San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) is pleased to report that both Archuleta and La Plata counties are making progress in critical metrics to return to Level Orange: High Risk public health measures on Colorado’s COVID-19 Dial. The dial pairs the public health protocols for businesses and events with underlying data about the pandemic in each county. In the past two weeks, both counties have begun to see improvements in case incidence and test positivity rates.
“SJBPH knows that many of our businesses are hanging by a thread and others have had to close,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “Our community has sacrificed so much to keep each other safe and we know how difficult that has been. These improving metrics show that public health measures are working, but they will only continue to work with consistent policy and behavior in our communities. As we begin vaccinating our most vulnerable community members, we are concerned about increased cases associated with gatherings with the winter holiday, prior to kids going back to school in person, and have a grave concern about what may happen on New Year’s Eve,” Jollon added.
Since moving into Level Red: Severe Risk protocols, La Plata County’s incidence rate (the number of new cases in the last 14 days, adjusted for county population) has decreased below 750 cases per 100,000 residents after peaking above 1,100. Archuleta County’s incidence rate began decreasing later but appears to be dropping more rapidly; it now stands around 900 cases per 100,000 residents after peaking above 1,300 shortly after moving into Level Red protocols. Test positivity is beginning to drop in both counties and is already within parameters for Level Orange on the dial.
Unfortunately, hospitalizations in the southwest region have not begun to decline and utilization of health care, especially intensive care, continues to be high. “Hospitalization tends to be the last metric we track to rise or fall,” added Jollon, “because it takes time for people to develop symptoms serious enough to need hospitalization. Nevertheless, the data are showing that what we’re doing is working. We urge everyone to continue good public health habits and to cancel any holiday gatherings they were hoping to have, so we can get through the rest of this winter and reopen businesses and schools safely as soon as possible,” she said.
SJBPH is emphasizing stringent precautionary steps to avoid a spike in new cases and to give businesses and schools in both counties a chance to open widely in Level Orange. If cases and positivity rates continue to decline and hospitalizations (especially intensive care unit usage) begin to trend in the right direction, there will be a good chance of reaching the less-restrictive phase in coming weeks. The necessary steps that must be taken now by everyone to slow the spread of COVID-19 and move to less-restrictive phases are:
- Universal use of face masks
- Social distancing of at least 6 feet
- Avoiding nonessential indoor spaces
- Getting tested if you are symptomatic, think you’ve been exposed, or if you work in a high-contact position
- Prompt following of quarantine guidance if exposed
- Protecting people at higher risk of severe illness or death
- Postponing travel
- Improving indoor ventilation and hand hygiene
- Protecting essential workers
- Getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available