Dramatic daily increases in COVID-19 case counts have resulted in Mesa County moving down one level on the State of Colorado’s COVID-19 dial. Mesa County is now in the cautious, or blue, level. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Governor’s office require this action based on the state’s dial framework, which considers the number of cases in a two-week period, percent positivity, and hospitalizations, all of which are trending upward. A new public health order has been approved by the Mesa County Board of Public Health.
“Mesa County’s positive cases have significantly increased over the past month. Most of this is due to informal gatherings between friends and family, and people showing up at work and other places while sick, in some instances resulting in sizable outbreaks,” Jeff Kuhr, Mesa County Public Health Executive Director, said. Each member of our community can help reduce transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. “Avoid crowds, confined spaces, and close contact,” Kuhr added.
The new level designation has stricter requirements and will be in effect for a minimum of two weeks. If case counts return to levels allowed under Protect our Neighbors, Mesa County is eligible to return to that level without reapplying. Under the cautious (blue) level capacity limits remain at 50% for most sectors; group sizes are reduced to a maximum of 175. Full guidance by industry can be found on the MCPH website.
“It is imperative that we remain diligent in our efforts to help protect each other from the ongoing public health pandemic,” said Chris Thomas, President and CEO for Community Hospital. Hospital capacity is constantly monitored by Mesa County Public Health, and while not currently strained, there has been an increase in more severe illness.
“We have seen a tremendous uptick in COVID hospitalizations, which is very concerning. We continue to work closely with the other hospitals and Mesa County Public Health as we remain ready to respond to COVID surges. Currently our supplies are sufficient but if the present trajectory continues, our ability to adequately respond could be compromised. With flu season upon us, we absolutely need to continue to practice social distancing, handwashing and wearing masks. We urge all residents to receive a flu vaccine if they haven’t already done so. We know we can navigate this successfully but it is going to take everyone doing their part. We simply cannot afford to let our guard down,” added Thomas.
A Community Effort
As part of the certification process for Protect Our Neighbors, MCPH proved to the State that strong community partnerships are in place. These partnerships are essential to our community’s ability to respond to COVID-19. Shifts on the dial have implications across all sectors of our community and economy, and we have engaged key stakeholders to ensure the new level is understood and implemented. Our partners acknowledge it’s what our community needs right now.
“Good health for all residents of Mesa County is a top priority,” said Scott McInnis, Chairman of the Board of Mesa County Commissioners. “We care about you and your well-being and know these are challenging times. Two steps forward and one step back is still moving in the right direction,” McInnis added, urging residents to not see the move as anything other than motivation to put Mesa County back on track.
The shift on the dial also includes an approved variance for businesses that have received a 5-star rating under the Variance Protection Program. The program, launched in collaboration with the Grand Junction Area of Chamber of Commerce, is an initiative to feature local business efforts to implement safe practices related to COVID-19.
“The program has shown additional value beyond the original vision of assisting businesses to market to cautious consumers and reassure employees that best health and safety procedures are being followed,” said Diane Schwenke, President and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “State recognition of the program is also rewarding these businesses with additional freedoms that were allowed under our previous variance. This is a huge incentive for businesses to do the right thing.”
Businesses interested in the Variance Protection Program can fill out a form on the Mesa County Public Health website.
Fall is prime time on the Western Slope, with temperatures perfect for dining outdoors, hiking in the desert, and taking in the colors on the Grand Mesa. However, as the weather cools, many are thinking ahead to winter and wondering whether more inside time will affect how we approach protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a brief with the most up-to-date information on airborne transmission of COVID-19. In public health, the term “airborne transmission” is usually reserved to describe infectious particles, like measles virus, that are able to stay in the air for longer periods of time and over greater distances.
Since COVID-19 is a new virus, we’re still learning about how it behaves. However, COVID-19 appears to be primarily spread through respiratory droplets – small amounts of moisture exhaled into the air when we breathe, speak, sing, cough, or sneeze – that carry the infectious virus and quickly fall out of the air. This is why we are advised to stay at least six feet apart whenever possible, since close contact is defined as being within six feet of an infected person for fifteen minutes or more.
As the days get shorter and we spend less time outside, however, it’s important to be aware of the circumstances when airborne transmission of COVID-19 is most likely to occur. According to the CDC, these include:
- Prolonged exposure to an area where there has been some kind of exertion, such as shouting, singing, or exercise, that increased the concentration of respiratory droplets;
- Settings with inadequate ventilation that allowed infectious particles to build up in the air; and
- Enclosed spaces where susceptible people have either been exposed directly to an infectious person or where the infectious person has recently spent time.
The good news is that in most situations, the everyday precautions you’ve been hearing about for the past six months, like wearing a cloth face covering, washing your hands, and maintaining at least six feet between people not in the same household, are also likely to be sufficient to protect against airborne transmission. Taking steps to improve ventilation, such as opening doors and windows and using freestanding air filters, can also help. Additional information about how to protect yourself from airborne transmission of COVID-19 can be found here.
When people are in tighter quarters for longer periods of time, as we often are during the winter months, COVID-19 spreads more easily. Cold weather and early nightfall are right around the corner. If you’ve been lax about wearing a mask or keeping space between each other over the summer, now is the time to start being consistent in following those precautions to keep yourself, your friends and family, and our community healthy.
The Community Sampling Site for COVID-19 testing, located at the Mesa County Fairgrounds, is operating with temporarily modified hours through Saturday, October 10.
