In spite of a recent flurry of new positive COVID-19 cases in San Miguel County, officials remain confident that Telluride and the county have a handle on the state of the current public health situation. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) met Wednesday for the latest updates from the health department and other stakeholders, and discussed, among other topics, the state’s Protect Our Neighbors phase, which further loosens restrictions related to public health orders put in place as a result of the pandemic.
That phase would allow communities that meet certain criteria to potentially allow “activities at 50 percent of pre-pandemic capacity, with at least 6 feet between non-household members, and no more than 500 people in one setting at a time,” according to the state’s website.
The metrics used to determine what the county’s status is at any time include, test, trace, transmission and treatment, which are color-coded indicators that are now visible on the revamped COVID-19 dashboard on the county’s website. With testing in the county readily available to even those without symptoms, and with treatment facilities not impacted by the recent uptick in cases, county public health director Grace Franklin said the county is in good shape.
“Immediate contact tracing and increased access to test literally hundreds of people, has allowed us to help contain the potential pockets of spread and continue to refine our process for responding to this virus,” she wrote in an open letter to the public Thursday.
County manager Mike Bordogna said that should any of the four metrics verge into the moderate impact or high impact range, the county would reassess its current public health orders.
“Those metrics affect whether to alter the public health order,” he told the commissioners. “(The new dashboard) is quick and easy to understand.”
Currently the test and treat metrics are at no impact, while transmission and trace are at low impact as of Thursday afternoon.
Franklin said that the newest cases are mostly related to what has been described as “an adolescent party,” and those individuals are “recovering well.”
With the four metrics at acceptable levels, it positions the county to petition the state for the ability to move to the Protect Our Neighbors phase. According the state’s website, counties must qualify by meeting scientifically established thresholds of low transmission levels, capacity for testing, contact tracing and outbreak response, and the ability for area hospitals to not only meet the needs of all patients, but to handle the surge in demand for intensive hospital care.
“In addition, communities must have mitigation and containment plans approved by local elected leaders including county commissioners and mayors, the hospitals that serve the county, law enforcement, emergency management, the local public health director, and if applicable, tribes,” the state guidelines further read.
“We’re sitting in a good place with treatment and testing,” Bordogna said. “Our metrics are looking very positive currently.”
“To date, with the support of the Telluride Regional Medical Center, Uncompahgre Medical Center and our regional partners, we have been able to appropriately respond to the needs of the pandemic,” Franklin’s letter read.
Bordogna reported that the county has hired health educators who have been visiting numerous businesses in an effort to educate workers and owners about the coronavirus. There are two, with a third soon to come online. As of Thursday, educators have visited 18 businesses, highlighting best practices of keeping staff and guests safe.
“There have been some really rich conversations,” Franklin told the commissioners Wednesday, adding educators are fluent in Spanish and undergo training before going into the field. “The businesses are putting in their best efforts.”
There was also talk of anticipated large numbers of visitors expected for the Fourth of July weekend, numbers that will pad already healthy figures as reported by commissioner Lance Waring.
“(Second homeowners) are here up 30 percent over last year,” he said.
The most reliable indicator of the number of people in town comes from the sewage treatment plant, where operators there reported there are approximately 13,000 people flushing.
“The state is extremely concerned about the Fourth of July weekend,” said BOCC Chair Hilary Cooper.
Telluride’s lodging community representative Keith Hampton reported at last week’s Economic Recovery Committee meeting that lodging numbers for the holiday weekend may strain the limits of what is currently permitted under the county’s public health orders — 50 percent capacity — and that booking figures are constantly monitored.
“We may need to close out reservations,” Hampton said.
But Franklin expressed confidence in her Thursday letter that local business, restaurant and lodging interests were capable of safely handling the influx of visitors.
“I am confident in their ability to operate safely,” she wrote. “With your continued vigilance to best practices, our phased-approach will work.”
The importance donning face coverings and accompanying education and enforcement remain areas of concern. Some local merchants and business owners have reported push-back from some visitors and, at last week’s Telluride Town Council meeting, others expressed a perceived lack of visible presence of those charged with educating people about physical distancing, crowd size or facemask use. Greg Craig, a local homeowner and HOA official at his downtown condominium, said that his HOA has had to get “very heavy-handed.”
“The jokesy, cajoling education is not working,” Craig said.
To view the COVID-19 dashboard, visit sanmiguelcountyco.gov.
Colorado COVID-19 information is at covid19.colorado.gov.