthy to stay open’ If we can do that now and prevent a widespread outbreak, that’s what we want.”
Governor Jared Polis is due to release a statement about his next phase of reopening from COVID-19 – called “Protect Your Neighbors”, on Tuesday afternoon. While some general things are known about the next stage, much of the details aren’t yet clear. While some Colorado counties might be ready for that stage, others are not.
Commissioner Greg Felt and Carlstrom urged the group to wait for the outlines of the Governor’s announcement, before making any judgments about what the county will do in response.
“Looking at last week’s metrics, we would not quite make moving toward [the] Protect our Neighbors [stage]. I strongly think we need to increase our capacity at public health to do contact tracing first,” said Carlstrom.
This will be one of two major discussion points for the Wed. July 1 Roundtable. The other topic will be an outline of what the two school districts, Buena Vista and Salida are considering for reopening plans. Administrators – Lisa Yates for Buena Vista and David Blackburn for Salida – said they could provide general outlines, but their school reopening plans would not become final until sometime next week.
Carlstrom noted that starting July 14, Chaffee County Public Health (CCPH) will be assuming COVID-19 community testing from Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical center (which has been doing testing from 10:00 – 12:00 noon on Tuesdays). CCPH will begin doing two testing days/week at public health offices: Tuesday from 10-12, and either Thursday or Friday (it won’t know the day until it gets additional staff secured to do the testing). Pre-screening will need to be done to secure an appointment.
The virtual roundtable meeting had a larger-than-normal number of people on the call, and the chat function of the call registered several comments that mirrored the verbal discussion. Much of it focused on concerns over social distancing and getting locals and visitors to understand the importance of wearing facemasks to preventing community spread. The gist of the comments was that social distancing and facemask usage needs to increase dramatically, or the COVID-19 threat could grow.