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RBC | Local COVID-19 case counts are changing quickly, and not in the right direction. The number of positive cases has tripled in the last two weeks, putting the county in “mitigation” status to attempt to preserve its Protect Our Neighbor status.
As of press time Wednesday there are outbreaks of the virus — defined as two or more individuals at a business or organization who have tested positive — in multiple locations, including the Walbridge Wing and the Meeker Rec District. There has been one case in the jail. Several businesses have had to close, not because of a government shutdown but because staff are ill or quarantined, and more closures are expected
On Tuesday, Governor Jared Polis announced an additional level to the dial, one step beyond the red “Stay at Home” status. Multiple counties, including Mesa, were moved back to the red zone, and others, including Moffat, were moved to the orange level. The levels mean additional restrictions come back into place, such as no in-person dining and limiting group gatherings. According to Public Health Director Alice Harvey in a Board of Health meeting that was rescheduled from Thursday last week for Tuesday in Rangely, the county’s overall positivity rate has increased to 11%, and symptomatic individuals given the new rapid tests (made available Monday) are testing positive at 37%.
Harvey asked the Board of Health for permission to use remaining CARES Act funds to hire an additional nurse to help take care of the increasing caseload and contact tracing.
“Without a change in behavior from the community I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to guarantee public safety, in-person learning, and businesses remaining open,” she said, adding that she would be recommending a return to hybrid learning or 100% online learning for the Meeker School District based on new positive cases Tuesday. Wednesday morning, MSD Superintendent Chris Selle announced a transition to hybrid learning (see Page 2A).
“I suggest strong action and messaging from county leadership in support of mask wearing, compliance with public health recommendations which means limited gatherings, minimizing social activity and support of these new metrics and recommendations that are coming down,” Harvey said.
“If we don’t do something different in terms of compliance with these recommendations there will be things that are out of my control.”
The state has asked all counties to voluntarily move into the new red level to prevent a statewide shutdown, which appears imminent by the end of the year if current trends don’t change. The recommendations are the same as the ones we saw in the spring.
“If we choose not to move into that, which is entirely the choice of the board, we would be forced by Nov. 24 into a new level. That means, despite any action the county takes, it won’t be the choice of a business to comply or not comply. This is much more serious this time.”
When the meeting was opened for questions, Rangely Town Manager Lisa Piering asked that Emergency Manager Ty Gates be brought back into the process, as Rangely’s ICS [Incident Command System] meetings have not had county representation which has hindered the flow of information. Harvey agreed and said that is in process.
With a “room full of people” wanting to comment, the board heard from business owners and residents Brad Casto, Frank Huitt, Rodger Polley, Joy Clymer and Mona Avey who shared their objections to additional restrictions, government control, mask mandates, dangers to the economy, and to an electronic sign placed just west of Meeker alerting hunters that the county is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 and that they should take precautions while here.
The board also heard from Dr. Kurt Papenfus (see Page 5A) who is currently recovering from COVID-19 in Cheyenne Wells, Dr. Albert Krueger from Pioneers Medical Center and a Board of Health member, attorney Hanna Borchard and resident Amberly Petty in support of recommendations to protect healthcare workers and hospital capacity, and urging precautions be taken in order to avoid losing control of the situation.
“I’d like to appeal to our population to understand that the personal protection of masks and social distancing will buy us some time,” Krueger said. “We don’t want to have a situation where we have no place to go with critically ill patients.”
Ty Gates, speaking as the emergency manager and responding to the question about the ICS, said he was told over the weekend it was decided the county was setting up a task force and he was not included.
“We’ve been reserving ICS for a time like this,” Harvey said. “We’ve been working this entire time with stakeholders.”
Commissioners Rector and Moyer said they feel the board needs to find balance that fits the local community and the economy. Woodruff said he felt the board needed to listen to Harvey’s recommendations and asked that all three commissioners be included in questions.
Rector said the board would discuss possible actions regarding restrictions and recommendations, and all three commissioners agreed to help Public Health get the staffing and support they need. The decision to use some of the CARES money for staffing at public health will require a vote of the Board of County Commissioners next week.
At this point, numbers are changing so rapidly Public Health is having a hard time keeping their website updated with case counts and information, and the state’s COVID page has a 24-72 hour lag. “When we’re seeing a volume like we are now, our priority is case counts, contact tracing, and notifications. Data entry will be delayed,” Harvey said.
As of Wednesday, RBC has had 90 total cases since April.
By NIKI TURNER | firstname.lastname@example.org