COVID-19: County moving to Level Red: Severe Risk, new outbreaks reported


By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

As of Wednesday, 188 cases of COVID-19 had been reported among full-time Archuleta County residents since Nov. 1, making for a cumulative total of 257 cases since late March and pushing Archuleta County into Level Red: Severe Risk.

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) continues to report 39 recovered cases among residents, and is also reporting 72 cases among nonresidents and three outbreaks in Archuleta County.

SJBPH Director of Communication Claire Ninde explained in an email to The SUN that two new outbreaks have been identified “Through a combination of laboratory testing and epidemiological investigation.”

Those, she wrote, are at Parts Plus and Pagosa Springs Elementary School.

As of Dec. 1,  Ninde wrote, “Parts Plus has two positive staff and PSE has 3 staff and two students who have been identified as positive.”

All cases were put on isolation and close contacts were put on quarantine, Ninde indicated, adding that the investigations into the outbreaks are ongoing and SJBPH will continue to evaluate information “regarding these and all cases as received.”

“All outbreak locations will have an ongoing active investigation until 28 days have elapsed without new cases,” she wrote. “28 days is two incubation periods of the SARS-CoV2 virus.”

The county’s first outbreak is inactive and was a hunting camp.

As of Wednesday, Archuleta County remained in Level Orange: High Risk on the state’s COVID dial framework, but, late Wednesday it was announced that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is moving Archuleta County to Level Red to reduce community transmission and “slow a dramatic rise in cases that threatens our school learning models and our local economy.”

As of press time Wednesday, it was unknown what day the change will take effect.

According to the state COVID-19 Dial, Level Red restrictions are warranted are when any of three metrics are met. Archuleta currently meets one of the three: 350 or more new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days. 

Archuleta County passed this threshold on Nov. 19 and has had 126 cases in the last 14 days, according to SJBPH.  

Level Red includes increased restrictions on businesses, including closing indoor dining at restaurants, moving last call up to 8 p.m., making office-based businesses reduce in-person workforce to 10 percent and reducing capacity at gyms and fitness centers, and does not allow personal gatherings.

The full list of changes associated with moving levels on the dial can be found at the CDPHE website. 

For updated information on the move to Level Red, see

Also because of the increased local cases, late last week, it was announced that all Archuleta School District schools, including Pagosa Peak Open School, would move to remote learning for the remainder of the calendar year.

Prior to Thanksgiving, SJBPH Executive Director Liane Jollon explained, there was beginning evidence that the surge was flattening due to increased restrictions on much of the state.

“Someone described it as it’s not that we’re not accelerating, it’s just that the foot isn’t as heavy on the accelerator,” she said of the slowing of new cases. 

What isn’t known yet, she noted, is the affect Thanksgiving will have on that trend.

Mobility data for Thanksgiving weekend, she explained, indicates people traveled much less this year than on a normal Thanksgiving, but traveled more than any other weekend in November.

Models are very unclear on how cases are going to increase and what hospitalizations will do in December following the holiday, she noted.

“We’re still really concerned that, you know, until we get more evidence, that December could look really, really bleak across the state,” she said.

Why get tested?

Jollon indicated that it remains important for symptomatic individuals to be tested, regardless of if they believe they have COVID or are unsure.

“Identifying specific cases helps us contain cases,” Jollon added, explaining that SJBPH conducts confidential contact tracing to alert contacts of their exposure and deliver instructions to help “box in” the disease.

A positive test also, she explained, allows an individual to become eligible for workplace benefits and other programs that provide assistance so they can isolate successfully, and can help them access the information and care they need if they get worse. 

That also makes any exposed individuals eligible for assistance that can help them to isolate.

Jollon told The SUN SJBPH continues to conduct contact tracing on 100 percent of reported positives.

Because of the increase in cases, SJBPH recently announced that some close contacts may receive a text message from (855) 681-1645 notifying them of their exposure and providing a link to quarantine and testing instructions.

‘Colorado is not alone’

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was joined by Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, for Tuesday’s COVID-19 update, with Fauci outlining that many states are in the same figurative boat.

Polis -— who recently tested positive for COVID-19 but has been asymptomatic — began the press conference by stating that, so far, he feels very good, but that one in 12 families will have a hospitalization from the disease.

He later noted that, per the most recent modeling, one in every 41 Coloradans is infectious, with that figure moving to one in every 29 in some areas of the state.

“Colorado is not alone in seeing a spike in cases,” Fauci said, adding, “We are really in a public health crisis right now.”

Fauci noted that the current surge in COVID-19 cases is unlike anything seen earlier, with the country seeing 100,000 to 200,000 new cases reported daily and 1,000 to 2,000 deaths per day.

“Instead of thinking in terms of the Thanksgiving holiday and then the Christmas holiday as two separate events, I think we are going to be looking at 30 or more days of a period of time of precarious risk,” he said. 

Fauci noted it is in everybody’s hands to mitigate the current surge by following precautions such as wearing masks, distancing, avoiding crowds (particularly indoors) and washing hands frequently.

“It’s not too late to do something about it,” he said.

Masks and vaccines

Polis and Fauci also discussed vaccine candidates that could be approved for use in the coming weeks. Two vaccine candidates have been submitted for approval.

“There is hope,” Polis said, likening the current time to the last few miles of a marathon, where the end is near, but it is the hardest part of the race.

Polis also noted that wearing a mask is like a vaccine with 50 percent efficacy, with Fauci explaining that, if no one wore masks, there would be many more acquisitions and transmissions.

“No intervention is 100 percent,” Fauci said.

Of the vaccine candidates, Fauci said, “This is a testimony to the exquisite and extraordinary scientific advances that have taken place over many years … it’s quiet, meticulous science that allows you to get a vaccine that is 94 to 95 percent effective from the time the virus was recognized in January 2020 to putting it in a person’s arm in December 2020.”

Fauci also urged that anyone can look at independent data regarding the potential vaccines and make their choice about being vaccinated when it is available.

He also explained that while initial doses will be available this month, the doses for the general public who do not fall into a higher category (for example, health care workers, those in congregate housing, those 65 and older) are likely to be available mid- to late April 2021.

Pagosa Springs Medical Center CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb reported to The SUN Wednesday that the medical center applied to the state “at the earliest possible date” to receive vaccine doses. 

Jollon reported in a separate interview that SJBPH did the same.

“We’re all in this together, help is on the way and we are going to get out of this,” Fauci concluded. 

Essential precautions

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

• 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).

• Gather only with members of your household. 

• 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.

What about the flu?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report minimal flu activity in much of the country, including Colorado, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows that the flu is “sporadic” in the state, with eight hospitalizations reported.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, Pagosa Springs Medical Center had not had any positive flu tests, according to Webb.

SJBPH suggests that getting a flu vaccine this year is more important than ever.