County update

The new San Miguel County COVID-19 website is more user-friendly, according to county officials. (Image courtesy of San Miguel County)

Though the end of the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, fewer COVID-19 positive cases have been announced in the last few days, a lessening of numbers that San Miguel county public health director, Grace Franklin, called “significantly lower than the last two weeks.” At a special meeting Wednesday, San Miguel Board of County Commissioners heard the latest updates from Franklin, who also reported a new coronavirus website had gone live. The board also received news from the county emergency manager, Henry Mitchell, that the Stage 1 fire ban had been lifted.

Despite the news that positive coronavirus cases in the county have eased somewhat — two new cases were announced Tuesday — Franklin cautioned that, “there is still concern. We need to see a decline.”

“Per capita, we’re still in a very high transmission level,” she told commissioners Lance Waring, Kris Holstrom and Hilary Cooper at yesterday’s Zoom meeting.

The two new cases, according to a recent news release from the county, are a 44 year-old female who was symptomatic, and a 30 year-old female who was asymptomatic. Both are unrelated to previous cases. The new positive test results bring the case count to 74 total, with 5 of those active. The numbers reflect county residents only, and do not include visitors.

“The downward trend we have seen over this past week is encouraging, but we are far from being in the clear,” said Franklin. “ … we need to see consistent stabilization or a steep decline in cases to reach a sustainable level.”

The new coronavirus website has gone live, Franklin also reported. The reworked site has made improvements based on user feedback and has made viewing the page more intuitive, with a “prominently featured Spanish companion site,” according to a Wednesday news release.

“We pulled user analytics from the past four months and used that data to assist in developing the new site,” said San Miguel County GIS coordinator and site developer Heather Widlund. "The home page features the most frequented categories from the previous landing page, which will provide an easy user experience and give the community quick access to information.”

The now-familiar county COVID dashboard is still there along with access to state and local information, news releases, current public health orders and links to community and business resources and testing information. 

“Communicating with our community is a top priority, and this new site will give us the opportunity to seamlessly share relevant information regarding COVID,” said county manager Mike Bordogna in the news release.

“It’s a slick way to present the information,” Franklin said, while praising Widlund for the revamped site.

Commissioners and county staff again stressed the importance of personal responsibility in the ongoing battle against the spread of COVID-19, which, as of Wednesday, has taken the lives of 150,000 U.S. citizens. Key to individual efforts, Cooper said, was reducing contacts with others.

“It means having fewer interactions with people by more than half,” she said, citing an ideal mark of more than 80 percent of one’s normal interactions with others.

And noting public weariness in living with a virus that has made a global impact, she added, “It sucks. We recognize that. It’s a bummer.”

Commissioner Holstrom reported on last Friday’s Economic Recovery Commission meeting in which stakeholders there — leaders in the ski industry, lodging, dining, retail, guide services and other area businesses — cast their collective gaze to the immediate future; winter. The upshot is simple — one of uncertainty.

“No one can offer certainty in anything to do with winter,” Holstrom said. 

ECR members advise businesses to plan on any number of different contingencies going forward, taking into account variables such as the state of the pandemic and the weather. There is, she reported, a difference of opinion within the group on when this summer’s relatively brisk influx of visitors will begin to slow. 

“There are different opinions on whether there will be a steep drop-off, or not,” she said.

County emergency manager Mitchell told the commissioners that the county would, in concert with federal partners, be lifting the Stage 1 fire ban as of today (Thursday). Thought fire officials in the West End are still seeing dryer conditions, recent heavy rains and a promising forecast led to the decision to lift the fire ban.

“This monsoonal pattern is going to keep hitting us,” Mitchell said.

The commissioners continued a discussion on hiring a regional epidemiologist, a position whose costs would be shared by several surrounding counties, bolstered by funding from the state.

Cooper expressed excitement that having an individual with such expertise on the Western Slope would prove beneficial to area public health officials as they make decisions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. “An informal plan is in process,” she said, “and the state has provided money to take this project on.”

Should the position be created and filled, he or she would serve not only San Miguel County, but also public health officials in Gunnison, Ouray, San Juan, La Plata, Hinsdale, Archuleta and Mineral counties.

“We all very much share the same needs,” Cooper said. “None of us have an epidemiologist on staff. This person can help us with our decision-making.”

To access the new county COVID site, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov.