Friday, September 18, 2020

County COVID-19 numbers drop dramatically

State downgrades county to allow looser restrictions and adopts our Coronameter

By Mark Reaman

The local coronavirus numbers are looking great, with the last positive three cases all being recorded on September 1. Even the state is acknowledging how well Gunnison County is doing. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced on Tuesday it would be granting the county’s request to move down to the least restrictive level of concern in Colorado, the so-called “Protect Our Neighbor” status. While that is good news, it doesn’t mean everything will return to normal any time soon.

“We haven’t been able to say it often in the last six months but things are looking really good for us,” said Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom. “The state granting our request means we can increasingly loosen the restrictions that have been in place and we can focus on our Coronameter guidelines instead of the stricter state restrictions. The longer you maintain good numbers, the looser the restrictions become. It will impact things like how big group sizes are allowed to be and can change the capacity allowed into places like restaurants. This should help our community in general and our businesses in particular.”

The Colorado decision essentially allows Gunnison County to act independently of the state. Sandstrom said that should result in less confusion for people.

The county incident command team is emphasizing that even though the county coronavirus level has been downgraded by the state, you should not expect everything to immediately return to normal.  While the county is exempt from some statewide regulations such as the mask order and closing bars at 11 p.m. we are still under the county’s public health order.

“We got to the Protect Our Neighbor status because of our public health order and it is important to keep the virus numbers down,” said Sandstrom. “ It is not like we are going to flip a switch and everything will be back to normal. The mask order is still in effect and the bars must still close at 11. The biggest difference with this change will probably come with allowing more people to attend outdoor events. (Public Health Director) Joni Reynolds will be looking at individual situations for future exemption requests.

“We have more autonomy from the state to loosen up the restrictions a bit but we will be doing it incrementally,” he continued. “We want to move slowly and see the impacts of loosening the restrictions and see if anything in particular makes the numbers trend back up. This move is good news but we are not opening the floodgates. We don’t want to go back to where we were. We need to be careful.”

The county has also increased the number of tests being performed through contact tracing and randomly through the local schools and community. In September, the numbers are showing a big decrease in positive cases, even at Western Colorado University and in the Gunnison Watershed School District.

Sandstrom said the county is currently conducting between 30 and 40 tests per day. Gunnison Valley Health announced this week that starting October 1, anyone who wants one can obtain a COVID-19 test for a fee, but people no longer have to be symptomatic. This should help people needing a test to travel or attend college, for example.

While impressed with the numbers coming out of Western and the school district in particular, Sandstrom credits the community in general in achieving this major downturn.

“The community stepped up every time we asked and when the numbers started trending in the wrong direction,” he said. “Having people wear masks, maintain social distancing and pay attention even when it felt like there was a reason to relax has gotten us here. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but we still have to be vigilant. It’s not done. We can’t just stop what we are doing. The restrictions will loosen up and that’s good but we all have to continue to practice good protocols.”

Sandstrom said Colorado Governor Jared Polis also announced this week that the state was adopting its version of a state Coronameter similar to the one developed in Gunnison County. The state will use what is being called a “dial” system to rank the level and accompanying restrictions of the virus. He said the state is recognizing it can be a powerful tool to help guide people and while it won’t exactly mirror the Gunnison County Coronameter, it will perform a similar function.

“We’ve remained busy and open since we’ve opened and that’s the most anyone can ask for,” concluded Sandstrom.

Sandstrom said the county team will address the changes and the issues at the virtual town hall meeting scheduled for Thursday, September 17 at 5 p.m. You can access the meeting via Zoom by going to the Gunnison County website.

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