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 firstname.lastname@example.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!
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.
It’s no secret that our healthcare routines have been impacted because of COVID-19. During the stay at home order this spring, elective surgeries were canceled to ensure space at hospitals and preserve scarce personal protective equipment (PPE). During the early days of the pandemic, in-person visits like dentist appointments, preventive screenings, well child visits, and immunizations were also delayed. As our variance in Mesa County continues to allow for more activities, including in-person learning, group sports, and business reopenings, we want to highlight the importance of prioritizing your health care, especially immunizations for you and your family as we approach flu season.
A recent poll conducted by KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) found “more than half (54%) of US women reported they or a family member have skipped or postponed medical care due to the coronavirus outbreak.” A survey completed by Good Rx found that “three out of four Americans have had to adjust their healthcare use due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” including canceling or postponing a visit with a doctor.
As your local public health agency, immunizations are an essential part of the Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) mission. Although COVID-19 vaccinations are not yet available, we do have the ability to immunize against other preventable diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, HPV and the flu.
Colorado is ranked one of the lowest in the nation for student vaccination rates. Recognizing the important role immunization plays in preventing disease for people of all ages, Colorado’s legislature passed Senate Bill 163 last spring to tighten the parameters around how childhood immunization exemptions are granted. The bill also created a vaccine-protection standard that sets a statewide immunization goal of 95% of each school’s student population.
As we transition into fall, flu season is right around the corner, with flu cases typically beginning to increase during October. Vaccinating Mesa County residents against the influenza virus is a top priority for us, especially this year as we work to keep hospital beds open and available for any COVID-19 patients who may need a high level of care.
COVID-19 has given us an intimate experience with the unfortunate consequences of a pandemic, including outbreaks. Until a vaccine exists, everyday precautions like wearing a face covering, maintaining a safe distance of at least 6 feet, and handwashing are our best defenses against COVID-19. However, we encourage you to stay up-to-date on the many immunizations that are available, to keep yourself, your family, and your community healthy.
Flu vaccines are available now at MCPH and some area pharmacies and health care offices. The MCPH clinic is open Monday – Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon. Call 970-248-6900 to make an appointment.; walk-ins are also welcome. MCPH will also offer two drive-through flu vaccination clinics, on October 17 and 24, at the Mesa County Fairgrounds. Pre-registration is required; additional details will be available at health.mesacounty.us in late September.
You’ve likely heard the phrase, “Doing My Part,” during Colorado’s fight against COVID-19. It has even resulted in some popular hashtags, #DoingMyPart and #DoingMyPartCO, and we want you to embrace it, because it’s important. As individuals we must each do what is within our power to minimize the impacts of COVID-19.
A recent contact investigation resulted in 50 school-aged children having to quarantine, after an individual who was still infectious attended activities at a day camp. Because of that avoidable exposure, people had to take time away from work, their personal health was put at risk, and the day camp’s ability to operate as usual was negatively impacted.
Fast forward to today. Kids are back in school, and we want them to be able to continue to be there. School is crucial not only because of the education and other support it provides for our children, but also because it serves as a backbone support structure for our economy. When children are at school, parents and caregivers can go to work and employers have a consistent workforce. It’s a win-win.
However, if a child is sick, they should not attend school in person. When a child with COVID-19 symptoms heads to school, they potentially expose many people in the course of the school day. Anyone who has been in close contact with an infected person – defined as being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes – must quarantine at home for 14 days.
Exposure results in quarantine, and quarantine is hard on parents, children, and the educators our community relies on to show up for students every day.
We encourage parents, caregivers and students to honestly fill out the school symptom trackers daily and stay home when indicated, so that our schools can remain open and our community can continue to move forward. Our educators and our children need each of us to do our part.
We can all do our part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Mesa County’s reopening and return to school and campus plans are well thought out, keep our community’s overall health as a top priority, and provide ways businesses can open safely, but they require individual responsibility from each of us to:
- Maintain 6 feet of social distance
- Cover nose and mouth in public (wear that mask!)
- Wash hands often (soap and water is best, but hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol works too).
- Stay home when sick
- Get tested if symptoms appear
If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, contact your healthcare provider, or Mesa County Public Health at 970-683-2300, to inquire about testing.
This post is solely dedicated to amplifying good news! Much of 2020 has been dominated by the pandemic and stories filled with bad or uncertain news. Today we focus on recent positive community developments – pass them on.
Colorado Mesa University is back
CMU has been a leader in Colorado, working tirelessly since March to get university students back to school and continue in-person learning. They’ve worked hand-in-hand with Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) to ensure proper health protocols are in place and COVID-19 testing is available and accurate prior to students’ arrival on campus. We know students are excited to be back, but see for yourself: Check out this fun video titled CMU is BACK.
