COVID-19: Case count rises

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Archuleta County recorded its ninth positive case of COVID-19 among county residents — the first confirmed positive since April 17, according to San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) data.

SJBPH reports that seven of Archuleta County’s residents with confirmed positives have recovered.

Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) also announced Tuesday that it had received four positive test results for COVID-19 that day, all in nonresident individuals.

That, PSMC CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb told The SUN, makes eight overall positive results through PSMC testing, including seven nonresident individuals in about the last two weeks.

The other test result was a resident who tested positive in March.

Pagosa Medical Group’s Dr. David Shaeffer reported to The SUN Tuesday afternoon that his facility has not had any positive results recently.

“These new positive cases are a reminder to everyone to be vigilant about wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands,” a Tuesday statement from PSMC reads.

A note on Colorado’s coronavirus data page notes, “People who tested positive for COVID-19 in Colorado while visiting are included in the county where they were identified,” indicating that data will appear within the state’s data, though Archuleta County’s case count does not yet reflect nonresident cases.

Regional cumulative case counts

As of 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Archuleta County was reported as having eight confirmed cases, with La Plata County having 119 cases (with one death among cases), Conejos County having 13, Rio Grande County logging 76 (with two deaths), Mineral County having seven and Hinsdale County tallying three.

Neighboring and near Archuleta County to the south, Rio Arriba County listed 98 cases and one death, and San Juan County, N.M., listed 2,422 cases and 163 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Jicarilla Apache Nation, which largely falls within Rio Arriba County, had announced 40 cases as of Wednesday afternoon.

Safer at Home extended, bars closing again

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis extended the Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors Executive Order and the closure of bars.

The closure was also described in a state press release following Polis’ announcement: “Bars that have taken steps to open as restaurants may continue to operate in-person service, so long as they have patrons seated with their own party only in set seating, spaced six feet apart, and with no mingling. Bars are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages to-go for takeout or delivery consumption if the alcoholic beverages are sold with food. All of the guidelines previously in place around social distancing still apply. Bars may still operate if open under a county variance pursuant to the terms of that county variance.”

Protect Our Neighbors

During the same Tuesday press conference, Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced the final roadmap for local communities to qualify for the next phase of reopening, called Protect Our Neighbors, which was followed by two press releases providing information.

“Local communities will be able to qualify for this status to gain more local control in their communities if they meet certain criteria, including low viral transmission and preparedness of the public health agency to successfully respond to an increase in cases,” a press release from the state explains. “Once communities meet certification criteria, submit a surge mitigation plan, and are approved by the state, they will be able to permit activities at 50% of pre-pandemic capacity, with at least 6 feet between non-household members, and no more than 500 people in one setting at a time.” 

“This is the gold standard of pandemic preparedness, and it is a goal for our communities to aspire to. Not all of our communities will be able to achieve this goal immediately, ” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the CDPHE. “It’s going to be up to all of us to keep wearing masks, washing our hands, and keeping our distance. We need to all do our part to keep transmissions low and prevent a surge on our hospital systems.”

The state announced it will begin certification for Protect Our Neighbors next week, and announced that grant funding will be available to help communities enhance their COVID-19-related planning and infrastructure.

According to a state press release, “Moving forward, communities that can demonstrate strong public health and health care systems, paired with low virus levels, can take on more control over their reopening plans. In order to reopen to this greater extent, communities must have: 

“• Low virus prevalence; 

“• Health care capacity to handle a surge; and 

“• Strong public health capacity to contain outbreaks and surges locally, including the ability to test, track, and trace.”

A county may seek to qualify for Protect Our Neighbors by themselves, or voluntarily form a “region” with neighboring counties, a state press release explains. 

In order to qualify for Protect Our Neighbors, a county (or region) must do two things, according to the state:

“• Certify qualification according to the scientific metrics; and

“• Submit a mitigation and containment plan on what the county or region will do if they fall out of compliance with any of the metrics. This containment plan must be accompanied by letters of support from local elected leaders including county commissioners and mayors, the hospitals that serve that community, law enforcement, county emergency management, local public health, and if applicable, tribes.”

“Protect Our Neighbors requires all Coloradans to continue to support and protect people who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults and people with underlying medical conditions,” the press release states. “It’s important to remember that different communities may be in different phases — Stay-At-Home, Safer-At-Home, or Protect Our Neighbors — and may move between levels during this pandemic. Communities that are able to loosen restrictions under Protect Our Neighbors may need to tighten restrictions again to Safer-at-Home or Stay-at-Home levels if they see case increases, outbreaks, or a surge on their hospital systems.”

The Protect-Our-Neighbors metrics, the press release explains, were drafted by a workgroup consisting of epidemiologists and public health experts from the CDPHE, the University of Colorado School of Public Health and local public health agencies from across the state. 

“The group included representatives from urban, rural and frontier counties. In addition, the workgroup consulted health care coalitions and health care systems leadership in drafting treatment metrics,” it reads. “They met over the course of five sessions and reviewed scientific literature, case studies, and expert consultation to develop metrics that would achieve the goal of ensuring that they signify a systems readiness for broader reopening.”

In order to help support communities’ ability to achieve success, the state is making additional federal CARES Act funding available: 

“Planning Grant of up to $50,000 to engage consultants and community partners, and to fund community engagement efforts with communities impacted by and at increased risk.”

“Infrastructure Strengthening Grants of up to $300,000 (up to $150,000 in state funds + local match) to invest in technology; community resource coordination; communication activities to increase compliance with the public health orders; funding for community-based partners and cultural brokers; and enhanced prevention and containment efforts.”

For extensive information on Protect-Our-Neighbors, including guidance for communities to qualify for this phase, please visit covid19.colorado.gov/protect-our-neighbors.

This story was posted on July 2, 2020.