CLOSURES, NUMBERS, PRECAUTIONS and MORE
The coronavirus—i.e. COVID-19—has been dominating the news for more than a week. This is a rapidly changing situation with more and more information and announcements being made all the time, so what follows reflects the situation as of Monday, March 16th .
After a meeting with area superintendents, principals, Meagan Hillman, Director of the Department of Health for Kiowa and Prowers County, recommended that school districts be closed for an additional two weeks following the week of spring break in an effort to combat the spread of the virus by limiting contact, a strategy known as “social distancing”. The school boards of the various districts will be meeting this week to decide whether or not to close along with discussing the logistics that would be involved with such a decision. More information will be made available as those individual meetings are held and subsequent decisions are made. Last week, Denver Public Schools along with a number of other districts throughout the state made the decision to remain closed for the additional two weeks following spring break.
It was also announced recently that all area school events, including sports games and practice, Knowledge Bowl, club meetings, prom and any statewide competitions, have been cancelled until April 6th.
It should be noted that day care centers are not included in school closures. Parents are encouraged to consider the Little Leaders Learning and Care Center as a way to keep their children active and engaged in educational activities while schools are not in session. The LLLCC is also now licensed and staffed to take children from infants to twelve years old and will be open their regular hours Monday to Friday from 6am to 6pm. Parents are advised to call LLLCC at 719-438-2005 ahead of time so that teachers can be prepared for new students.
The FSA office is also asking people who have symptoms typical of the COVID-19 virus to not come into the office in person but to communicate via telephone or via email instead.
At this point, churches in Kiowa County plan to continue to hold services. If that situation changes with any of the local churches, information will be made available.
Pastor Travis Walker of the Wiley and McClave United Methodist Church in Wiley has decided to suspend services. As he stated on his Facebook page, “Due to new information, along with guidance from our Mountain Sky Conference leadership and consultation with local church leadership, worship and all activities with Wiley and McClave United Methodist Churches will be suspended until April 1, 2020, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.” He went on to add, “From my heart, I am saddened that we will not be together, especially in a time of stress and anxiety. I firmly believe we are called to be in community together in the name of Christ. This is a decision that is not made lightly or easily. However, to protect our communities and give some space for our medical professionals, in this time period I believe this suspension is the right thing to do. As I shared yesterday, all of you matter deeply to me. It is difficult to put into words the love that I have for the congregations and communities that I am blessed to serve. Your safety and wellbeing are a top priority for me.”
In the interim, Pastor Walker will be utilizing the church’s sermon podcast “Southeast Colorado Reflections of Faith” to share sermons and uploading videos of the sermons to Facebook. Anyone interested should go to Travis Walker’s Facebook page for additional information.
Tom Davis with the Kiowa Health Mart in Eads says that “supply chains are fragile right now” but the pharmacy is conducting business as usual. In the interest of keeping people healthy and safe, he encourages anyone who is feeling “under the weather” or needs to have a prescription filled or refilled to call ahead so that their order can be brought to the curb to avoid having to come inside.
KCHD reports having a very small number of COVID-19 tests on hand but, due to the limited supply provided by the CDC at this time, are preserving them for patients who are presenting with more critical symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 infection. Keefe Memorial Hospital in Cheyenne Wells has the COVID-19 tests on hand, as well, but, like KCHD, has only received a limited number from the CDC.
KCHD currently has two rooms that will be used for isolating patients that test positive with the virus, as well as one ventilator on site. On Monday, KCHD leadership team also had a teleconference with other members of the Eastern Plains Health Care Consortium—a group of 9 critical access hospitals located on the Eastern Plains—to discuss sharing resources as this health care crisis progresses. Local hospitals in the consortium include Cheyenne Wells, Hugo and Burlington as well as other facilities further north.
On a state level, an additional announcement was made on Monday that has statewide impact. After the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee voted to refer an order, Colorado Governor Polis and the Colorado State Health Department issued a public health order closing all Colorado bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters and casinos. The order, which became effective immediately, allows restaurants to continue to offer delivery and takeout but no in-person dining. The order will last for at least 30 days. The decision was made after a series of statistics showed the spread of the disease in the state and the potential impacts on the state’s health care facilities.
