Optimism but caution expressed by county officials over COVID-19

Another local dies from virus. Senior center impacted

By Mark Reaman and Katherine Nettles

County officials are expressing some optimism that the spread of the COVID-19 has slowed down in Gunnison County. But that is not without continued concern and instructions to not let your guard down as another county resident succumbed to the coronavirus and was taken off a ventilator Tuesday morning in Grand Junction and died, while three residents of the Gunnison Valley Health Senior Care Center were found to have tested positive for the virus.

Gunnison County’s Department of Health and Human Services announced on Tuesday, April 7 its second death from the coronavirus (COVID-19).

 “These are trying times,” said Gunnison County director of public health Joni Reynolds. “We offer our deepest condolences to family and friends. We continue to fight this pandemic in our community.”

Long-time valley resident Bob Teitler had tested positive and was transferred out of the county and placed on a ventilator at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. According to several posts on social media, he was taken off the ventilator Tuesday morning. He was the father of two sons and a daughter.

He is the second local to die from the virus. Mikey Larsen passed away in his home in Crested Butte from complications of the virus about three weeks ago.

Meanwhile county officials announced this week that two residents who live in the senior center and are currently at the hospital have tested positive for the coronavirus. There was a death from the senior care center over the weekend, but the test came back negative. There is one more resident that is still at the senior center who tested positive but Gunnison county public information officer Andrew Sandstrom reported that, “all are doing surprisingly well.”

“Having infected patients in the senior center has been a huge concern over the course of this event,” explained Sandstrom. “There were stringent measures being taken at the senior care center and those measures are being stepped up further.”

The county update on Monday put out some positive news. “We have come together as a community and we have seen the positive impacts of our adherence to the strict Public Health Orders. Thus far, we have been able to manage the impacts on the hospital. Although some data shows that we might be past our initial surge on the hospital, we cannot relax restrictions now.”

Last week Reynolds told the Gunnison County commissioners that she thinks, “we are 10 percent along on this journey.” She explained that this doesn’t mean the journey is limited to the so-called  ‘drop the hammer phase,’ in which patient numbers are peaking and there are strict public health orders in place. “But overall, including the stage where we get vaccines…I think we have many weeks ahead.” She also predicted there could be a second wave of the virus in the fall and that officials should prepare to manage the situation using a longer timeline.

The county feels testing is an extremely important step in getting past the coronavirus crisis and two efforts are currently underway here. Gunnison Valley Health is helping to conduct a validation study for a California company developing a home collection kit for COVID-19 that will test for antibodies. Tina Wilson of GVH said she has signed up 50 local residents who have been tested already for the coronavirus but they are trying to collect specimens from everyone that has been tested.

In a broader testing effort that is just beginning, wastewater is being monitored. “While the local wastewater plants have begun collecting samples, we don’t yet have any results,” said Sandstrom. “We are working with the testing company and the wastewater facilities. There is some concern about accuracy of any results we get based on the massive fluctuations of water through the plants with the spring runoff.”

As of early this week, 95 county residents have tested positive for the virus, 164 have tested negative and 20 tests are pending. As for self-reporting, 711 people have called in to reports symptoms. Of those, 282 have reported the symptoms have resolved. Since March 18, 13 people have been transferred out of the county to hospitals with ICU capability.

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