This pandemic is not over


By Terri Lynn Oldham House

What a year it has been. 

On Feb. 26, 2020, Dr. Rhonda Webb, CEO of Upper San Juan Health Service District, activated the district’s emergency operations plan for a pandemic.

The first positive case of COVID-19 in Colorado was confirmed on March 5, 2020, and by March 11, 2020, that number had grown to 27 statewide.

Also on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.

That same day, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order declaring a state of disaster emergency in Colorado due to the presence of COVID-19.

More than 1,080 people in the U.S. had tested positive for COVID-19 as of the morning of March 11, 2020; at least 32 people across the country had died.

On March 12, 2020, Webb activated the district’s incident command as part of its emergency operations plan to prepare and respond to the pandemic.

In that day’s issue of The SUN, we discussed the importance of “social distancing” along with the lack of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Stock markets plummeted in the wake of coronavirus fears. As your hometown newspaper, we committed to keeping readers informed throughout the public health crisis.

That same day, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) hosted a meeting to coordinate emergency response by all governmental entities should there be a surge of patients.

On March 13, 2020, the president of the United States issued a proclamation stating that the “COVID-19 outbreak constitutes a national emergency.”

On March 14, when Gov. Jared Polis closed down Wolf Creek Ski Area right at the start of the biggest week of spring break, our tourist-based economy came crashing down.

On March 16, 2020, the executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) declared a local disaster emergency. A public health order closed bars, restaurants, theaters and casinos statewide.

Also on March 16, 2020, Pagosa Springs Mayor Don Volger and Archuleta County Administrator Scott Wall declared a local disaster emergency. 

The governor ordered schools to close. Sports were canceled. Students, teachers and staff scrambled to move to online learning. Broadband experts were called in to install hotspots for students. 

On March 26, 2020, the first Archuleta County resident was confirmed as presumptive positive for COVID-19. 

The town and county provided assistance where they could in the form of gift cards, free meals, and assistance to individuals and businesses who found themselves affected by the pandemic. 

Local bankers worked endless hours granting Paycheck Protection Program loans that helped to keep area businesses afloat, which provided much-needed paychecks for employees.

Landlords forgave utility and rent payments to those struggling.

We saw a huge outpouring of love for our community from those who live here in Pagosa to those who wish they lived here. People rallied to give to those in need through the pandemic.

The Food Coalition and area food pantries stepped up their efforts to feed our neighbors.

Many of our local businesses had to pivot to stay afloat. They did not give up. They worked endless hours to keep their doors open to whatever capacity was allowed during the pandemic.

Archuleta School District held a most unique and memorable high school graduation celebration in May. 

Over the months that followed, Archuleta County experienced low case counts until summer. That is when we saw case numbers begin to increase in the community. Our county moved from one level to another on the COVID dial. 

Most of our community events were canceled throughout the year, including the county fair, festivals, fundraisers and holiday events. Some were able to hold successful virtual options.

It was all hands on deck for the Archuleta School District to bring students back to school for the fall semester and for student athletes to be able to compete again. 

On Dec. 16, 2020, PSMC Chief of Staff Dr. Ralph Battels and fellow Emergency Room physician Dr. Michelle Flemmings became the first in Archuleta County to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since then, vaccination efforts by PSMC and other providers in our county have received accolades from around the state.

Our county experienced numerous outbreaks over the year and reported its first COVID-19-related death in January of this year. 

The current U.S. death toll related to COVID-19 sits at more than 516,000.

The Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office, Office of Emergency Management  worked to make testing available at the Western Heritage Event Center’s Hughes Pavilion, along with PSMC and other medical providers and volunteers also doing their part to provide testing. SJBPH reports that more than 10,036 diagnostic tests were performed in Archuleta County over a one-year period.

We’ve experienced great economic pain and suffering as a community due to the pandemic. It is more important now than ever to patronize our local restaurants and shops.

This week has seen states across the country lifting mask and crowd-size rules even while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say we should not. We believe that these actions will have wide-ranging impacts.

Unfortunately, this pandemic is not over. Things haven’t been all that smooth here in Pagosa Country with Pagosa Springs High School returning to remote learning this week due to positive cases of COVID-19 and potential exposures resulting in multiple quarantines. Teachers are pleading for us to remain vigilant and wear masks and social distance.

This week finds our courthouse closed due to positive cases of COVID-19. We were just there Friday and saw very little use of masks despite the statewide order. 

This week also brought the announcement of a COVID-19 variant case being identified in Archuleta County.

Things have certainly changed over the past year. This pandemic has touched us all. We have witnessed an amazing resilience in our community. 

We’ve watched our passionate and dedicated community leaders including hospital and public health staff, medical providers, mental health care workers, emergency personnel and first responders, dispatch staff, emergency management team, law enforcement, health and human services, victim advocates, town and county staff, elected officials, school officials, school administrators, teachers and business owners working to make tough decisions in a battle against a complicated and mysterious virus. Local organizations, agencies and numerous volunteers have provided endless support amid the pandemic. Those efforts made all of the difference for our community and saved lives. 

There are many heroes deserving of our thanks and recognition. We salute you all.