San Juan Basin Public Health issues 30-day ‘Level Blue’ order


    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    On April 16, the state retired its dial for COVID-19 mitigation and public health protocols. At that time, the state shifted responsibility to local public health agencies, directing them to enact protocols appropriate for their communities.

    The same day, San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), which serves Archuleta and La Plata counties, issued what it calls a simplified Level Blue public health order, which will be in effect until May 15. 

    Of shifting responsibility back to local public health agencies, a SJBPH press release states, “SJBPH is committed to limiting the spread of COVID-19 to protect public health and save lives. SJBPH will continue to do so in a way that follows science-based guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the goals of reducing disease transmission, maintaining in-person learning, and supporting the recovery of the local economy.”

    SJBPH’s simplified version of the state’s Level Blue, a press release explains, maintains “the most effective protocols and trimming others (like percentage capacity limits) from the State’s outgoing dial system.”

    La Plata and Archuleta counties will stay in Level Blue for 30 days until May 15, the press release explains, at which point the requirements will expire and the counties will enter a monitoring and advisory phase if conditions allow.

    The order will expire prior to May 15 if the county’s case incidence rate drops below 35 cases per 100,000 residents, it notes.

    Now, the area is in a four-week push to see as many people vaccinated in the area as possible to allow restrictions to be eased next month, according to Brian Devine, SJBPH environmental director and deputy incident commander for the agency’s COVID-19 response.

    “We are in the big community-wide push to get as many people vaccinated as we can and get our incidence rates down for the summer,” he said.

    As of Wednesday, SJBPH listed Archuleta County’s one-week incidence rate as 335.7 cases per 100,000 people — one of the highest in the state alongside Dolores County.

    Devine noted Archuleta County’s rate is “certainly the largest among a county of any decent size.”

    SJBPH listed 863 cases of confirmed COVID-19 among Archuleta County’s permanent residents as of Wednesday — up nearly 50 cases in a week.

    Devine explained that one of the reasons the disease is able to more easily spread in Archuleta County is that the county’s overall infection rate from previous waves “is pretty low.”

    “And so that’s good, and I’d rather be in that position than some other counties where 50 percent of the population has a previous infection and a lot of death and suffering as a result,” he said.

    Many in the community, he added, will only be immune if they’ve been vaccinated, meaning the community needs to rely on vaccinations and other protective measures, such as avoiding indoor gatherings, to get through the pandemic.

    When enough people are vaccinated, he indicated, that will take the place of some of the other precautions because the risk of transmission will be lower.

    He added that much of the spread currently is through private social gatherings and extracurricular activities. 

    Summary of SJBPH’s Level Blue order

    SJBPH provided a summary of its 30-day order, which, along with the face-covering order, can be accessed at:

    • Face coverings: Face coverings are required in all public indoor settings unless all individuals present are fully vaccinated.

    Businesses or facilities should err on the side of assuming that some people entering their indoor site are not vaccinated. 

    “With only one third of our community fully vaccinated, most indoor public settings like grocery stores, retail stores, and gyms must continue to require mask wearing,” the press release notes.

    • Physical distancing: Businesses and public indoor spaces must manage capacity so that 6 feet of distance is maintained between households or parties, excluding staff. Percentage capacity limits no longer apply. Physical distancing is recommended, but not required, in outdoor settings.

    • Transmission control: Employers must follow symptom-monitoring protocols to keep sick employees and guests out of public places, follow ventilation guidance to the extent possible, and maintain hygiene and other protocols to limit disease transmission.

    • Self-certification: Requires special events to attest that they will comply with public health orders and provides an opportunity to publicly post that certification for the general public. Other public places may use self-certification as a tool to improve consumer confidence and apply requirements and recommendations to their operation.

    More rapid testing
    now available, community test site moving

    On Monday, SJBPH announced the availability of Cue testing, which in a press release it notes is “a highly accurate, rapid COVID-19 test now available in La Plata and Archuleta counties.” 

    It further notes these two counties are among the first places in the country to have rapid community testing available to the general public.

     Cue, the press release indicates, is a rapid nucleic acid amplification test that “is easy for patients and in most cases provides results in less than 30 minutes. Cue tests are highly accurate at identifying both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases of COVID.”

    Devine called the Cue testing a “really exciting new testing opportunity” and noted the tests are about as accurate as traditional PCR tests and “much more” accurate than other rapid tests that have been available.

    “This is probably the most powerful tool we’ve ever had on the testing side … to identify and contain disease,” he said, noting contact tracing will be able to start much quicker and can make a “lifetime of difference.”

    Residents are strongly encouraged (but not required) to preregister online for a Cue test:

    Traditional PCR testing will also be available at the site for those who need or desire that, Devine explained.

    Some individuals may be asked to complete both a rapid test and a PCR test since PCR testing allows for variant testing, he noted.

     SJBPH also announced that, on Friday, April 23, the Archuleta County COVID-19 testing site will relocate to the property of the Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC). 

    The Archuleta County community testing site (operated by COVIDCheck Colorado) will offer both rapid Cue testing and lab-based PCR testing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. 

    The testing site will be in a drive-through structure behind the PSMC building at 95 S. Pagosa Blvd. 

    “With the virus circulating and variants present in the community, officials at SJBPH stress that COVID-19 testing, isolation, and quarantine remain critical to reducing the spread of the virus. Cases are currently on the rise in La Plata County, and Archuleta County has one of the highest one-week cumulative incidence rates in Colorado at 357.1 new cases per 100,000 residents,” the press release states.

    SJBPH encourages residents to get tested if they are symptomatic, think they’ve been exposed, or work in a high-contact position. There is no fee for testing, and no appointment is needed.

    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.

    • PSMC: 731-3700.

    Additional testing information is available at: