San Miguel Board of County Commissioners Chair Hilary Cooper speaks at Wednesday’s meeting held via Zoom. (Screenshot by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

Local officials would vastly prefer to be safe than sorry. To that end, the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) directed county emergency director Henry Mitchell to start formulating a plan that would address the unwanted scenario of a severe outbreak of the COVID-19 virus this winter.

BOCC Chair Hilary Cooper took her cue from the state level, in which, in anticipation of this weekend’s Denver Broncos football game, officials recently practiced for taking the temperatures of large numbers of people attending. In the mock exercise, the thermometers malfunctioned en masse. As a mountain town that is the home of a world-class ski resort local officials are looking to head such a calamity off at the pass, should a major coronavirus outbreak occur this winter, particularly on-mountain. Mitchell said such an exercise would be useful.

“I see it as a table-top (virtual) exercise that’s totally doable before the start of ski season,” Mitchell said at Wednesday’s BOCC meeting. “I’d be happy to facilitate (an exercise). It would be very, very useful for Telluride Ski & Golf and public health.”

Telski officials in attendance were receptive to participating in the exercise.

“We’re open to the discussion,” said Telski Director of Risk Management Matt Thomas. “If this is something you think is important, we’ll participate.”

Telski worked closely with county public health director Grace Franklin in crafting a required on-mountain operational COVID plan for the winter. That plan has been submitted and officially received by the state, but no reply has been sent as of press time Wednesday afternoon.

“The challenge is to anticipate situations,” Cooper said. “Henry’s our master mock man.”

Mitchell said he’ll reach out to the key players right away and get to work  “establishing goals for the exercise.”

County staff reported on the latest COVID case counts both nationally and in Colorado where numbers are surging. Franklin attributed the higher numbers to more indoor gatherings as the weather cools and “COVID fatigue.”

“The surge (in Colorado) is coupled with more testing, so we’re getting a truer number on the case count,” Franklin said.

San Miguel County currently is reporting zero active cases and 97 positive cases among county residents.

“Public health wants to remind you, this does not mean that COVID-19 has been eradicated from our community,” officials wrote in a recent news release. 

To best protect the community, public health recommends establishing, and sticking to, a “contact budget.”

This is defined as the threshold of people with whom you come into contact ensuring the lowest risk possible for contracting and spreading COVID-19,” the release states. “In an ideal world, the spread of the coronavirus would be controlled as people limit their budget to only their household. San Miguel County experienced this limitation during Colorado’s ‘Stay-at-Home’ stage of the pandemic. As you are now in charge of your own budget, you should limit yourself to contact with less than 10 people that are also conscious of COVID when making socializing decisions.”

“All of the people we see on a daily basis increase our probability of being exposed to COVID-19,” said Franklin. “Only you can control the number of people you interact with in an effort to protect your family, colleagues, community and loved ones.”

Franklin also reported to the board that recent flu shot clinics in the east end of the county saw 200 people administered with the flu vaccine. The county, she said, is working with the Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood to offer similar clinics.

And, Franklin informed the commissioners that the Exposure Notification app would be going live this Sunday. The app, which is available to Apple and Android phones, works by exchanging tokens via Bluetooth with nearby phones that also have the app running.

According to a Denver Post story, “If you test positive for the new coronavirus, your local public health department will give you a code to put into the app. It will then notify people who were within six feet of you for 10 minutes or longer that they could have been exposed, but won’t tell them who has the virus.”

Franklin expressed excitement that the app was going live, after a delay at the state level.

“We should all do it,” she said.

Mitchell then informed the BOCC that the Ice Fire in San Juan County, which is thought to have started at the Ice Lakes trailhead, has grown to a little over 500 acres. A Type 3 team is working the fire and has launched an aerial attack, Mitchell said. The aerial resources, he said, were “a very, very good thing.”

He also reminded the board that Stage 1 fire restrictions will expire midnight Saturday unless regional, federal and local fire officials decide it needs to be extended. The entire state is experiencing drought conditions and fire season, which is usually over by October, is still active.

The commissioners also discussed Ballet Question EE, which, if approved by Colorado voters, will raise taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products and include all other nicotine products such as vaping products. With taxes expected to generate up to $175.6 million in 2021-22 — its first full budget year of collection — and up to $275.9 million beginning in 2027-28 when the taxes are fully phased in, recipients include preschool programs, rural schools, K-12 education, tobacco education and a range of healthcare programs among others. The commissioners unanimously endorsed the measure.