State retiring COVID dial: New orders, advisories expected

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By Randi Pierce

Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis again stated the state’s intent to retire the COVID dial on April 16, turning control over to local agencies, including San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH).

“The state will not be letting up efforts to suppress the virus, but will continue two important statewide measures to continue protecting Coloradans no matter where they live which includes a statewide mask mandate and capacity limits for the highest risk settings of indoor mass gatherings,” a press release from the governor’s office states. “Information on this updated Public Health Order will be available on Thursday and go into effect on Friday. Colorado anticipates that many local governments will go above and beyond these state measures.”

“Our North Star has always been to make sure everyone who needed a bed, could get a bed. We believe that we’re at the right point to turn control over to local governments, though the pandemic is certainly not over yet,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

According to Brian Devine, SJBPH environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response, SJBPH will, after finding out what is included in the state’s base order, build on that to ensure measures and best practices endorsed by the   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That, he indicated, is likely to come in the form of a public health order and a public health advisory that will include things such as 6-foot distancing, symptom screenings, excluding ill employees and customers, practicing good hand hygiene, ventilation requirements, self-certifications and more.

He noted SJBPH is working to figure out if there are any other elements of the dial that need to be kept and noted that a number of areas of the state are either keeping the dial or some version of it for the next couple of weeks to a month.

Devine added that SJBPH is trying to focus on “the most effective and the most cost-effective measures.”

Once issued, SJBPH’s advisories and orders can be found at: https://sjbpublichealth.org/advisories-and-orders/.

The move comes at a time when, according to public health officials, Colorado is entering a fourth wave of the pandemic and vaccination rates are increasing.

“Colorado is experiencing a similar increase in infection rates and hospitalizations, tracking with national trends,” the press release states. “The Governor urged all Coloradans to continue wearing masks, social distancing, staying home when sick, getting tested if you think you have been exposed to someone with COVID, and gathering outside in small groups instead of opting for the indoors.”

In Archuleta County, Devine pointed out the one-week incidence rate of 285.7 cases per 100,000 people is the highest it has been since the state introduced the COVID Dial 3.0.

If the dial weren’t going away, he noted, it would be expected that Archuleta County would be moving to Level Yellow.

Archuleta County’s positivity rate has also increased over the last week and, as of Wednesday, was reported as being 4 percent by SJBPH.

“To see those together is quite concerning,” Devine said.

Multiple cases of the United Kingdom variant, the most dominant strain in the country, have now been detected in Archuleta County, according to SJBPH’s website, with Devine noting that it is known to be more severe and cause more hospitalizations.

The California variant, which is also believed to be more transmissable, has also been detected in Archuleta County.

SJBPH, he added, is concerned about the spread of variants and again indicated that people take extra precautions against the spread of the virus.

What you’ve been doing to keep yourself safe, he noted, may not be enough anymore, pointing toward guidance from the CDC about double masking and avoiding indoor gatherings as examples of how to take extra precautions.

He also pointed out that age groups where vaccine rates are a little lower, such as the 40-49 and 50-59 age groups, are seeing more hospitalizations, while there has been no increase in hospitalizations among the 70+ age groups with higher vaccination rates.

As of Wednesday, SJBPH reported 814 cumulative cases of confirmed COVID-19 among permanent residents, including 14 cases posted for April 13.

Face-covering order
remains in effect

A SJBPH order requiring face coverings to be used in alignment with CDC guidance continues to be in effect.

An April 2 SJBPH press release explains that order requires “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 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.”

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

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.

Over the next week, testing will take 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.

randi@pagosasun.com