We have the power to stop the spread


By Terri Lynn Oldham House

We are at a critical stage in our community’s fight against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, there has been an exponential increase in cases since the end of October. Archuleta County had a total of 69 cumulative cases as of Oct. 31. That number grew to 371 cases as of press time. 

That is a whopping 438 percent increase. 

And, sadly, there is no indication of this rate of increase slowing down. 

The impact of the pandemic is taking its toll. Most of us are increasingly overwhelmed. We are stressed. We are tired. We are weary. 

Many of us have lost friends and family to COVID-19.

During public comment at a recent county commissioner meeting, someone claimed that the pandemic was not real. Ironically, shortly after it was suggested that this pandemic is a hoax, a friend texted a photo of his mother’s urn. She had died in a Farmington hospital due to complications of this disease.

Trust us. This pandemic is real.

We’ve been pretty fortunate as a county to not have witnessed the death rates that other areas have experienced. While the local dashboard doesn’t reflect any deaths for our community, we have suffered losses of former residents.

Also, Archuleta County resident Diamond Dave Pokorney’s death didn’t count as a local death, since he died in Arizona, but his wife, Kathryn, believes he contracted the disease that took his life here in Pagosa Springs. 

Correspondence from Pagosa Springs Medical Center CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb received about two weeks ago stressed: “The risk of the hospital being overwhelmed by a high number of sick patients is now higher than ever.  What’s different now is that cases in the community are spiking — we’re not ahead of the curve, but behind it. The virus is so prevalent in the community that nine PSMC employees have tested positive and another 21 have been exposed to people just in this month. When this happens, those who test positive and those who are exposed are quarantined and can no longer work. We must then try to fill the vacancies so that the hospital can continue to operate. Many positions at the hospital are highly specialized and require staff with years of training and special certifications or licenses. They are not easily replaced. If enough people from certain areas like the emergency room, ambulance service, or diagnostic imaging are sidelined, we will be forced to close some services, which could potentially affect any of us.”

She went on to explain, “Also of note is that PSMC is not alone: hospitals across the region and across the state are experiencing the same problems — a spike in sick patients requiring care, and limited staff to care for those patients.  If patients, whether sick from COVID or presenting with an emergency like a heart attack or accident-related trauma, require a higher level of care (a ventilator in an ICU, a cardiac procedure, trauma surgery) can’t be transferred to another hospital in the region because those hospitals are at capacity, then they will have to be sent farther away, to larger cities like Denver, assuming they have capacity. This will only further delay potentially life-saving care.”

Now is the time we must join together as a community with a united mission to reverse the course of this current surge and take back our schools, our businesses and our churches from the effects of this pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Archuleta School District Board of Education heard a plea from teacher union representative Darcy DeGuise: “The question of wearing a mask has become an issue throughout our country and even in our small mountain town, people continue to debate its effectiveness. This should not be an issue up for debate when the safety of our students and our staff is paramount. As the union representative for the Pagosa Springs Education Association, I have asked to speak to you, Dr. Kym, and to the school board, on behalf of a number of elementary school teachers in our district, who would like you to consider requiring masks for all K-12 students attending our schools.”

She concluded with: “Wearing a mask is about having compassion for others and their health — this is something we should encourage and teach to this community through our children.” 

The impacts of individual choices on the community as a whole are considerable. 

Our children are unable to attend in-person classes due to those choices. This is something that could negatively impact these students for years to come. 

Grocery store employees, essential workers and first responders put themselves at risk every single day in order to put food on their table and pay their rent.  

Our businesses are functioning at a mere fraction of their capacity. Our restaurants have been crippled. Some businesses have closed permanently. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. 

Collectively, we have the ability to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We can get our schools, our businesses and our community back to full operating capacities.

An obituary for Dr. Marvin James Farr, 81, of Scott City, Kan., states that he “passed away Dec. 1, 2020, in isolation at Park Lane Nursing Home. He was preceded in death by more than 260,000 Americans infected with covid-19. He died in a room not his own, being cared for by people dressed in confusing and frightening ways. He died with covid-19, and his final days were harder, scarier and lonelier than necessary. He was not surrounded by friends and family.

“Marvin was born May 23, 1939 … He was born into an America recovering from the Great Depression and about to face World War 2, times of loss and sacrifice difficult for most of us to imagine. Americans would be asked to ration essential supplies and send their children around the world to fight and die in wars of unfathomable destruction. He died in a world where many of his fellow Americans refuse to wear a piece of cloth on their face to protect one another.”

A vaccine is within reach, but it is up to us to make individual choices to stop doing those things that contribute to the virus’ spread. 

We must acknowledge this pandemic is real. Coronavirus doesn’t care about your political affiliation.

We need to wear face coverings unless you have a bonafide medical condition. It really is not that huge of a sacrifice.

We have to forego traditional large-group gatherings for now. We need to keep our distance from those we don’t cohabitate with. We need to limit travel. 

We need to stay at least 6 feet apart from one another. We must wash our hands often and not touch our faces.

Adhering to these safe practices can help us stop the exponential growth in cases.

These are not huge things for us all to come together for our children’s education, for our educators, for our first responders, for those frontline essential workers, for our medical professionals, for the survival of our local businesses, and for the health and safety of our friends and family.

This is our opportunity as a community to showcase our unity. The power to stop the spread of this virus is in our hands.