Everyone has a choice, when to and not to raise their voices

It’s you that decides, which way you will turn

While feeling that our love’s not your concern, it’s you that decides.

—George Harrison

As your County Commissioner and member of the County Board of Health, I want to reach out to the communities of San Miguel County again. We are approaching five long months of the pandemic. From the first few spring events that canceled voluntarily to the ski area and other businesses that were dedicated to paying employees as long as possible to the volunteers and medically trained community members who stepped up every time we needed their expertise, I cannot possibly express how proud I am to represent one of the best counties in the country. You responded immediately when we asked you to stay at home; you educated yourselves; you helped our decision-making process with informed feedback, generous support and gratitude. When cases in mountain towns surged, we sustained low numbers. Remember our strange and quiet off-season? I do!

Summer came. Things changed. Across the county, businesses opened slowly, cautiously and compliantly, working to keep staff and customers safe. It worked. Our numbers stayed low. But we could not keep our economy running without our visitors. We carefully opened the doors. It was inevitable we would see more cases, but it was not inevitable we would become one of the highest transmission rates in the state. The towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, where our populations have more than doubled, both took bold action with mask ordinances, outdoor dining and other social-distancing enhancements. Still, our transmission rate is too high.

San Miguel County initiated proactive public health orders early on in this pandemic to save lives, gain more information about the virus and prevent our medical services from being overwhelmed. It would be extremely challenging for the majority of us to go back to staying at home, so as national, state and county numbers are increasing, it is up to each one of us — residents and visitors alike to decrease our spread. Our individual actions are the most direct and effective way to do so. The virus spreads exponentially when an infected person infects multiple people, which is what is happening in San Miguel County and the reason our transmission rate is alarmingly high. If each of us, with symptoms or without, takes the actions necessary to prevent spread, we can bring our transmission rate back down. And the Telluride and Uncompaghre Medical Centers can continue to address our other medical needs safely. Our kids can go back to school. Our ski area can open this winter.

Many of us live here because we love adventure. From the pioneers of over a century ago and the ranchers and farmers who take on the challenges of that livelihood today to those who recreate in the mountains, we all take risks. Before heading out for an expedition, experienced mountaineers consider every known risk and mitigate as many as possible. Along the way, they reassess the risks. Have conditions changed? Is it still safe? How can they make it safer? The more aware they are of risks and the more they mitigate those risks, the greater the chances they live to climb another day.

Consider this pandemic our daily expedition: Know the risks. When you are within 5 to 7 feet of someone, you increase your (and their) risk of infection. Mitigate by wearing a mask and minimizing your time in close contact with others. When you gather with multiple people, especially inside, you increase the risk. Mitigate by avoiding social gatherings, and work from home or remotely if you can. We have the information to make smart and safe decisions. It affects the way you live your life temporarily, but becoming infected with COVID-19 could bring about significant life changes for you or someone you unintentionally infect. Mountaineers who know the risks and mitigate them increase the probability of making it home. Exposure to repeated risk reduces the odds.

Consider the individuals who cannot afford to take risks and are isolating themselves. If we slow the spread, we reduce their risk. Consider the kids and teachers, who need to get back to in-person learning and teaching. Consider the parents who cannot work efficiently without their children going back to school, in person. It sucks to wear a mask, but we will reduce the spread if we all wear them. Close contact is common in a small community, but we will reduce the spread if we stay physically distant. We’ve sung “Happy Birthday” enough for a lifetime, so try a new 20-second song to wash your hands to. Stay outside when around others and, please, if you are sick STAY HOME — do not infect others.

Your daily actions have a domino effect. Ultimately, each one of us plays a critical role in how and when this ends. It’s you that decides.