Health department issues mask order

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By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

On April 2, Gov. Jared Polis announced that he would be extending the statewide face covering order from April 3 until May 2 with modifications that the state notes “account for where Colorado is in the pandemic.”

Just hours after the governor’s announcement, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) announced it was pleased to see the mask requirement kept in place and announced it would be issuing a public health order for Archuleta and La Plata counties to “keep the region aligned with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance,” with that face covering order in effect until May 3, according to a press release.

SJBPH’s order, which is the order in effect for Archuleta and La Plata counties because it is more protective than the state’s, differs from the state’s in instances of small indoor gatherings.

An April 2 SJBPH press release explains, “To keep the region aligned with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, SJBPH will issue a public health order continuing to require masks in all public indoor settings unless all individuals present are fully vaccinated. A person is considered fully vaccinated if two weeks have passed after receiving the one-dose vaccine or their second dose of a two-dose vaccine series. The order, which applies to Archuleta and La Plata counties, takes effect April 3, 2021 and will remain in effect until May 3, 2021, or until either county achieves and maintains a seven-day incidence rate less than 35 cases per 100,000 people.”

The seven-day incidence rates of fewer than 35 cases per 100,000 people coincides for the metrics for Level Green: Protect Our Neighbors on the state’s COVID dial.

The state’s updated mask order continues “to require mask-wearing in all counties in schools (including extracurricular activities), child care centers, indoor children’s camps, public-facing state government facilities, congregate care facilities, prisons, jails, emergency medical and other healthcare settings, and personal services and limited health care settings as defined by PHO 20-36.” 

 “A properly worn mask is extremely effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and science supports this,” said Liane Jollon, SJBPH executive director. “With the virus still circulating at high rates, variants present in our community, and only a portion of our population vaccinated, it’s so important we continue following public health precautions. By wearing masks, especially in public indoor settings, we will save lives and help ensure our schools can continue in-person learning. This order will save lives, keep our community in line with the best available science, and keep us on track to turn the page on the pandemic and recover as quickly as possible.”

The SJBPH press release also states, “The CDC guidance states that people ‘should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.’ The CDC also says that fully vaccinated people should ‘wear masks, maintain physical distance, and practice other prevention measures when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.’ The intent of the SJBPH public health order is to protect public health and safety and stay aligned with the CDC’s science-based guidance.”

The order states, “By this Order, the Public Health Director of the Health District hereby requires that all individuals within the Health District wear a Face Covering while in a Public Indoor Space, unless the individual is ten years of age or younger, or cannot medically tolerate a face covering, except as exempted below.”

The order lists eight exempted activities.

It further notes, “Individuals are not required to wear a Face Covering while in a Public Indoor Space if all individuals in the Public Indoor Space are Fully Vaccinated Against COVID-19.”

 The order also requires owners, operators or managers of public indoor spaces to post signs at the entrance(s) and states that they should not provide services to or allow an individual to move within that space without a face covering as required by the order.

For more information on the local order and its exemptions, visit: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.

“Masks are cheap, they are highly effective and they restrict economic activity a lot less than things that are still in place at the state level, so we chose to continue requiring masks” with the exception of fully vaccinated groups, said Brian Devine, SJBPH environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response.

He added that most Coloradans live in a county where the local public health agency has put into effect an order similar to ours, though many have fewer exemptions than SJBPH’s order.

SJBPH’s order also mentions concerning incidence rates in Archuleta and La Plata counties, with Archuleta County’s seven-day incidence rate at 121.4 per 100,000 residents and 14-day rate at 271.4 as of April 2.

As of April 7, SJBPH listed Archuleta County’s seven-day rate at 185.7, with the county’s positivity rate at 4 percent and 774 cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 among permanent residents.

Devine pointed out that transmission rates are “very high” right now and the order is important for the counties in order to keep businesses and schools open.

Devine indicated Wednesday SJBPH has seen a number of outbreaks come out of smaller gatherings, with a lot of transmission in the area being driven primarily by outbreaks.

Devine also points out that the United Kingdom variant has been declared the most dominant strain in the country, with that strain being more transmissible, especially indoors, meaning less virus has to be acquired to become sick.

Thus far, that variant has not yet been detected in Archuleta County.

Devine suggested that to move into Level Green, which only requires masks in high-risk settings, Archuleta County needs to improve upon its transmission control measures, and hold events outdoors where possible and require masks.

“We’re very close, seriously,” he said. “Let’s not blow it in the last mile.”

Devine also noted that vaccinations are proceeding at a “pretty high rate,” with 40 percent of Archuleta County’s total population having at least one dose of vaccine and 31 percent considered fully vaccinated (two weeks after an individual’s final vaccine dose).

Devine noted that the area’s vaccine providers continue to work to get the vaccine out to a large portion of the population quickly while also looking for opportunities to get the vaccine to populations and areas where individuals may have a harder time getting to a large vaccine clinic or feeling comfortable doing so.

Testing available

The free COVID-19 testing site at the Archuleta County Fairgrounds, located at 344 U.S. 84, continues to be operated in partnership with COVIDCheck Colorado.

The testing takes place under the all-weather Hughes Pavilion, with the site open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

You can register for your free test by going to www.covidcheckcolorado.org and selecting “Get My Test.”

According to a COVIDCheck Colorado flier, “COVIDCheck Colorado uses a highly sensitive and reliable nasal mid-turbinate swab PCR test that is administered by licensed medical professionals. Please arrive wearing a mask.”

Testing also continues to be available at a number of local health care facilities, including:

• Archuleta Integrated Healthcare: 264-2104.

• Pagosa Medical Group (including rapid testing if deemed appropriate by a provider): 372-0456.

• Pagosa Springs Medical Center: 731-3700.

Additional testing information is available at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/testing/.

SJBPH suggests that testing is critical if you have symptoms, believe you’ve been exposed, work in a high-contact job, or if you have been gathering with people outside your household. 

Additional testing allows public health officials to sequence more samples and identify if COVID-19 variants are more widespread, the agency notes.

How do I get the vaccine?

Everyone age 16 and older is now eligible to receive the vaccine in Colorado, though 16- and 17-year olds are only eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

Devine suggested that individuals interested in receiving the vaccine can sign up for weekly vaccine notifications from SJBPH on its website and can sign up with multiple providers to see where they can get an appointment quickest.

Archuleta County has several enrolled vaccine providers. For information on area vaccine providers, visit https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.