School District 51 began in-person and online learning this week
This spring was tricky for so many families, here and across the nation, who found themselves working from home and helping their children with remote learning. District 51 has worked closely with MCPH to come up with a plan that accommodates both in-person and online learning, depending on each student’s and family’s needs, and our kids are back to school! We expect stops and starts as we continue to deal with the pandemic, possible exposures, and quarantines. However, the good news is our kids will continue learning, and accommodations have been made that allow for remote learning if and when any of these situations present themselves.
Our child care centers remain open
MCPH has been front and center during the pandemic to keep child care centers open and children and staff protected, so that working parents may continue to go to work and provide for their families. Three of our five Child Care 8,000 pilot sites received grant funding through Governor Polis’ Help Colorado Now recovery program, and we were able to provide microgrants to over 30 centers to help them continue providing support to our workforce.
Sales tax revenue is up
According to Robin Brown, Executive Director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership (GJEP), “Our June 2020 sales tax revenues are higher than June 2019 and we are only down 5 percent year-to-date from last year.” That’s great news because it means people are supporting our local economy through local purchases.
Airport traffic is recovering
Even without a summertime travel boost, travel through Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJRA) is recovering at almost twice the pace of traffic nationwide. According to Angela Padalecki, GJRA’s Executive Director, “Passenger traffic is back to 50% of 2019 levels.”
Mesa County’s variance is getting people back to work quicker
Because of our low positive rate and the protective measures we have in place, Mesa County has been granted a variance to the State of Colorado’s COVID-19 public health order that allows broader reopening of businesses and activities. Mesa County Workforce Center Director Curtis Englehart, drawing attention to this silver lining, says, “Our current unemployment numbers are better than the state and national average, and Mesa County is also at an 8-year high with our labor force numbers. We’re seeing more people relocating to Mesa County and recent college and high school graduates entering the workforce.” Our local economy is getting a local boost because the variance is supporting our workforce.
The real estate market is bouncing back
According to Bray Real Estate, 424 houses were sold in July, a 12% increase from last year, and the median price for homes has risen this year from $250,000 to $275,000. Additionally, their 2nd quarter commercial report notes the first and second quarter saw the highest number of commercial building permits since 2009.
Mesa County COVID numbers remain low
With a cumulative and 2-week positive rate that continues to hover around two percent, Mesa County still has one of the lowest COVID-19 rates of any metropolitan area. Hospitalizations remain low, also an indication that we are doing a good job protecting those in our community most at risk for severe outcomes due to COVID-19.
There are good things happening all around us if we look for them. As we continue to do our part to slow the spread, we’ll continue to look for these positive stories and pass them on. Good news is good for all of us to hear.
When school begins, symptom checking will become a necessary part of the daily routine. Mesa County Valley School District 51 will resume classes this fall starting on August 17, or on August 19 if you have a kindergartener. If you have chosen the in-person option for your children, a new habit of checking for and reporting symptoms will be a requirement before sending your kids off to school each day.
We understand that this task may sound daunting at first. In reality, it should be an easy, 60-second exercise that can be done over your morning cup of coffee. Why? Because District 51 has created a simple form, located on ParentVUE. If you have a smartphone, computer, or other device with internet access, the form can easily be bookmarked and completed as part of your morning routine.
Middle and high school students will have the ability to self-report straight from their cell phones or tablets, while elementary students will need an adult to ensure their symptoms are assessed and reported before their school day begins. Many schools have also hired additional COVID-19 health assistants to help with the daily symptom assessment on site when a student does not have access to Wi-Fi, smart phones, or tablets at home.
What symptoms will I be checking every day?
The app will ask you to check the box next to any of the following that apply, and keep track if any are getting worse:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Close, continuous contact with a person who has COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms (e.g. share a household)
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Fever of 100.4 or greater
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
If your child reports a cough, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea, or lives with someone who has tested positive or is awaiting a test result, he or she should stay home. Contact their doctor or Mesa County Public Health (MCPH) at 970-683-2300 for further instructions. Any student who reports two or more of the other symptoms listed should also stay home and contact their doctor or MCPH.
For students who must stay home, remote learning will be provided and is a great alternative to in-person school. Remote learning for temporarily quarantined students, although different from the 100% online program offered by School District 51, will ensure students don’t fall behind in their schoolwork while they recover or await test results.
Symptom checking is a healthy, daily habit for us all.
We all benefit from daily symptom checking. As you begin doing this for your children, we encourage you to begin doing it for yourself, as well. By adding a quick self-assessment to your daily routine before you go out, you will help keep friends, coworkers, and our community safer and healthier.
Click here to learn more about D51’s Safe Schools Reopening Plan.