County officials mobilize to deal with coronavirus outbreak

Efforts to protect the most vulnerable

By Mark Reaman

For the last week, dozens of officials from the county, municipalities, state and federal agencies located in the county have been working 12-hour days to deal with the coronavirus outbreak in Gunnison County.

During the Friday morning incident command meeting held in Gunnison, the roughly three-dozen people in attendance shared several updates in a succinct and professional manner. The primary goals voiced include trying flatten out the curve of the virus spreading.

They want to protect the local health care system and not let the hospital and doctor’s offices become overwhelmed which according to incident commander C.J. Malcolm is working. “People are not panicking and flooding the hospital,” he reported.

The team wants to begin focusing on protecting those most at risk including the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions. The call line is working smoothly and the screening site in Gunnison has worked well while a similar screening site is scheduled to open in the parking lot of the Crested Butte Community School. No definitive time for that opening has been set.

“We don’t know exactly where we are in this situation,” Malcolm said. “But it is early. With home isolation, hopefully we slow it down but this is a long game.”

There are currently three positive cases in the county, with 16 tests out awaiting results.

“It has been a busy week and a tremendous effort,” said Gunnison County Health and Human Services Director Joni Reynolds. “Overall with this virus we expect that most well people will do well. It will be like a cold for a few days. But the elderly and those with chronic health conditions are most at risk. We have to do social distancing and avoid contact with each other.”

“This is unchartered territory for sure,” added County Emergency Management Director Scott Morrill. “This is a strong type-2 incident. Type-1s are the most intense situations like Hurricane Katrina. But we are managing this well with a staff used to type-3 or type-4 incidents. Everyone is doing great. The call center is working beyond expectations and other places in the state are looking to replicate that. It hasn’t been a perfect response but we’re doing really well.”

Public Information Officer Andrew Sandstrom said his next priorities included finding a Spanish translator to help get the word out and figuring out ways to communicate with the senior population that doesn’t necessarily use the internet as much as the younger population.

As for the idea that the team should disclose where those people who tested positive had interacted with the community, especially at large events, Reynolds said state and national health professionals advise that a more focused approach be used. “We are currently not sharing the whereabouts of positive cases,” she explained. “Based on CDC guidelines there is no benefit in screening folks that had minimal contact with a positive patient as we can’t understand the true extent of spread at large community gatherings. The long incubation period of around 9-10 days prior to showing symptoms doesn’t allow for screening every potential exposure. Instead, the state epidemiologists have recommended we reserve screening for those that have been in closest contact with a positive patient and recommend all others to practice social distancing and good hygiene. We are working to save resources for those that are highest risk so as not to overwhelm our health care facilities.”

“The community is really stepping up. We have a reputation to uphold in this community,” concluded Malcolm. “Everyone knows how well we did in the 1918 Spanish Flu situation and we want to have similar success today. This is a unique situation so give everyone some grace as we move forward.”

Screening Center – A screening center is open at the Health and Human Services parking lot from 10AM-2PM Monday-Friday. Please call the Call Center at (970) 641-7660 first so that we can reserve resources for vulnerable populations. The Crested Butte Community School parking lot will be set up as an alternative screening site ASAP.

If you have any symptoms, please stay home and do not venture into public spaces, Gunnison Valley Health, your primary care physician, or the screening site. Instead we ask that you call the Call Center, open seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. They will question callers to determine next steps. Before going to your doctor or the emergency room please call the Call Center at (970) 641-7660.



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