Friday, August 7, 2020

Gunnison County keeps close eye on COVID-19

Uptick in positive cases

by Mark Reaman

The COVID-19 trend in the area has shifted in the wrong direction with more locals testing positive for the coronavirus, but the Gunnison County Incident Command Team is not ready to flip the switch to tighter restrictions—yet.

Public information officer Andrew Sandstrom said the Coronameter was set up as a device to give the community the early warning when things started changing that could impact public health order restrictions. That time has come and the alert is being sounded.

Sandstrom said there have been 17 positive test results in the last two weeks. That has tipped the rate of positive results to more than 5 percent of the tests, which could affect whether the county shifts from the current Blue risk assessment level to the more restrictive Yellow.

Under Yellow, group sizes that are currently allowed would be reduced, restaurants and bars could not serve people inside the establishment, and lodging restrictions would be imposed.

We’re not alone but still in decent shape

“It is a bummer to see this uptick in positive numbers,” said Sandstrom. “It is happening in the counties all around us and across Colorado. For us, the big change would be if the health care system flipped where it began to get too crowded to care for people. That’s not the case right now. The health care system in the county is in a good place and we are in a strong position. But the data is warning us to be aware and take precautions. If we don’t return to limited contact with people, we could find ourselves in trouble.”

Early indications for Gunnison County are that the positive tests include a variety of ages and demographics, while Sandstrom noted that younger people were catching the virus in other places. All the local data is centered on local residents and does not include visitors.

“Younger people don’t get hit as hard and don’t need the hospital facilities as much as the at-risk population,” Sandstrom said. “But we need to do what we can to minimize contacts to stay in the Blue level and protect those in the more at-risk groups.”

One person was admitted to the Gunnison Valley Hospital for COVID-19 this week but did not present with a severe case.

The concern based on the data is that the uptick in positive cases could result in a crowded hospital by the end of the month. Sandstrom said it is obvious that a quick change took place and the trend is moving in a negative direction. “So we are asking the community to be aware and take the action necessary to slow the spread of the virus,” he said. “We have done it before and the numbers say we need to stay vigilant.”

The most positives were reported on July 15 when eight new positives came in. The lag in test results has meant current data is not immediately available and that is not ideal. Sandstrom said the team doesn’t know exactly why there is the increase in positive results but the community should take it for what it is and tighten up their behavior.

Watching the data to guide decisions

While the county has testing well under control, two of seven indicators have met the threshold that go into the equation of possibly raising the restriction thresholds from Blue to Yellow. It takes three before a serious consideration is given to raising the restrictions. The number of positive tests over the course of a week and the percentage of positive tests coming back both raise warning flags.

“These are guidelines meant to help guide decision making,” explained Gunnison Valley Health’s Jodie Leonard at the Monday town hall meeting. “It’s not black and white. We are looking at all aspects in the Yellow stage before making any decisions.”

One concerning metric was the availability of out-of-county ICU hospital beds. Last weekend, the beds in Montrose and Grand Junction were nearly full, not with COVID patients but with normal Colorado summer patients.

“It’s very busy throughout the state right now. The Western Slope is hopping,” said incident commander CJ Malcolm on Monday. “We are monitoring that and it is a concern and something we will be monitoring daily.”

Sandstrom confirmed that an employee of the Gunnison McDonald’s tested positive for COVID-19, so the establishment voluntarily closed briefly for a deep clean and screening of employees. He is not aware of other similar situations.

Booze sales being curtailed

In a new state restriction related to rising numbers of people in Colorado with positive coronavirus tests, Governor Jared Polis on Tuesday put a 30-day restriction in place on any alcohol sales in Colorado after 10 p.m. The normal cutoff is 2 a.m. “Now it’s going to be 10 p.m. statewide,” because “inebriation in public places is inconsistent with social distancing,” Polis noted.

Sandstrom reiterated that now was the time to pay attention as a community. “Now is the time we can act to stay in Blue and not go to Yellow with more restrictions,” he said. “So, take fewer trips to the grocery store. Maybe use a Zoom meeting instead of an in-person meeting. Don’t have big backyard BBQs with 20 or 30 people this weekend. Limit interactions wherever you can. We are moving up and seeing that trend across the state.

“We are asking the community to stay strong and limit personal interactions wherever you can,” Sandstrom emphasized. “Wear a mask. Keep social distancing. Wash your hands and just stay aware. Let’s not go to a place where the restrictions get tighter.”

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