Reopening county hinges on citizens staying aware

A normal summer is not expected

By Mark Reaman

How quickly Gunnison County reopens really depends on the community. The loosening of restrictions meant to slow down the spread of COVID-19 began Monday, April 27, with more restrictions being loosened on May 1 and May 4. Using a phased approach, the county Public Health office plans to monitor what impact the relaxing of rules has on coronavirus cases.

Basically, the latest health order allows group gatherings up to 10 people; allows libraries to offer access to materials via curbside or delivery service; allows second homeowners to return to the area so long as they notify health officials first and isolate for seven days upon arrival; removes the requirement that residents who leave the county for less than 24 hours self-isolate for seven days; allows retail shops, salons, pet groomers, real estate showings and childcare locations to reopen May 1; and allows business offices to reopen May 4.

Restaurants and bars remain open for delivery or take-out only, and spas, fitness classes, workout centers and studios remain closed. Lodging facilities also remain closed.

For details go to the Gunnison County website.

“Whether we can move to phase 2 from phase 1 depends on a couple of things,” explained Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom. ”Because we still don’t have enough testing kits to test community-wide we will be monitoring the self-reporting data first, followed by testing results and then hospitalizations. The goal is to slowly open business back up but keep vigilant about social distancing and hygiene. If the numbers indicate a second surge, we will have to pull back and that’s not something anyone wants.”

Sandstrom said whether the next step takes place in four weeks or eight weeks depends on the health numbers. The worst result would be a major spike in cases and that could end up with tighter restrictions like those imposed on March 13 being reintroduced.

“Things definitely will be quicker if the community adheres to the protocols that we have seen work,” Sandstrom emphasized. “We still need to remain at least six feet apart even as the county allows group sizes to increase. We want local businesses to open up and create ideas on how they can remain safe within the rules that are in place to protect the community in general, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

Sandstrom said the county’s Incident Command Team has consistently said reopening won’t be like an on-and-off light switch but more like a dimmer that slowly gets turned up. “We understand this won’t be a normal summer and we are all upset about it but it’s what is happening all around the country. It’s a tough situation for sure.”

Sandstrom released a document Monday comparing Gunnison County restrictions to other counties in Colorado, including Eagle County, and he pointed out Gunnison is pretty close to the others. “No one in Colorado is ready to go back to the way it was and we are all watching how other places fare.”

Testing still an issue

As for tests, the county and Gunnison Valley Health are trying their best to obtain more. A recent shipment from the state raised the number of available test kits in Gunnison County to about 1,000. Sandstrom said that is still not enough to take a valid sample of the community in general.

“We are after all the tests we can find,” he said. “The goal now is to prioritize our testing. When we had very few tests we used them on emergency personnel and those who were showing major signs of the virus. Now we have enough where we can use them for places that are reopening along with tracing and tracking if we start to see another outbreak. For example, if someone working in a retail store gets sick, we would test them and if they were positive we would use tracing to contact the customers of the establishment. We would test them and track the virus. We are still not at the testing point we want, so we have to use [the tests] the best way we can.”

As for the bio-test the county signed up for that monitors wastewater treatment plants in the county to get an idea of community contamination, the test is being used but not yet producing valid data. “We are not getting information from that test that we can act on,” Sandstrom said. “They are still calibrating that test. We are continuing to do [the test] because it is not expensive and the hope is that down the line we will be able to get useful data. But that is not the case at the moment.”

The county’s latest public health order went into effect Monday, April 27 with more relaxing of restrictions allowed to begin Friday, May 1 and Monday, May 4. But the county is again emphasizing the need for the community to stay vigilant and socially distanced while reminding those most at-risk to stay home and away from people.

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