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With COVID spike in Latino community, advocates urging Garfield and other counties to help protect vulnerable workers

As Garfield County Public Health officials try to get a handle on the recent spike in new coronavirus cases, especially within the county’s Latino population, advocates from that community have offered some rather forceful suggestions.

It’s no real surprise that Latinos are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, said Alex Sanchez, director of the nonprofit Voces Unidas de las Montañas.

Many Latinos work in construction and service and tourism industry jobs, where working from home is not an option, Sanchez said.

Oftentimes, the workplace itself — construction sites, restaurants, hotels, and the like — and even just getting to and from work, puts them at higher risk for contracting the virus, he said.

That’s why his group has been working to make sure the estimated 35,000 Latino residents who live from Parachute to Aspen have a voice when it comes to policy decisions and information being disseminated about COVID-19.

“We know that we have a role to play, as an organization, to do our part by reposting the critical information that comes from elected officials and government agencies,” Sanchez said. “But, at the end of the day, we can’t do government’s role.”

In Garfield County, Latinos now represent 60% of all COVID-19 cases, but make up about 30% of the population. That percentage has gone up rapidly in just the last six weeks, from less than 50% of the cumulative case total in late May, as businesses began reopening more fully.

In neighboring Pitkin County, Latinos represent 10% of the population, yet account for 20% of positive cases there, Sanchez said.

“We try to be a sounding board within the Latino community to help with some of the strategies,” he said.

That includes regular surveys to gauge Latino residents’ thoughts regarding public health concerns. The most recent of those surveys, conducted in late June and resulting in 185 responses, found that:

  • One in three Latinos did not know what to do if they got infected with the virus;
  • One in two Latino respondents do not know where to go to get medical care if they get infected;
  • The majority of Latino survey takers lacked confidence that their employers would protect Latino workers;
  • One-third of respondents did not have access to masks at work; and,
  • Three in five Latino respondents believe that their local governments and elected officials are not doing enough to protect Latinos from the virus.

To aid in that response, leaders of Voces Unidas on July 2 issued seven “demands” of county governments in the tri-county (Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle) area. Those are:

  1. Publicly release disaggregated data on the impact of COVID-19 by community group (ethnicity and race).
  2. Ensure that all official public information is linguistically and culturally effective, and that it is disseminated to all communities at the same time, via effective channels.
  3. Develop (and make public) a comprehensive plan on how the county is responding to and supporting community groups that are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  4. Ensure the safety of Latinos during the reopening phase, especially as Latino workers go back to essential and public-facing jobs. Employers must be required to provide personal protective equipment for their workers and encourage safe distancing practices.
  5. Ensure that all employers distribute culturally effective information in Spanish and English to all of their workers on what to do if an employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and their rights and protections as workers. 
  6. Ensure a proportionate Latino representation in all long-term planning processes to make sure that Latinos are not left behind in the recovery of COVID-19.
  7. Publish a detailed report on how each county supported each of the community groups, outlining strategies and how much tax-payer dollars were spent to support each community group.

“We can speak for ourselves and know what we need and want,” Sanchez said. “But a lot of decisions are being made about Latinos, without Latinos at the table. If you invite us, we will show up.”

Meanwhile, the number of new onset COVID-19 cases in Garfield County continues to go up at an alarming rate — and not exclusively within the Latino community.

Garfield County is now the hotbed among northwestern Colorado counties in terms of new coronavirus cases over the past two to three weeks, Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long reported to county commissioners on Monday.

The number of new cases jumped yet again from 408 at the time of her Monday report to 441 as of the end of the day Tuesday, according to county and state public health statistics.

The county also reported its fourth death from COVID-19 on Tuesday, involving a man in his late 60s who died at his home.

“We are a service-industry county, and that’s where we’re seeing a lot of that,” Long said of the recent surge in new cases. “Summer is our tourism business season here, and it’s when a lot of our businesses make their money.”

As that relates to workers, regardless of ethnicity, county health is working to provide as much information as possible about workplace safety, in both English and Spanish, and encourages employers to do the same, she said.

