Covid cases surge

Dr. Kent Gaylord is pictured in a mobile unit the Telluride Regional Medical Center has on loan from San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters. (Planet file photo)

San Miguel County, though remote and sparsely populated, is proving it is not immune from the surge in COVID-19 cases that currently sweeps the country. County public health officials announced Friday in a news release that 12 new positive cases from test results received Thursday have been added to the overall case count, bringing the total number of county cases to 140, with 27 active. All 12 cases are residents and are symptomatic. 

It was also reported that Wednesday’s outstanding positive case of a 34-year-old male is confirmed as a resident and is symptomatic through community exposure. These cases were results of travel, household, community or social spread. 

Though expecting and planning for positive cases at some point, both the Telluride and Norwood schools have also reported positive cases. The Telluride school district has moved to remote learning for grades 7-12.

Around 50 families have been identified in contact tracing by Thursday’s positive cases in the Norwood School District. On the county level, this brings the total number of residents affected by known positives to nearly 400 in the month of November alone. 

Wednesday’s presumed positive in Norwood has been confirmed positive with yesterday’s test results. Due to the effective preventative measures taken by the Norwood School District and public health to contain the spread of COVID-19, administration has placed Prime Time Early Learning Center, Pre-K and grade 1 classrooms in quarantine. Based on staffing shortages resulting from known positives, grades 2 and 3 are closed at this time as well. The preventative measures taken at Norwood kchool district continue to keep Kindergarten and grades 4 through 12 in school given that no new cases have arisen so far. 

Yesterday, the Uncompahgre Medical Center worked diligently to test 46 patients for COVID-19 and saw additional patients Friday. Recognizing the significant number of close contacts from these recent cases, public health will open a testing site prioritizing those affected by recent cases. A larger community testing clinic will occur in the coming weeks. 

If contact has been made with a known COVID positive, the optimal test date is 7 to 14 days after exposure. 

Thursday in Lawson Hill near Telluride, the National Guard administered 1,101 swab tests during the free county COVID testing clinic. Those tested were asked to quarantine until results are returned within 3 to 5 business days. Negative test results do not make holiday travel, day-to-day activities or personal gatherings safer and do not exempt residents from new Safer at Home Level Orange restrictions. 

Early last week, county public health officials elevated the county’s status to Level Orange, or high risk, citing rising case numbers and the strain that has been felt by the region’s hospitals, upon which the county relies.

The Telluride Regional Medical Center, which is a Level V Trauma Center, counts on regional partners like St. Mary’s and Montrose Memorial Hospital to take ill or injured patients needing hospitalization or surgery. 

“Now is the time that our entire state must change its current trajectory in order to protect each other, the healthcare system and its workers,” Koelliker said.

The health of the local economy, ski season and schools are married to the clinic’s ability to respond to the pandemic’s demands. 

“Imagine a scenario where there’s been an accident and you’ve broken your femur or pelvis. You’d be evaluated and stabilized at our emergency department, but if Montrose Memorial Hospital is full and St. Mary’s is ‘On Divert,’ we’re now looking at an aeromedical transport to another hospital in Denver or perhaps even outside Colorado if instate hospitals were full.”

Koelliker is hopeful that the ski resort, the economy and local schools can stay open, but acknowledged “we can’t invite people into the community to take part in high-risk activities if we aren’t able to care for them when they’re injured or sick.” 

The hospital capacity issues already coming to a head, according to Koelliker, are due to a combination of bed capacity and staffing shortages.

“Unless our state drastically changes the current trajectory, we’re going to see serious consequences trickling down through all healthcare channels by this time next month.” 

Local public health officials urged residents to take the surge seriously.

“Over the last month, we have seen the highest rates of infection to date,” said Public Health Director Grace Franklin. “San Miguel County’s local economy is dependent on the upcoming months. It is time to hunker down for the sake of our students, for the sake of our economy, for the sake of our community.”

Orange status restrictions include: a reduction of indoor capacity to 25 percent, or 50 people, whichever is less, which includes restaurants, offices, places of worship, gyms and fitness centers, retail stores; personal gatherings, including on private property, will remain limited to no more than 10 people from no more than two households; group sports are limited to no more than nine participants and must occur outdoors, and; nonessential travel plans for the foreseeable future should be canceled. 

“Even with a shift to limiting capacity of public indoor venues, private gatherings will occur, no matter how hard we try to enforce,” said Telluride Regonal Medical  Center’s Dr. Sharon Grundy. “We need to reinvigorate our commitment. Stop traveling. Stop gathering. Stop going to work or school with symptoms. Just stay home! If we don’t change our behavior now, we will not have a winter season.”

The dozen latest COVID-19 test results from Thursday include: 67-year-old female, resident, symptomatic, exposure type unknown; 63-year-old female, resident, symptomatic, social and travel exposure; 49-year-old male, resident, symptomatic, household exposure; 48-year-old female, resident, symptomatic, household exposure; 43-year-old male, resident, symptomatic, household exposure; 42-year-old male, resident, symptomatic, close contact to known positive; 41-year-old male, resident, symptomatic, community exposure; 41-year-old male, resident, symptomatic, social and travel exposure; 38-year-old female, resident, symptomatic, social and travel exposure; 35-year-old male, resident, symptomatic, household exposure; 29-year-old male, resident, symptomatic, workplace exposure;  5-year-old female, resident, symptomatic, social and travel exposure.

The five commitments of containment are: wear and mask, maintain six feet of physical distance; minimize group size; wash hands frequently, and; stay home when sick and get tested.

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