virus meeting

Health and housing officials discussed strategies for living with roommates during a pandemic at Tuesday night’s COVID Community Forum. (Screenshot by Bria Light/Telluride Daily Planet)

By now, we’ve all navigated myriad awkward social situations resulting from the global COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps you’ve shown up to an intimate dinner party only to realize there are way too many people there to feel comfortable with the risk. Maybe your roommate suddenly announces their plan to travel across the country for a large wedding of an anti-masker relative. Despite the past nine months of pandemic-altered life, navigating the social curveballs lobbed by the virus is never easy.

At Tuesday evening’s COVID Community Forum, led by local public health experts, officials offered advice tailored for those living in households with roommates. While it’s become clear this year that people have various risk thresholds for the virus and behave accordingly, the best way to reach COVID harmony in the home is to lead with “vulnerability and empathy” through direct conversations with roommates about comfort levels, risk and what’s at stake.

“Leading with empathy is really key,” county public health director Grace Franklin said. “That’s how we keep our humanity through all this.”

When having those potentially difficult conversations with roommates, leading with empathy by showing concern and care for your roommate’s well being as well as your own can help diffuse tension through establishing a sense of connection and community well being.

“A willingness to be vulnerable” is also a key ingredient, noted Kathrine Warren, public information officer for Mountain Village. “Saying, ‘Hey, this is where I’m coming from, these are my concerns, can you help me with these things?’”

Housing officials and managers, meanwhile, are preparing for the annual influx of seasonal workers into apartment complexes like Big Billies, the Boarding House and Shandoka with additional preventative measures. Sanitizing stations, limits on numbers of people in common areas and safe assistance available for those in quarantine will help curtail the spread of the virus in high-density living environments. Though thorough and frequent cleaning of common areas will be in effect, airborne transmission is still the number one concern for health officials.

“We’re more concerned with the respiratory droplets and the aerosolization,” said Dr. Sharon Grundy, director of primary care at the Telluride Regional Medical Center. “Touching surfaces, it’s not as transmissible as we think. When they’ve studied the household numbers, it ends up being anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of household members that end up contracting it,” she said, noting that transmission among household members depends on factors like how often you’re sharing the same couch while watching TV or sharing drinking receptacles.

For those living in apartment complexes or communal living situations, housing officials emphasized the importance of wearing masks and adhering to the five commitments, including social distancing, frequent hand-washing, staying home when sick and getting tested if feeling unwell.

“We want to remind people that these measures are about layering” protections, said Grundy. “If we’re doing all five things, it makes it pretty safe.”

With numbers of cases in San Miguel County on the rise (123, including 12 active, as of , medical professionals at the med center have noticed a few commonalities among outbreaks. Small social gatherings with several households present, going to work sick and recent travel are common factors among recent positive cases, Grundy reported. Eating in restaurants has also become riskier as cases have spread, triggering a reduction in permitted capacity from 50 percent to 25 percent.

“Going out to a restaurant is pretty risky at the moment, if we’re going to sit for an hour inside without masks,” she said.

While officials recognized that achieving strict compliance among people who just want to ski, party and have a great winter season is a challenge, keeping the conversations open and discussing possible consequences are key tools to increasing compliance for those with roommates or living in communal situations. If one roommate is exposed or gets sick, for example, that could put other roommates out of work for up to two weeks while in quarantine. Additionally, if the spike in cases reaches certain levels, the entire ski season could be in jeopardy of getting shut down.

“It's going to be tough, but we can turn this around,” said Franklin. “There is a lot in jeopardy. We need people to stay home and keep their pods small and consistent. The five commitments are the cornerstone to our ski season, businesses and schools.