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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned everyday life into a stressful time for many across our community. Imagine what the pandemic must be like during the already stressful time of pregnancy, and imagine still the pressure of being a teenager, pregnant during the pandemic.
Expectant mothers are finding support through a community program called Nurse-Family Partnership, it’s run in Mesa County through Mesa County Public Health. An article published recently for the Colorado Trust titled, “Colorado Teens Pregnant During the Pandemic Face Increased Isolation and Difficult Decisions,” shares insight into the services offered through the program and features a local teen’s story:
Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Montgomery wants her boyfriend Jesse to be with her for their daughter’s birth in December. She would also really like her mother present for the labor and delivery. However, she’s allowed only one visitor under current hospital policies to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
“My mom is my best friend. I’ve always wanted her to be there to meet her grandbaby and support me,” said Montgomery. “It’s hard that she might not be able to.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has created additional strains and stresses for all pregnant people, teen parents face particular challenges to their mental and physical well-being, and that of their babies. Still children themselves, teenagers have needs that differ from older parents, and the pandemic has made their pregnancies even more challenging.
“One of the things we’ve heard from all of our moms—of any age—is fear around what delivery will look like at the hospital in [the] time of COVID,” said Amanda Jensen, program supervisor for the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) in Mesa County, a nonprofit that provides support to new mothers.
For pregnant teens, “frequently, their mother is their main support,” Jensen added. “It’s harder than any other age group. They typically want more people around them, involved with their childbirth. COVID-19 restrictions are hugely disappointing to them—it changes what that will look like.”
Montgomery is a NFP client who doesn’t drive and lives with her mother in Clifton, Colo., an unincorporated community near Grand Junction. To keep herself and the baby safe during the pandemic, she spends most of her time alone at the house, while her mom works and 19-year-old Jesse—who lives with his parents—holds down two jobs, one of which is in a restaurant.
Read the full article here
For more information about Nurse-Family Partnership click here.
Looking for resources during the pandemic? Check out this section of our website.
Since March, when the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Colorado, we have often reminded ourselves and each other that “we are all in this together.” As we conquered online grocery ordering, streaming meetings, stay-at-home orders, and homeschooling while finding ways to stay connected despite social distancing, the solidarity was comforting. It connected us and helped us carry on.
There was also comfort to be found in the fact that Mesa County had been spared the loss of life due to COVID-19 that so many communities have experienced, until now.
The first death of a Mesa County resident due to complications of COVID-19 occurred on July 21, a potent reminder that COVID-19 is in our community and it’s up to us to limit the spread by staying the course together. We can thoughtfully unite against COVID-19 by being supportive, careful, alert, and kind.
As our essential health care workers and community agencies work around the clock to respond to COVID-19’s effects in Mesa County, we have come to understand that the pandemic will require endurance. We are running a marathon and that demands ongoing support for each other. As we adjust our pace from a sprint to an endurance run, ask yourself: How can I help a neighbor, friend, family member or coworker? It could be something as simple as swinging by with a cup of coffee and donuts, popping a note of encouragement in the mail, or making a telephone call to let them know you are there for them. It’s not always obvious who is struggling, and small acts or words of encouragement may have monumental positive impacts.
Mesa County has seen a recent uptick in positive cases, especially among young adults, who tend to be at lower risk for hospitalization themselves but pose a high risk of unknowingly infecting someone else. It’s important to be mindful that if we do not consistently wear a mask, wash our hands, avoid touching our face, and stay at least 6 feet apart, we may also unintentionally infect someone who is more at risk. Our choices impact others in our community, and those most likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19 rely on the rest of us to help minimize the spread of the virus.
We need to be alert to the symptoms of COVID-19 and quickly take steps to slow the spread by isolating if we have been exposed or have symptoms. These include fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, body aches, sore throat, loss of taste, and loss of smell. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, or have been exposed, call your healthcare provider or the Mesa County Public Health hotline to be screened for testing: 970-683-2300.
This pandemic has impacted everyone, and in many different ways. Showing empathy and kindness to one another acknowledges that we are all going through our own, often difficult, journey. For some, it has taken an emotional toll, others have experienced extreme financial hardship, and others struggle with the isolation that comes with a positive result or the desire to stay away from gatherings and public places. Each of us deals with stress and hardship in our own way, and kindness and empathy should be expressed without reservation. How can you show kindness today? Pass it on.
Stay the course for our community by being supportive, careful, alert, and kind. We’ll get through this, together.
COVID-19 has affected the way we think about many things – how we shop for groceries, how often we wash our hands, and how we go about our workday, to name a few. For some Mesa County residents, the coronavirus has also influenced how they think about community, and the importance of neighborhood connections.
“We don’t have any reason not to be helping,” said Kristin Lynch, a Grand Junction resident. “That’s just what community is.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Lynch, her husband Sean and their three teenage children knew that the stay-at-home precautions might be especially hard on the mostly retired residents of their neighborhood. They quickly typed up a note with an offer of help and their contact information, then put one on each neighbor’s door or mailbox.
“We thought it was a good way for [our neighbors] to know we’re here and we’re always able to help,” she said, especially since the family still hadn’t met many of the people who live nearby, after moving in about a year ago. Although some neighbors have taken them up on their offer to help, even more have reached out to thank the Lynches and introduce themselves – a connection that, given the family’s hectic schedule, may have taken much longer under typical circumstances.
“These are unprecedented times, but it doesn’t really matter. These things still need to happen,” Lynch explained. “It’s important to show our kids that this isn’t hard, and this is only going to lead to greater things.”
Bruce Noble, the president of the homeowners’ association (HOA) in The Seasons neighborhood, said his community responded similarly. The HOA sent an email to all residents early on, asking people to reach out if they have needs or if they are available to help.
In a time when even a simple unmet need can be a source of stress, these neighborhood connections may be more important than ever. Noble shared the story of a man in the neighborhood who, despite his and his wife’s careful quarantining, became sick. When his wife realized they did not have a thermometer and she could not track one down in local stores, a neighbor simply dropped her extra one off on their doorstep. The man was able to confirm his fever, moved to self-isolation, and he and his wife emerged healthy afterward.
Some neighborhood efforts, like the Clifton Community Outreach (CCO) team, existed before COVID-19, but the virus has influenced how they function. The CCO team, with support from statewide foundation The Colorado Trust and in partnership with a coalition of community organizations called the Community Transformation group, works alongside other neighborhood residents to create positive community change. Previous projects have included an October 2019 community cleanup that collected 140 tons of trash from a one-square-mile neighborhood.
Since the outbreak started, CCO’s usual process of face-to-face conversations and neighborhood meetings has been put on hold. However, they still want to hear from neighbors about their ideas for the community, so have shifted to mostly phone calls for their outreach.
According to CCO member Kim McMurtrey, the group is available to help connect neighborhood residents with community resources, or assist them directly if they can. The CCO and several Community Transformation partners were also recently awarded a grant to offer emergency food delivery in the Clifton area, for people who are unable to leave their homes to shop or get to food pantries on their own.
Although it’s not the CCO’s creation, team member Elizabeth Christensen points to the Grand Junction Mutual Aid Facebook group as one of the most encouraging, community-minded developments she has seen during the COVID-19 outbreak. The group, now more than 14,000 strong, allows members to post about their needs, information on resources, and items they are willing to share.
“I’m hoping that with everything that has happened people will see they’re not the only ones struggling,” Christensen said. “I hope there is a sense of solidarity, that we’re all in this together, and if something like this were to happen again it won’t be so scary because we can get through it together.”