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COVID-19 Stories: Supporting our Students and Schools This Fall 

COVID-19 Stories: Supporting our Students and Schools This Fall 

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 Teach

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. 

Volunteer Online

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.

Tutor 

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. 

Contribute Financially

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.

Mesa County transitions to Protect Our Neighbors  with new Public Health Order

Mesa County transitions to Protect Our Neighbors with new Public Health Order

Mesa County was certified as one of the first counties in the state for the Protect Our Neighbors phase of reopening. This week the Mesa County Board of Public Health approved Public Health Order 2020-04, Protect Our Neighbors

This public health order builds upon Mesa County’s phased, gradual approach to reopening that has been successful so far. Major changes include:

  • Limits occupants to 50% of the facility’s normal capacity or 500 people, whichever is less.
  • Capacity limits may increase by 5% every month as long as key metrics are maintained. Increases in capacity do not happen automatically.
  • A larger number of people are allowed to be in an indoor space, but social distancing is still required. 

What about face coverings?

Face coverings are still required while entering/exiting or moving throughout a public indoor space, but the new order clarifies some instances where a face covering may be removed including; while exercising indoors, while seated at an establishment or place of worship, and while alone in an office or cubicle space as long as safe distancing (at least 6 feet) practices are being applied. All community members are strongly encouraged to read the entire public health order and outlined guidelines.

How will I know what capacity limits are allowed and our current status?

MCPH is closely monitoring all eight data points that are required under the Protect Our Neighbors certification including PPE supplies, hospital bed capacity, ability to do case investigation and contact tracing and more. The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) will also be ensuring compliance in the areas of incidence rate, COVID hospitalizations, and percent positivity.

Comminity members can see the status of these key measures on the MCPH website. A new section and dashboard provide an easy-to-understand view of the key measures and best practices required in this phase. The page also shows the current capacity limits, as well as an estimate of when the next possible capacity increase may occur. Increases in capacity do not happen automatically, so regularly checking this website will be the best way for business owners and community members to stay informed.

How frequently can capacity limits change?

As long as all metrics are met, increases can occur every four weeks. They can also be paused if mitigation strategies are needed. If after that pause and consultation with the state health department, further action is necessary, it is possible that more strict requirements could be put in place.

What can members of our community do to help?

Mesa County Public Health continues to stress the importance of individual actions to ensure we are able to appropriately respond to cases of COVID-19 in our community. Continue to meet social distancing requirements and take actions to slow the spread of illness such as staying home if you’re sick, wearing a face covering over the nose and mouth when physical distancing is not possible, washing hands often, and getting tested if symptoms appear or if you are in a situation where you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Testing is available for free to all residents of Mesa County. The turnaround time for results is usually within 48 hours. More information on COVID-19 testing can be found here.

COVID-19 Stories: Supporting our Students and Schools This Fall 

COVID-19 Stories: Lending a Helping Hand 

Mesa County is a community of doers, helpers, and fixers. Many of you have joined our volunteer team to answer phones and staff our COVID-19 testing site, and for that we are grateful!  Many others have demonstrated support for our community through your willingness to wear masks, to limit or avoid travel, and through the simple act of staying home if you are feeling unwell. Thank you for doing your part and coming alongside us in a time of need. It has made a difference, and as a result we were recently approved to enter the Protect Our Neighbors phase of reopening

Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) has received so much support from the community, yet generous local residents continue to ask how else they can help, what else they can give, to assist our community during the pandemic. If you’d like to lend a helping hand, here are a few ideas to consider:

Volunteer: If you are passionate about an issue, chances are there’s an organization dedicated to the same issue that would benefit from your time. Consider our community’s nonprofits (Western Colorado 211 is a great place to do some research), then reach out to one that appeals to you to find out how you can be helpful. Many of the typical volunteer duties have changed due to the implementation of safe social distancing, so check in through a phone call or an email before you show up. MCPH has also been putting volunteers to work – If you’re interested in helping our team, please call 970-248-6900 to get connected.

Donate Financially: As revenues have decreased so have many organizations’ bottom lines, which has forced some nonprofits to make tough choices. If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to support your favorite organizations financially, do so! Your contribution will help ensure important local services and supports continue. 

Donate Resources: Many organizations count on donated items to help the populations they serve, whether it be homeless individuals, youth, children in foster care, or older adults. Items like canned goods, coats, socks, laptops and bicycles can be a huge blessing. Again, reach out to a nonprofit whose mission you feel passionate about and inquire what items they need before you donate. Consider organizing a collection drive to make a bigger impact if you’re able.  

Donate Blood: Blood donations are always needed because blood has a limited shelf life. St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center encourages donors to call 970-298-2555 or visit their online scheduling site to make an appointment for a local blood donation. 

If you would like to donate blood plasma to help COVID-19 patients recover through convalescent plasma treatment, you must have had a confirmed positive test for coronavirus and be fully recovered.  Contact 303.813.5230 or email convalescentplasma@sclhealth.org to be screened for eligibility.