Long said she also suggests employers provide extra incentives to keep workers from sharing transportation to or from work, or to do so safely, as some of the recent cases can be attributed to carpooling.

“That’s something we should maybe be discouraging right now, and say that maybe this is not the time to do that,” she said in her report to the commissioners.

Though the number of new onset cases continues to increase, and while there have been some recent new hospitalizations (three new since late last week), hospital capacity locally is not a concern at this point.

“We continue to have COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization, and at this time our ability to care for these patients and other non-COVID patients is strong.” Dr. Brian Murphy, CEO of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said in the hospital’s twice-weekly COVID-19 report.

Murphy added, “It is important that we each do our part — wear a mask, practice physical distancing and frequently wash our hands — to slow the transmission of this virus. Together, we can support our community’s well-being and the reopening of businesses and our economy.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

Garfield County stats

Cumulative cases as of 7/14 (all testing sources) — 441

New cases reported since 7/9 — 89

Rolling two-week onset of new cases: June 30-July 12 — 69; June 16-29 — 89

Test positivity rate — 5.5%

Deaths — 4

Source: Garfield County Public Health

Valley View COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/14/2020

Specimens collected through Valley View — 4,293 (513 new since 7/9)

Positive results — 245 (50 new since 7/9)

Pending results — 24

Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 35 (1 new since 7/9)

Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 27

Grand River COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/14/2020

Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 1,996 (103 new since 7/9)

Positive results — 100 (13 new since 7/9)

Pending results — 25

Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 5 (2 new hospitalization since 7/9, one still admitted as of Tuesday)

Patients discharged — 2

Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly

Garfield County records fourth COVID-19 death

Garfield County reported a fourth death from COVID-19 on Tuesday.

A man in his late 60s, according to a news release from Garfield County, is the latest death. He died at home, the release said.

Garfield County reported its third death from COVID-19 on July 2.

“We regret having to report yet another life lost to COVID. As a community, we must all take individual actions to slow the spread, otherwise our numbers will continue to climb. Each life lost is one too many,” Public Health Director Yvonne Long said in a news release.

Garfield County has reported 423 coronavirus cases as of midday Tuesday.

“The county has averaged over 49 cases a week for the past three weeks,” the news release states. “This is a marked increase from May when the county was experiencing approximately eight cases per week.”

As commission candidate urges countywide mask order, commissioner highlights opposition to the idea in western Garfield County

A candidate for Garfield County commissioner says the current commissioners are putting politics over public health by not requiring people to wear face coverings while in public.

Leslie Robinson of Rifle is running for the District 3 Board of County Commissioners seat as a Democrat in November against incumbent Republican Mike Samson.

She said during comments via video conference before the county commissioners on Monday that Garfield County should follow the lead of neighboring resort counties in requiring masks be worn in public places.

Leslie Robinson, candidate for Garfield County commissioner.

“Don’t let the politics of a few dictate COVID health and safety decisions that will protect the many,” Robinson said.

Garfield County should enact a temporary order requiring face coverings while in places of business and where social distancing is not possible, same as the municipalities of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, she said.

Face coverings should not be a political issue, Robinson said, adding “it’s time to believe in the medical science behind the use of masks to slow down contagion.”

Reached on Tuesday, Samson said the vast majority of constituents who have contacted him are opposed to a mask requirement, though people on the eastern end of the county are more supportive, he said.

“If you look at the stats, the majority of Covid cases appear to be in the eastern end of the county,” Samson said. That includes Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, which do require masks within their city limits, and New Castle, which does not. Combined, those communities account for 65% of the county’s cases since the outbreak began in early March.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.
Alex Zorn / Citizen Telegram

Personally, Samson said he does wear a mask when entering businesses, especially busier ones such as City Market or Walmart.

“One of the major reasons why I do it is because a lot of people know who I am, and it’s good for me to set an example for others,” Samson said. “People need to use good judgment and common sense, and if you’re going to be in a situation where you’re close to other people, it’s a way to protect them and yourself.”