“I’m very concerned about the health care systems up in the mountains, and I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the health care systems down on the Front Range,” states GEEERC member Dan Pastula with the Colorado Board of Health. “The health care system is starting to get stressed right now, and I think we should take this absolutely very seriously. Anything we can do to slow this down that’s reasonable I think we should consider.”
Based on the research modeling spread of the disease, Eric France, Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer, states, “Even a day’s delay can lead to much larger numbers of cases and deaths.”
When asked about closing many or all non-essential businesses, Polis stated, “That’s not something that I feel the GEEERC or I can consider at this point. We’re not going to decide on a whim, ‘oh, this is essential, and this isn’t’”. He went on to note that many businesses such as hardware stores may not seem essential at first but are vital to make home repairs.
Meanwhile, reports of the numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19 has increased by more than 300% in the past 5 days. As of Monday, 1216 people have been tested by the state. The number of tests that have been run may be greater than that as private labs running tests are not required to report to the state all testing done, just testing that was confirmed positive.
However, it’s confirmed that 160 people in Colorado have tested positive for COVID-19, ranking Colorado fifth in the nation for the number of people who have tested positive.
The following Colorado counties report positive cases: Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, Eagle, El Paso, Garfield, Gunnison, Jefferson, Mesa, Pitkin, Summit and Weld. Demographic breakdown on the 29 cases that were confirmed positive on Monday were not available at the time of this writing due to the state lab dealing with an overwhelming number of tests that have been submitted.
While cases continue to be found along the Front Range, at this time, the area of most concern is in the mountains where, as was stated in a CDPHE tele-press conference Monday afternoon, there is extensive “community spread”. Consequently, the governor ordered all ski areas to close down for this week with the potential for that closure to extend beyond that time. CDPHE also plans to conduct “map testing” in order to determine the extent and area of transmission with testing scheduled to be conducted in Telluride on Tuesday and Routt County later in the week. Over the weekend, the CDPHE also “strongly advises” all visitors and residents of Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison Counties to minimize social contact with other people.
On March 11th, Governor Polis declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19, which allowed him to access $3 million from the Disaster Emergency Fund to spend toward those efforts. Part of that $3 million was allocated for bringing an additional 50 nurses from the Freedom Health Care Staffing Company to Colorado. These nurses will initially staff testing sites and health care facilities.
Declaring a state of emergency also allowed him to call in the National Guard, who are already on duty arranging additional testing sites, providing health care assistance when and where as required while also advising on the logistics of providing testing and services across the state.
That same declaration also included directives by the governor to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to engage in emergency rulemaking to ensure workers in food handling, hospitality, child care, health care, and education can get paid sick leave to miss work if they exhibit flu-like symptoms and have to miss work awaiting testing results for COVID-19. Additional legislation is being passed at the federal level, and more information on that will be shared as it becomes available.
At this point, it bears repeating that the numbers of people in Colorado with COVID-19 was expected to increase as tests became more available and more testing was conducted. Nonetheless, testing is absolutely vital to determining where the virus is most prevalent for allocating resources where they are most needed as well as determining where else the virus may be spreading.
But the most important point, by far, is the crucial importance of observing the directives to practice “social distancing”. Is it disruptive to life as people are accustomed to living? Absolutely. Does it cause hardships, both personal and financial? Absolutely.
But the largest obstacle facing our communities, our state and our nation is the potential overwhelming of our health care facilities. There are a limited number of hospital beds that are available—a number that is already pressed by people suffering from the flu. There are also a limited number of ventilators for COVID-19 patients who are critically ill, and that resource is also strained by ventilators that are already in use. Social distancing helps to protect the more vulnerable among us from getting sick; it also serves as a speed bump in the spread of the virus which has proven to be extremely contagious.
As long as everyone is on “the same page” and working toward the same goal of getting through this crisis intact, there’s no need to panic or despair. As had been said many times in recent months, when we all work together and take care of each other, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. Together.
Additional information on government assistance and guidelines will be printed in next week’s edition of the Independent.