Free, drive-up testing is available without an appointment at the Fairgrounds grandstand area during the following times:
- Monday 10/5 – Wednesday 10/7: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- Thursday 10/8 and Friday 10/9: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Testing will not be available on Saturday, 10/3; Saturday, 10/10; or Monday, 10/12. Regular operations will resume on Tuesday, October 13:
- Tuesday – Saturday, 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. (except holidays)
Individuals who have been around someone with COVID-19 should be tested, even those who are not experiencing symptoms. Testing is free for Mesa County residents and health insurance is not required. Although no appointment is necessary, pre-registration will speed up the process once you arrive. Register online at the Mako Medical website.
Results are processed through Mako Medical. Current turnaround time is typically two to four days, from the time the sample is received at the lab. Additional testing information is available on the Mesa County Public Health website.
As the season changes and weather begins to cool, we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases in Mesa County. We’re working hard to reverse this course with your help, but it’s not the only trend we want to buck. Public shaming has taken center stage during the pandemic, and our community is not immune.
At Mesa County Public Health, it’s our job to keep you informed of the latest statewide COVID-19 guidance, establish local public health orders, and work with you to keep Mesa County healthy. We trust that each resident will be responsible with the information at their disposal to keep themselves and others safe and healthy as well.
As health guidance such as social distancing, mask wearing, and restricted traveling are widely promoted across the nation, opinions vary both in favor and opposed. However, when those opinions become weapons to bully others in the form of shaming, our community is harmed.
The latest trend has been dubbed “COVID Shaming.” Once someone has received the dreaded news that they are COVID-19 positive, many people feel detached— perhaps no longer being invited to small social gatherings, unable to participate in sports, and relegated to a separate room in the house. Social media, however, takes it a step further, allowing users to publicly criticize and humiliate others for decisions made, opinions held, and actions taken that, in the context of a COVID-19 diagnosis, are viewed by some as condemnable.
Everything we currently know about the virus tells us that once the symptoms have passed and the prescribed quarantine is over, the person who fell ill can re-enter normal, everyday activities without getting someone else sick.
Mask shaming is also rampant, sometimes even rising to the level of bullying – both online and in person. Coloradans are required to wear masks in public per the Governor’s executive order, and there’s sound science behind it. Some individuals are unable to wear one for health reasons, others err on the safe side and wear a mask even in situations where they’re not required. Jumping to conclusions or judgment about why someone is or is not wearing a mask is unlikely to have any useful outcome.
Shaming and bullying divide our community, and increase conflict and animosity in a time when tensions are already running high. COVID-19 has caused strain, but so do shaming and bullying. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Let’s start right here in Mesa County and buck the COVID-shaming trend.
Just about every day, we are witnessing schools around the country pivot, stretch, and change the way they operate in response to COVID-19. Schools and school districts, including in Mesa County, are under immense pressure to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak while educating our children this fall and combating the effects of the spring pandemic slide. It’s a big lift to say the least, but community support and volunteer manpower (though not in the ways you may traditionally think about it) can help alleviate the impacts.
In School District 51, some educators have chosen to teach online, and many more families than anticipated have embraced the remote learning option. When District 51 surveyed parents and guardians in July, 5% indicated they would enroll their students in remote learning. Now that school has started, somewhere around 14% of students have opted for online learning . This new dynamic has left District 51, like other districts across the nation, in uncharted waters as they move quickly to reassign teachers, mobilize substitutes, and adapt once again.
Children’s education is foundational to their success as adults. According to Public School Review, third grade reading levels correlate with high school graduation rates. After third grade, students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” and if they cannot comprehend the content, learning can be much more difficult. When this is the case, extra efforts to help kids get on track are essential to their long-term success.
While we know our schools and teachers are doing the best they can, we also know that our children’s education is affected by all of the changes COVID-19 has brought to our lives. Community support – from parents, retired people, college students, and others – always has an impact on student success. Although current health and safety considerations may change what that support looks like, the challenges of COVID-19 make it more critical than ever.
Here are some ideas for how you can jump in and make a difference in short order. If you can’t help out, consider passing this on to a friend or family member who might be able to:
Substitute teachers are always in demand, but according to District 51 spokesperson Catherine Foster-Gruber, “We need substitutes now more than ever to ensure that there are no learning disruptions if a teacher falls ill.” The qualifications and application process are listed online here. Background checks are required.
While in-person volunteer opportunities are limited in our public schools, there is still a need for volunteers. District 51 has made changes because of this reality and is now assigning online volunteers to help with tutoring, reading, and storytelling. To sign up or learn more, contact April Hart with District 51’s Volunteer Office. She can be reached at April.Hart@d51schools.org or 970-254-5114 ext. 11112. If you’d like to volunteer outside of District 51, contact the school or school district you are interested in to inquire about volunteer opportunities.
The Riverside Educational Center (REC) is a nonprofit organization providing after school tutoring and enrichment programs to K-12 students in District 51. At the onset of COVID-19, they pivoted quickly to offer online options to their students through remote tutoring, homework help, and enrichment videos delivered to students’ homes. Today, they are back to in-person tutoring and after school programs in ten schools across the valley, serving up to 50 students at each location.
According to Joy Hudak, REC’s executive director, “We have several positions available and would love to have anyone familiar with our mission and interested in helping our efforts apply.” To learn more about REC’s mission and inquire about available tutoring positions, visit their website. REC is also currently enrolling students who need additional support. If you know of a student who could benefit from tutoring, homework help, or enrichment activities, contact REC at 970-462-2901.
Schools and youth-serving organizations appreciate – and count on – financial contributions. Consider giving to the District 51 Foundation, REC, or another local organization that supports young people in our community.