COVID-19 cases remain at eight, officials continue to urge caution


    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    Archuleta County has not seen a new lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 since April 17 per San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) data released Tuesday evening.

    Those eight cases are part of SJBPH’s count of 80 confirmed cases in its service territory, with La Plata County listed as having 72 cases.

    Out of both counties, a cumulative 10 people with confirmed COVID-19 were hospitalized during their illness and 49 have recovered. SJBPH does not break that data down by county.

    Archuleta County Commissioner Ron Maez reported to the Rotary Club of Pagosa Springs on May 14 that six of Archuleta County’s eight known cases were counted as recovered.

    SJBPH confirmed that number Monday, with Director of Communications Claire Ninde adding “when we report that data in certain meetings that data is to remain confidential and public knowledge due to the small number of cases and the possibility that cases could be identified.”

    SJBPH’s data now lists La Plata County as having one fatality among COVID-19 cases after announcing on May 9 that there was a fatality due to the disease. The change was made a day after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) began breaking down its death data between cases where death was caused by COVID-19 and cases where the person passed away from other causes, but had COVID-19.

    Ninde clarified to The SUN that “Prior to May 15th for CDPHE and May 18th for SJBPH, data dashboards included deaths among all people who had COVID-19 at the time of death. This included deaths caused by COVID-19 and deaths among people who had COVID-19 at the time of death, but the cause or causes may not have been attributed to COVID-19 on the death certificate. This is the standard way states report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

    The slowed growth in local cases has led to an effort to reopen Archuleta County’s economy quicker than the state’s public orders, despite local physicians and CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan noting that much is still unknown about COVID-19.

    For more information on the variance effort, see page A6.

    “We are not out of the woods yet,” Ryan said Wednesday after discussing that 44 counties have applied for variances so far.

    She later noted that the Colorado School of Public Health estimates 2.9 percent of Colorado’s population has had the disease so far and that, if herd immunity is possible, that number would need to be around 70 percent.

    Locally, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb and Pagosa Medical Group (PMG) co-owner Dr. David Shaeffer explained that their respective facilities continue to test people for COVID-19.

    As of Tuesday, Webb noted PSMC had tested 150 people and had six tests pending, and Shaeffer reported Wednesday morning that PMG has tested hundreds and continues to test every day.

    Shaeffer noted that the surge of people seeking testing locally has decreased, but there are still a handful of people every day coming for testing, including some who do not have symptoms.

    “We’re going to be living with COVID-19 for some time,” Webb said.

    Webb, Shaeffer and Ryan all noted the continued unknowns with COVID-19, including if having antibodies confers any immunity, or for how long, with Ryan calling the virus “unpredictable.”

    Shaeffer noted that while PMG offers antibody tests, they are a novelty and he has only ordered a test for one patient after extensive counseling about the unknowns and the accuracy of the antibody tests.

    He noted that most people seeking antibody tests are self-ordering them, with no one testing positive for the antibodies yet.

    Webb acknowledged the same unknowns and lack of accuracy in explaining that PSMC is not offering the antibody tests.

    Shaeffer also noted his reservations in seeing the area open up ahead of the state’s recommendations, noting the virus is just as transmissible as when it was introduced and there’s no effective treatment yet.

    “That number eight that we’ve been looking at for weeks now is a sign of success,” he said.

    Both of the medical facilities continue to operate as they did weeks ago.

    PSMC is still in incident command mode, though Webb noted the facility is looking at moving into “our new normal.”

    Webb explained there are plans to open the lobby and registration area again (with distancing and other protocols in place) and PSMC is looking at moving forward with a construction project that would create a new doorway to treatment rooms dedicated to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

    “We’re as prepared as anybody can be,” she said.

    PSMC also continues to clean its operating room in between each patient as if infectious disease is present.

    She also noted that, although PSMC offers telehealth video visits, it is starting to see more people wanting to come in to the facilities, as well people who are still hesitant to come to the facility.

    Shaeffer noted that PMG is following the governor’s recommendations on allowing patients in its facility and continues to have strict guidelines in place for who comes into the facility and what part, though some people are still “wary.”

    Everyone in the facility must have a mask on, he noted.

    PSMC also requires masks, with Webb noting that the main thing with nonmedical masks is to stop droplets, which carry more of the virus the more contagious a disease is.

    Webb also announced that the Colorado Hospital Association, through the Colorado Health Foundation, obtained mask-making kits and distributed some to PSMC, which will be working with the Chamber to get the kits to businesses to help as the community moves forward in reopening