Robinson’s comments also elicited a response during the Monday meeting from District 1 Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who is not up for reelection this year.

He also said the constituent comments he’s heard, especially in the Rifle area, are “three-to-one against” requiring masks.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“Rifle, Parachute, Silt … none of those city councils have come to us asking for (a mask requirement), and any of them could have done it on their own,” Jankovsky said.

Jankovsky acknowledged public health suggestions that face masks could reduce the virus spread by 5% to 10%. But hospital capacity in the county and statewide is a better benchmark to make decisions, rather than the number of new cases, he said.

“Our hospitals are not at capacity,” he said, adding later in direct response to Robinson, “the individuals you’re trying to represent are opposed to face masks.”

Although county commissioners represent certain districts within the county, they are elected countywide by voters from Carbondale to Parachute.

Robinson also noted that a disproportionate number of those who have contracted COVID-19 in Garfield County, 60%, are Latino. That percentage has increased from 49% in early June.

“I wonder what more can the county be doing to reach out to that community to educate and stop this contagion among our most vulnerable populations,” she said.

Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long acknowledged in her regular report to the county commissioners Monday that the recent surge in cases among Latinos is a concern. That likely can be attributed to virus spread in workplaces, especially within the tourism and service industries, as well as construction job sites and even the practice of carpooling to work.

While carpooling is a good thing to do during normal times, Long said, “this is maybe not the time to do that.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original version with comments from Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson.

Doctor’s Tip: Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) was discussed in column a few weeks ago. To review, the thyroid is a gland located in the front of the neck that regulates our metabolism. It produces T4 (4 iodine atoms), which after entering the bloodstream is converted to T3 (3 iodine atoms). Production of T4 is regulated by TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone]), produced by the hypothalamus located in the base of the brain.

Hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism. Symptoms include sweating; weight loss (rarely weight gain); anxiety; heart irregularities including palpitations and atrial fibrillation; rapid pule rate; loose stools; heat intolerance; fatigue; menstrual irregularity; osteoporosis; and tremor. Following are the common causes of hyperthyroidism:

• Graves’ disease, which is more common in women, is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. It is an autoimmune disease, where a rogue immune system attacks the thyroid gland in a way that causes it to produce too much hormone.

• Sometimes one or more tumors called “nodules” produce excessive thyroid hormone. These are usually although not always benign.

• Too high a dose of thyroid replacement hormone, given to treat hypothyroidism, is another cause.

• too much daily intake of iodine

Lab findings in hyperthyroidism include low TSH (the pituitary stops stimulating the thyroid gland when it’s producing too much thyroid hormone), high T4 and/or T3. An ultrasound scan of the thyroid helps determine the cause of hyperthyroidism, since it picks up abnormalities such as nodules.

Depending on the cause of hyperthyroidism, treatment options include the following: surgery to remove part or all of the gland; radioactive iodine, which destroys part or all of the gland, often resulting in hypothyroidism — which is easily treated by daily thyroid replacement pills (T4—levothyroxine); and medications, which can be associated with serious side effects. While awaiting results from one of these definitive treatments, a beta blocker called propranolol controls symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as rapid, pounding pulse.

Dr. Neal Barnard’s book “Your Body in Balance” points out that since Graves’ disease is a common cause of hyperthyroidism, “immune-friendly foods” are helpful prevention and treatment. People who eat animal products have higher levels of thyroid antibodies compared with people on a plant-based, whole food diet. In one study, vegans “were 52 percent less likely to have hyperthyroidism, compared with meat-eaters.”

Greg Feinsinger, M.D. is a retired family physician who has a nonprofit: Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available by appointment for free consultations (379-5718).

Garfield County, state health officials in close communication over recent spike in COVID-19 cases

Garfield County Public Health is “at capacity” in terms of responding to and tracking the recent spike in new COVID-19 cases, conducting contact tracing and making sure the public stays informed.

And, while the county surpassed the number of cases in the two most recent 14-day periods — which could prompt a return to stricter requirements for businesses and group gatherings — so far it’s status-quo, public health officials said on Friday.