Offer Food Assistance: With employment and school disruptions related to the pandemic, food insecurity has followed. Many individuals and families who were able to meet their needs in the past are struggling, and those who have experienced hunger previously may be having an even more difficult time now.  If you think a neighbor or acquaintance might not have enough to eat, delivering a meal (home-cooked or not!) or an anonymous grocery gift card may be more impactful than you could ever know. Western Colorado 211 updates their list of local food assistance opportunities regularly – you can find it here

Support Mental Health: The stress and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 has had an impact on the mental health and wellbeing of many Mesa County residents. Mind Springs Health, in addition to their regular behavioral health services, offers Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to help equip community members with the tools to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis and the skills to respond. If you are interested in completing a MHFA training, check out the calendar here. Courses to help support both adults and youth are offered free of charge multiple times throughout the year. 

Maintain Vigilance: There are many ways to lend a hand, and we hope these ideas have helped you consider how your time, talents, and resources may best be put to use. However you choose to do your part, we ask that you not lose sight of the critical effectiveness of the simple, everyday actions that have gotten us to the Protect our Neighbors stage: Keep your distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Thanks for being in this with us. We are grateful to serve a community of incredible people who give back in meaningful ways every day!

Air Quality Advisory Extended Due to Wildfire Smoke

Air Quality Advisory Extended Due to Wildfire Smoke

This advisory has been extended through Friday, September 18 at 10 a.m. due to out-of-state wildfire smoke.

Air quality levels are currently orange, or unhealthy for sensitive groups including people with heart or lung disease, older adults and young children. If visibility is less than five miles due to smoke, the smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy. 

 

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Previously Released:

Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) has issued an Air Quality Advisory through Thursday, September 17 at 10 a.m. Hazy conditions are expected due to smoke from out-of-state wildfires. Air quality levels are currently moderate, or unhealthy for sensitive groups.

When air quality is in the moderate, or yellow, range there’s an increased risk for people in sensitive groups, including people with heart or lung disease, older adults and young children. If visibility is less than five miles due to smoke, the smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.

Residents are advised to take the following precautions to stay healthy:

  • Avoid heavy outdoor exertion such as running or other forms of exercise.
  • Keep your indoor air clean and stay inside as much as possible.
  • Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. You want to keep your indoor air as clean as possible.
    • Do not vacuum. It stirs up dust in your home.
    • Do not smoke tobacco in your home.
    • Do not burn candles, fireplaces or gas stoves.
  • Contact your health care provider if you’re concerned about your health.

Open burning of any kind, including agricultural burns, is not allowed when a Red Flag or other weather warnings or alerts are in place.  Mesa County remains under Stage 2 Fire restrictions which prohibit all types of burning, including agricultural burns without a special permit from the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.

For more information on air quality conditions and alerts, including real-time readings through a community-sourced monitoring system called Purple Air, visit health.mesacounty.us.  

COVID-19 Stories: Supporting our Students and Schools This Fall 

COVID-19 Stories: Prioritizing Mental Health in the Pandemic

Declining mental health during COVID-19

There’s been an overall feeling of ‘blah’ or ‘meh’ lately. Have you felt it? Anecdotally, we have heard that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a general decrease in people’s emotional well-being and mental health. A new statewide poll conducted by The Colorado Health Foundation backs up these observations with statistics. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they have “experienced increased mental health strain, such as anxiety, loneliness or stress” in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The numbers mean that one in every two people have had mental health strain correlated to the pandemic. Mental health providers, however, are concerned that people are “suffering in silence.”

Locally, our mental health partners have reported a decline in outpatient therapy. In a recent Business Times article Michelle Hoy, executive vice president of Mind Springs Health, noted a 50 percent reduction in outpatient mental health therapy services started at Mind Springs: “Anecdotally we hear—and most of the data confirms— that most Americans are feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed and unwell emotionally, and yet we have fewer people starting treatment than usual.”

Loss of health insurance

COVID-19’s impacts on the economy could be a reason for the decline in mental health treatment. More often than not, loss of a job translates to the loss of health benefits, which often results in healthcare needs being put on the back burner – including mental health needs.

According to a Kaiser Health News (KHN) poll, “3 in 10 adults have had trouble paying household expenses, with 13% expressing difficulty paying for food and 11% paying medical bills. Nearly 1 in 4 adults said they or a family member in the next year will turn to Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance for low-income residents.” 

One respondent in the Colorado Health Foundation poll stated the most important issue facing Colorado right now is the interconnectedness of “coronavirus and employment. Most people have lost their jobs and single parents who are now at home with kids learning from home without employment benefits. It’s a problem.”

Local providers are ready

“It’s heartbreaking,” Felicia Romero, the crisis response operations manager at Mind Springs Health, said. “We have capacity at Mind Springs and we will not turn anyone away regardless of their ability to pay. In fact, we have a sliding scale fee and we will also help them get set up on Medicaid or Colorado’s health insurance exchange.”

Mind Springs has gone to great lengths to help Western Coloradans. During the height of the pandemic they negotiated a short-term deal with Verizon Wireless to provide cell phones with data plans to patients with the most immediate mental health needs, so telehealth visits could take place over Zoom. 

Felicia encourages anyone who is in need of care to come in. “Our offices are clean and safe, we will work with you on payment, your mental health comes first. Please do not suffer in silence.” 

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis you can call Colorado Crisis Services at 844.493.8255 or text TALK to 38255. Contact Mind Springs Health at 970.241.6023 if you would like to set up mental health counseling sessions either in person or virtually.