By Randi Pierce
The state of Colorado is expanding its COVID dial to include a new purple level Friday, with purple taking the place of red as the worst level on the dial.
The six levels on the dial are now:
• Level Green: Protect Our Neighbors.
• Level Blue: Caution.
• Level Yellow: Concern.
• Level Orange: High Risk.
• Level Red: Severe Risk.
• Level Purple: Extreme Risk.
“This growth keeps skyrocketing,” Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday concerning the state’s “exponential” rise in COVID-19 cases, adding later, “We must act now to save lives.”
After announcing the new Level Purple, Polis announced that several counties are moving to Level Red: Severe Risk this week, which comes with restrictions such as closing indoor dining at restaurants, closing bars and further limiting gym capacity.
It also does not permit in-person personal gatherings.
La Plata County is among the 15 counties slated to move to red Friday. As of Wednesday, 897 cases had been reported in La Plata County, with 193 recovered.
And, if trends continue or local officials agree, Archuleta County may not be far behind.
Archuleta County remained in Level Yellow: Concern as of Wednesday, though San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) Executive Director Liane Jollon told The SUN Tuesday that Archuleta County needs to move on the dial.
“Archuleta County has reached a case incidence rate that indicates a need to move on the dial,” she said, adding that the yellow level is not adequately containing the infection.
She added that SJBPH is asking the community to move to Level Red now to make a concerted effort to contain the steep growth over the next two weeks, but as of press time Wednesday, no determination had been made in regard to moving Archuleta County to red on the dial.
Jollon added that, based on the current activity, it is believed Archuleta County’s growth will be in the red by the end of the week, meaning a two-week cumulative incidence rate of more than 350 new cases per 100,000 population.
As of Wednesday, the state’s two-week cumulative incidence map shows Archuleta County in orange, indicating an incidence rate of 257.1.
SJBPH’s data dashboard showed 118 cumulative cases of COVID-19 among Archuleta County residents since March 23, with 39 of those considered recovered.
The dashboard lists 70 cases among nonresidents in Archuleta County.
“We don’t ever want to be close to purple,” Jollon said, stating that the health care system in Archuleta and La Plata counties can’t wait to get to that level. “We can see much more difficult circumstances here long before the governor’s ready for purple.”
Jollon explained that the goal would be to do a ton of testing over the two-week period should Archuleta County move. That effort would be helped by the recent activation of the Emergency Operations Center.
And while the move would be “terrible” for Thanksgiving, Jollon acknowledged, it is better for schools and first responders and could maybe make for a better Christmas.
Jollon hoped that Archuleta County would move before Thanksgiving to help avoid a post-holiday spike in cases.
Jollon further acknowledged how difficult the pandemic has been for everyone, noting it’s “taken a tremendous toll,” and commended the school district for doing a great job and the medical center for working as hard as it can.
“Let’s all do our parts,” she said.
Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb also commented on the current state of the pandemic and testing effort in a report to the Upper San Juan Health Service District Board of Directors Tuesday evening.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, Webb told the Archuleta County commissioners, PSMC had tested more than 470 people since Nov. 13.
Tuesday evening, Webb indicated that the facility had tested 125 people Monday and 495 people with the Curative oral swabs, stating PSMC has been “overwhelmed” with people wanting to be tested.
Webb also noted that, as of Monday, all but one of PSMC’s hospital beds were filled, despite PSMC not treating COVID patients due to an inability to get Remdesivir, which is the current protocol for treating hospitalized COVID patients.
She added that PSMC is seeing decreased availability of beds elsewhere to transfer patients needing a higher level of care.
Webb and Jollon also addressed health care staffing in relation to the rising cases.
Webb noted that PSMC is the largest employer in the county and is seeing an increasing number of employees who have to be quarantined, including 11 who were quarantined as of Tuesday.
Jollon suggested that moving on the dial would help protect first responders and maintain a healthy and safe work force for things such as critical government functions and schools, as well as making things safer going into the holiday season.
With an estimated one in 100 infectious across the state, she said, it “becomes hard for any service to operate safely.”
In his Tuesday press conference, Polis suggested that Coloradans not be fearful, but use “justified caution” and wear a mask around others, avoid social interaction with those outside your household when you can, and distance when you have to be around people from outside your household.
“At-risk populations should stay home whenever they can,” Polis said.
The governor stated that one in 110 Coloradans is currently infectious.
“There is a risk everywhere in the entire state,” Polis said.
Also during the press conference, Polis explained that 40-64 is the biggest age group hospitalized currently, and added that in-person education is recommended for those in kindergarten through fifth grade.
The governor also announced Tuesday that he is calling a special session for the Colorado General Assembly to work on several items: a small business relief package, housing and rental assistance, support for child care providers, and expanding broadband access for students and educators.
He noted the relief would be in the range of $200 million plus.