By Randi Pierce
Colorado continues to be under a statewide mask order, with Gov. Jared Polis extending the order for an additional 30 days on Monday.
“Wearing a mask is an easy and highly effective way to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19,” a state press release on the extension states.
The announcement came as cases continue to spike in much of the country, including Archuleta County.
As of Wednesday afternoon, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) reported 371 cumulative cases among Archuleta County residents since late March, and 75 cases among Archuleta County nonresidents since June 1.
From Dec. 2 to Dec. 9, 95 cases were reported among Archuleta County residents.
moves to Level Red
Archuleta County officially moved to Level Red: Severe Risk on the state’s COVID dial at 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6.
“To reduce community transmission and slow a dramatic rise in cases that threatens our school learning models and our local economy, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is moving Archuleta County to COVID-19 Dial Level Red: Severe Risk,” a press release from SJBPH states.
According to the state COVID-19 Dial, Level Red: Severe Risk restrictions are warranted when any of three metrics are exceeded. Archuleta currently exceeds one of these metrics: 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.
The state’s website Wednesday listed Archuleta County’s two-week cumulative incidence rate per 100,000 population as 1,278.5.
Moving to Level Red: Severe Risk makes the following major changes to businesses, events and social gatherings:
• In-person social gatherings with people outside your household, in any setting, are prohibited, even with social distancing.
• Restaurants may only offer takeout, curbside, delivery, and outdoor (open-air) service. Outdoor on-premise service may be used by one household per table.
• Last call is moved to 8 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 percent.
• Gyms and fitness centers must reduce their indoor capacity to 10 percent or no more than 10 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.
“With the drastic rise in cases over the past month and the related impact on our region’s health care system, now is the time to make necessary adjustments to ensure that our loved ones are with us for the winter holidays this year, and for years to come,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “Currently, 1 in 40 Coloradans are infectious, the highest prevalence we’ve seen to date. Archuleta County will be joining 26 other counties in the state at Level Red, all of which are working to implement protocols that although difficult, will help us all get to lower levels of transmission.”
“I know these restrictions are very difficult for everyone—especially for local businesses, but we’re at the point where we need to take action,” said Dr. Rhonda Webb, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO. “While it is true that most people who get infected with COVID-19 do not require hospitalization, many do. We need to keep our workforce healthy to keep our EMS, ER, clinics, inpatient units and more fully available to meet the health care needs of our community. Working together, we can flatten this curve.”
“The Archuleta School District has seen the impact of COVID-19 cases in our schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza. “We have had to navigate cases at the elementary, middle- and high-schools, which has impacted our ability to serve our students with in-person learning. We believe the move to red is a necessary step toward lowering our community transmission rate so that we can get our students back into schools, following the winter break. We are hopeful that by working together as a community and following the guidance of our local public health authority, we can keep our families, our staff and our students healthy.”
The full list of changes associated with moving levels on the dial can be found at the CDPHE website.
For information about all phases of the state’s COVID-19 dial framework for public health protections, visit https://covid19.colorado.gov/data/covid-19-dial.
SJBPH is again working with PSMC, Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs to provide free COVID-19 testing events to help meet continued demand.
Testing also continues to be available through a number of local health care facilities.
Free COVID-19 testing events are set for Dec. 10 and 11 and Dec. 16-18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The test site is located at the Archuleta County Fairgrounds at 344 U.S. 84.
Preregistration for the testing at the fairgrounds is encouraged on the day of the testing at: https://curative.com/sites/14533/walkup.
PSMC continues to test symptomatic patients through its clinic, and offers testing to asymptomatic individuals who may have been exposed through drive-through testing to the right rear of the medical center six days per week.
The drive-thru testing is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day but Sunday.
Webb suggested that anyone experiencing symptoms should call their provider for advice on how to proceed.
Webb also cautioned that tests are a “snapshot in time” and a negative test does not mean you won’t later become symptomatic and spread the virus.
Other providers offering testing include:
• Archuleta Integrated Healthcare: 264-2104.
• Pagosa Medical Group: 372-0456.
The state suggests that people with symptoms should always get tested immediately. Symptoms include:
• Fever or chills.
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
• Muscle or body aches.
• New loss of taste or smell.
• Sore throat.
• Congestion or runny nose.
• Nausea or vomiting.
Why get tested?
Last week, 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.
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.
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.