Where will we end up on the dial?

By Terri Lynn Oldham House

On Tuesday, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) announced that it, along with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), would be moving neighboring La Plata County to COVID-19 Dial Level Red: Severe Risk beginning Friday, Nov. 20.

A SJBPH press release explained, “According to the state COVID-19 Dial, Level Red: Severe Risk restrictions are warranted when any of three metrics are met. La Plata County currently meets one of the three: 350 or more new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days. For La Plata County, this works out to 197 cases or more in 14 days. La Plata County passed this threshold on November 8 and has had 426 cases in the last 14 days.”

La Plata County isn’t the only county seeing a large increase in COVID-19 cases.

As of press time on Wednesday there had been 49 new cases of COVID-19 in Archuleta County since Nov. 1, bringing our total to 118 cases; for La Plata County, that number was an astounding 460 new cases.

We received an email update from Archuleta School District Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza on Tuesday in which she outlined some data points:

• “Right now 1 in 110 residents in Colorado has COVID.

• “San Juan Basin Health is currently seeing about 75 cases a day, with approximately 10 contacts each. This means for their contract tracers to be 100% effective, they would have to contact 750 people per day. This means they are less and less likely to be able to do full contact tracing in a short time frame.

• “[Pagosa Springs Medical Center] is used to 20-30 people coming in for COVID testing each day. On Monday, they had over 100 people show up, with symptoms, to be tested.”

The school district’s leadership team has a huge responsibility to determine the best path forward in providing an education during the pandemic. 

With the Archuleta County case count at 116 on Tuesday, LeBlanc-Esparza wrote, “Our county with the collaboration of SJBPH has to decide whether to move us to the red category on the dial – but I want to be sure to communicate clearly that with 2 more cases between now and Friday, we meet the metric for the new red. If that is what our data tells us, we will look at the guidelines to help determine how we do school. If the decision is made not to officially move us on the dial, so as not to impose these restrictions on local business and industry, I respect that choice. However, it doesn’t change the fact that our data is in RED and we should consider this guidance when deciding how to educate our kids.”

SJBPH’s press release explains it is anticipated that between one-third and one-half of counties in Colorado will move to Level Red: Severe Risk this week. As of this writing, we really don’t know where Archuleta County will land on the dial by the end of the week. 

The challenge doesn’t just come in educating our children. 

Also on Tuesday, the Archuleta County commissioners were joined by several citizens expressing great concern over the potential of Archuleta County shutting back down like we were in March. 

Commissioner Steve Wadley explained to the group that a decision  to move to Level Red would be up to SJBPH and the governor to make.

In the past week, we have seen some of our valued local businesses closing their doors due to COVID-19 exposure.

At Level Red, La Plata County will be under new restrictions that Archuleta County could face if we also move to that level. According to SJBPH, those changes include:

• “In-person social gatherings with people outside your household, in any setting, are prohibited, even with social distancing.

• “Restaurants may only offer takeout, curb-side, delivery, and outdoor (open-air) service. Outdoor on-premise service may be used by one household per table.

• “Last call is moved to 8:00 p.m. to reduce the chances of late-night social spread of the virus.

• “Office-based businesses must reduce their in-person workforce to 10%.

• “Gyms and fitness centers must reduce their indoor capacity to 10% or no more than ten people per room, whichever is smaller, by reservation only.

• “Indoor events and entertainment venues will be closed. Outdoor event venues may remain open with additional restrictions.”

These changes would definitely bring great challenges to businesses in Archuleta County. We cannot imagine operating our newspaper with only 10 percent of our staff. It would be next to impossible to do.

We understand that there are many people who believe a shutdown is necessary, while others believe that a shutdown will severely harm local businesses that have already suffered so much this year.

The balance between public health and safety and economic survival in this pandemic seems almost impossible to achieve.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and complain when local leaders make decisions that we don’t agree with. As much as people don’t like those decisions, we believe that local control should prevail over decisions made by people sitting in Denver who do not know firsthand the situation in Pagosa Springs.

We expect to hear more from the decision makers over the next few days regarding just where our county will end up on the dial. We will update you on The SUN’s website, PagosaSUN.com, as information becomes available. You can also sign up for email alerts on our website.

SJBPH’s release included the following statement by Michael Murphy, interim CEO of Mercy Regional Medical Center: “It is important that we, in partnership with San Juan Basin Public Health and our communities, increase our efforts to slow and stop the spread of the coronavirus, and support efforts to maintain a healthy community. In addition, we need to continue to focus on wearing masks when around others, maintaining safe social distancing, and properly washing our hands. These time-tested, very basic personal interventions are still the best defense against an epidemic until a safe and effective vaccine can be administered.”

Closer to home, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb wrote the following, “With this degree of community spread, we are at risk of overwhelming our ability, at PSMC, to have enough staff for our EMS/Ambulance first responders, and to staff our ED and Hospital over the coming weeks.

“I cannot speak for others, but I know our other First Responders are also concerned about their limited resources being overwhelmed. 

“We are working with the County, Town, and Public Health and together we can do this. We are asking for the people in our area to do anything they feel they can, to help us reduce our viral load.”

Please stay safe and do your part to stop the spread.

This story was posted on November 19, 2020.