COVID cases cause concern

By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

Archuleta County is moving back a level on the state’s COVID dial framework Friday, Nov. 13, to Level Yellow: Safer at Home — a move to help the community avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases like is being seen in neighboring communities, as well as across the state and much of the nation.

On Tuesday, when the decision was made to move back on the dial, officials noted Archuleta County is an anomaly, standing as the only county with any sizable population that had a low transmission rate.

But, as San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) Executive Director Liane Jollon explained, Archuleta County’s rates crossed the threshold that day from the blue category of 25-74 cases per 100,000 population to the yellow, which is a two-week incidence rate of 75-174 cases per 100,000 population.

As of noon Wednesday, Archuleta County had a cumulative total of 84 resident cases, with 39 considered recovered. The SJBPH also listed 64 nonresident cases.

Fifteen new cases have been reported in Archuleta County since Nov. 1.

“This is the highest incidence rate in Archuleta County since the beginning of the pandemic,” a SJBPH press release notes.

Jollon also noted that Archuleta County’s cases are in a growth phase and the trends are echoing those seen across the state over the last month and in La Plata County two weeks ago, before its ongoing spike of cases began.

La Plata County had 652 resident cases as of noon Wednesday, with 193 reported recovered, and 69 nonresident cases.

La Plata County has added 232 new cases in November.

Cases across the state are rising faster than anyone predicted, she noted.

“The change is really about lessening the chance for a super-spreader event,” Jollon said, adding that “one event can change your trajectory … and fast.”

She added that Pagosa Springs Medical Center is not set up to be an ICU care and would be looking to move patients who need higher levels of care to other communities, such as Durango.

She also added that the move back on the dial reduces the size of gatherings allowed, but has little impact to businesses and no impact on the schools, calling it a “targeted intervention.”

“Due to the county’s smaller population size, a single super-spreader event could make the virus widespread in the community and lead to regular exposures at businesses, schools, and social gatherings,” the press release notes. “Moving to Level Yellow limits this possibility by reducing the maximum capacity at large venues and events. Additionally, this change moves last call for alcohol sales to 11:00 p.m. to reduce transmission in late night social settings where mask-wearing is less common. The full list of changes can be found at the CDPHE website.”

Jollon explained that Archuleta County’s status on the dial will be evaluated every incubation period, or every 14 days.

“With the onset of winter and more activities moving indoors, the community must act now to severely limit social gatherings, move as many employees as possible to remote work, and stay home as much as possible, to keep everyone safe from COVID-19,” the press release states.

In a Tuesday work session, the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners voiced its support for the move, citing the desire to stay on top and be careful because the local hospital can’t handle a surge.

Jollon also told The SUN that, as cases rise, the demands for testing and contact tracing are also increasing.

SJBPH is working to offer expanded testing, including serial asymptomatic testing for qualified partners, which she said include areas like early childhood, K-12 and critical government functions.

She added that, currently, SJBPH is still doing case investigations on 100 percent of cases, with most counties with high transmission rates investigating 50 to 60 percent of cases.

SJBPH hopes to retain investigating 100 percent of cases, she added, with it harder to contain transmission without the investigation bandwidth.

Drivers of infection

Jollon noted there has been growth across all demographics in both counties, which is consistent with the rest of the state.

The drivers of infection, she explained, have been private social gatherings where people let their guard down and, especially in the case of Archuleta County, workplaces.

Of social gatherings, Jollon indicated that when there was less infection there was less risk, but, for most of Colorado, it is now estimated that one in every 100 people is currently infectious.

In some places, she noted, the estimate is one in every 50.

Something done a month ago isn’t as safe now, she summarized.

About workplaces, Jollon noted that people have been good about maintaining precautions at public-facing operations, but noted it can become normal to be in a break room or back room without masks or drive to work with people from other households.

School district cases

Archuleta School District (ASD) recently announced its first positive cases of COVID-19.

ASD Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza confirmed Nov. 6 that a middle school cohort has moved to distance learning until Nov. 18 due to a positive COVID-19 test.

“As of yesterday afternoon, we were informed that we had a student who tested positive,” she said.

Then, on Nov. 10, LeBlanc-Esparza confirmed to The SUN that a second individual within the school district had tested positive.

The second individual was already under quarantine after a middle school student tested positive last week, and the district worked with SJBPH to determine steps that needed to be taken after each positive test.

LeBlanc-Esparza told the ASD Board of Education Tuesday evening that 60-70 people were in quarantine as a result of the two cases.

On Nov. 11, the superintendent confirmed another staff member tested positive, as well as a football player from La Junta — the team the Pirates played Nov. 6 — landing the football team in quarantine.

The football team, however, had already requested that the district allow them to do distance learning to allow them to self-quarantine and stay healthy for playoffs.

“If students or family members experience symptoms, they should seek medical attention and a COVID test. However, testing negative does not shorten the quarantine time period. All who were exposed must stay home for the full timeframe,” LeBlanc-Esparza wrote in an email to The SUN.

Essential precautions

The following precautions will be essential to containing the spread of COVID-19 through the winter holiday season, according to SJBPH: 

• Stay at home as much as possible, and instruct employees to work from home, if possible. 

• Practice physical distancing (at least 6 feet away from another person).

• Avoid social gatherings with more than one household, especially indoors. 

• Wear face coverings when in public; the statewide mask order is still in effect in indoor public spaces. 

• Practice good hygiene (washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, etc.).

• Get tested if you have symptoms or believe you’ve been exposed through a known contact or community interaction. 

• Don’t go to work, school or social activities if you are sick or have a known or suspected exposure.

 Jollon, as well as Gov. Jared Polis, are urging residents to spend time within their own households and take advantage of the outdoor opportunities available.

The adjustments we make now, Jollon noted, will “absolutely” improve the chance schools can remain in person and will help us have more normal options.

For information about all phases of the state’s COVID-19 dial framework for public health protections, visit https://covid19.colorado.gov/data/covid-19-dial.

For the most up-to-date information on how to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19, visit SJBPH’s website at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/coronavirus/.

This story was posted on November 11, 2020.