‘The worst of this is not over’: Officials urge continued caution as COVID cases rise


By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

Public health officials are asking residents to remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 as cases tick upward and the holiday season nears, with local and state public health officials stating last week that modeling predicts approximately one in every 219 Coloradans is contagious with COVID-19.

The caution came as the state limited gatherings to no more than 10 people from no more than two households for counties within the blue, yellow and orange levels on the state’s framework dial, and prohibits gatherings for counties in the red level.

It also coincided with modeling information released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Colorado School of Public Health that shows that, on the current epidemic curve, Colorado will likely exceed the April peak in hospitalizations by Nov. 10. 

The data further shows that, if the epidemic curve is not bent, Colorado could surpass intensive care unit (ICU) capacity in January. If contacts increase over the holidays (for example, due to gatherings between multiple households), ICU capacity could be exceeded in December.

The data was based on Colorado COVID-19 hospital census data through Oct. 26 and “assumptions based on the current state of the science,” according to a press release about the data.

Modeling reports are available on the Colorado School of Public Health’s COVID-19 website.

Archuleta County added 14 confirmed resident cases of the virus in October, while La Plata County added 143 confirmed resident cases, according to San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH). 

As of Nov. 4 at noon, Archuleta County is listed as having 71 cumulative resident cases and 61 total nonresident cases.

SJBPH shows that 39 residents have recovered in Archuleta County.

Archuleta County remains in Level Blue: Safer at Home, which was previously known as Level 1.

La Plata County remains in Level Yellow: Safer at Home, which was previously called Level 2. La Plata County was one of several counties to move back a level on the state’s dial at the end of October due to increased prevalence. 

For more on what the levels allow, visit https://sjbpublichealth.org/current-reopening-phase/.

A call to action

On Oct. 30, SJBPH and other area officials held a press conference in which they urged the communities within Archuleta and La Plata counties to continue to take action to prevent the spread of the virus.

“This is really a community effort and a call to action,” SPJBH Executive Director Liane Jollon said before noting that Southwest Colorado has been an outlier with its successes with the virus, schools having in-person learning and tourism. “We are proof that you can do it.”

But, she noted later, COVID starts to be background noise with success.

“The worst of this is not over,” she said, adding that it’s “roaring” back.

If it gets aways from us now, she added, it will be a rough winter.

“This is the time to get tested if you have symptoms,” she said, adding toward the end of the press conference that the area is at a pivotal point and tiny things make “gigantic” differences.

Other speakers at the press conference included Archuleta School District Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza, Pagosa Springs Medical Center CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb, as well as a number of speakers based out of La Plata County.

LeBlanc-Esparza explained that in-person education is the best opportunity for students and is the most engaging, especially with connectivity issues in the area.

She added that students are appreciating being back in school and implored people to continue to follow precautions to work toward community wellness and keep students in school.

Webb acknowledged, “We’re all tired of it,” adding that we have to learn to live with the pandemic so we can live.

She noted that the medical center can surge to hold 25 hospitalized patients, but wants to avoid being at capacity.

She added that we want to keep the economy open and need to keep the hospital open.

Mercy Regional Medical Center Interim CEO Michael Murphy explained that the Centura hospital system feels confident it can meet the challenges, but noted the need to be vigilant with the holidays approaching.

He pointed out that people reach their infectious peak before symptoms showing or while being asymptomatic.

“It’s not rocket science, but it’s science,” Durango Mayor Dean Brookie said.

“We need to act now to avoid challenging peaks in infections and hospital demand over the next three months. The window to improve transmission control is over the next several weeks. Our community is at a critical moment and we need everyone to do their part,” a SJBPH press release issued after the press conference states. 

The press release also includes public health precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially heading into the holiday seasons: 

• Stay at home as much as possible, including working remotely.    

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

• Wear face coverings when in public (mask order still in effect in indoor public spaces).    

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

• Sign up for exposure notification on your phone here: https://www.addyourphone.com/.

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

• Limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people, from no more than two households (current state order). 

Exposure notification

As of Oct. 28, 587,615 people had activated the CO Exposure Notifications service, which helps alert users who may have been near someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 

CO Exposure Notifications, launched on Oct. 25 in partnership with Google and Apple, complements existing statewide health safety protocols without compromising the privacy of Coloradans, according to a press release on the system.

The press release explains, “When users enable the service, their smartphones share anonymous tokens with other users through the phones’ Bluetooth technology. If another user tests positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period and chooses to upload their results, users at risk of infection will receive an alert of potential exposure. Tokens are not associated with any phone number, name, location or IP address, and they change every 15 minutes to add an extra layer of anonymity. Learn more about CO Exposure Notifications at addyourphone.com.”

CO Exposure Notifications also provides individuals who receive an exposure alert with instructions on recommended next steps, including information on quarantine and contacting their local public health agency.