As schools resume, COVID numbers trend in right direction

Ready to make adjustments if needed

by Mark Reaman

The next test in the county’s constant COVID-19 challenge is to see what happens as schools—both Western Colorado University and the Gunnison Watershed School District K-12 classes—start up again. WCU orientation began last week with students flocking to campus this week. Local elementary and high school students hit the classrooms starting next Wednesday, August 26.

Coronavirus case numbers appear to be on the decline throughout the county after a spike in July but the idea of kids and young adults congregating together as classes begin has public health officials staying aware.

Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom said the Incident Command Team was very pleased with the latest coronavirus test results. As numbers climbed in July, the warning went out to the community; the community responded beautifully, said Sandstrom.

“When we saw numbers going up we sounded the alarm with the Coronameter and people responded. The numbers went down and have stayed down to this point. Public Health director Joni Reynolds called it ‘a beautiful epidemic curve’ and the community deserves a lot of credit,” Sandstrom said. “COVID is still with us but it took a great community response to bend the curve in the right direction.”

He admitted that on the heels of the good news is the school situation, which is being watched carefully. “There are lots of preventative measures in place so it is as safe as possible for both the local schools and the university,” Sandstrom said. “We are hopeful that the plans in place keep us in a good spot but we are ready to make adjustments if needed.”

Gunnison Valley Health is coordinating with Western to have a testing site on campus. An app used by GVH personnel is being offered to students and faculty to help monitor their health conditions. The app asks them to fill out a daily awareness survey to gauge symptoms and take appropriate action if necessary.

Overall for the county, Sandstrom said test results from the state are being returned much quicker than a month ago. Instead of taking a week to 10 days, most results are now coming back in two or three days at most.

“The positivity rate is doing really well and going in the right direction,” Sandstrom added. “Right now we have about a 7 percent rate of positives from all the tests that are given. At its peak on July 28 the positivity rate was almost 23 percent, which was very concerning. We are seeing a good trend right now.”

Sandstrom said the county was doing spot surveys of people wearing masks; in Gunnison last week at three locations over six dates the mask wearing percentage was at 88.8 percent. In Crested Butte at three locations over four dates, the mask wearing rate was at 91.2 percent. “We are all generally very pleased with that rate of masking up,” he said. “It is similar to some Front Range numbers.”

So while school starting is the next challenge, generally, at this point, public health officials are smiling. “We are doing pretty well,” Sandstrom said. “The middle of July was a bit disheartening but the community turned the tide in a positive direction. Now we need to keep it up with social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands. That way we can keep the kids in school and get the ski lifts turning for the winter.”

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