“The state is aware of our increase in case numbers,” Carrie Godes, public health specialist for the county, said Friday. “We are working with them and doing the limited things that we can as a health department to control the spread.

But, “Public Health is at capacity and must turn to our broader community to bring the numbers back under control.”

Gov. Jared Polis pointed out in comments made Thursday about the move to the Protect Our Neighbors phase for reopening the state’s economy that government can control maybe 20% of the virus spread.

The other 80% falls on individuals and the business community to follow safety protocols, he said.

“Wear a damn mask,” Polis said at a news conference Thursday.

Just since July 3, Garfield County has seen over 90 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total since the outbreak began in early March to 403, as of the latest update Sunday evening.

Many of those newly reported cases date back based on symptom onset to mid-June. During the 14-day stretch from June 15-28, the county saw 91 new onset cases.

Some of the recent spike in cases can be attributed to the influx of tourists into the region, but not a lot, Godes said.

“It’s certainly a concern when we have a lot of people coming in and out from outside the area,” she said.

In a few cases, visitors have experienced symptoms while on vacation here and got tested locally, Godes said. But that’s a very small percentage of cases, she said, adding the vast majority continue to be workplace-related and spread within family or household units.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment variance that was granted to Garfield County on May 23 requires that, if the county exceeds 60 cases over a 14-day period, Garfield Public Health is to inform the state and implement plans to rein that number in.

The variance allowed restaurants, places of worship, gyms and fitness facilities to open at greater capacity (50% or up to 175 people at a time) than the state would allow.

Since that time, though, the variance has become largely outdated with the statewide implementation of new public health orders that basically mirrored what Garfield County was granted. 

“The state does provide a period for correction,” Godes said of the recent spike in new cases locally. “It does not mean that if you hit it once, that the variance is automatically withdrawn.”

The Protect Our Neighbors phase requires that counties apply to be given greater local control over certain restrictions. That can include allowing businesses to operate at full capacity, but with social distancing measures.

With 66 cases in the most recent rolling 14-day period and 91 during the previous two weeks, Garfield County does not qualify.

“Even though the variance was not revoked, these numbers are still alarming and cause for widespread community action,” Godes said. “In order to move into the next phase of reopening … a county must demonstrate stable or declining viral spread.”

That means “having difficult discussions and trying to determine the appropriate actions to take.”

In many ways, the latest spike in new cases — including a recent increase in new hospitalizations and one new death earlier this month — resembles the situation in March when the pandemic began, Godes said.

“Now more than ever we need to fall back on the only answers that we have, which is that individual actions make a collective difference,” she said.

That means wearing a mask in places of business and when in close contact with other people, socializing in small groups, staying six feet apart, getting tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms of fever, dry cough and difficulty breathing, and staying home when sick, whether it’s from the coronavirus or something else.

The latest surge in new coronavirus cases has also resulted in more hospitalizations in the more serious cases.

As of Friday, three Garfield County residents remained hospitalized, either locally or outside the county. Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs had two current COVID-19 patients, and Grand River Health reported Thursday that it had one new hospitalization.

Valley View’s ability to care for all types of patients, including COVID cases, remains strong, VVH spokeswoman Stacey Gavrell said.

“We are definitely concerned about the increase of COVID cases in the community, and we ask all of our community members to practice physical distancing, wear masks and wash hands not only for our individual and collective health, but to support our economic recovery and overall ability to return to essential activities such as school,” Gavrell said in a statement.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Updated Garfield County COVID-19 statistics as July 11

Cumulative cases — 403

Rolling 14-day onset of new cases: June 29-July 12 — 66; June 15-28 — 91

Test positivity rate — 4.9%

Deaths — 3

Cases by gender — Female: 50%; Male: 50%

Cases by age — 0-9 (2.9%); 10-19 (8.8%); 20-29 (23.3%); 30-39 (19.9%); 40-49 (16.4%); 50-59 (14.5%); 60-69 (7.8%); 70-79 (4.2%); 80+ (2.2%)

Source: Garfield County Public Health

jstroud@postindependent.com

Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties to prioritize certain groups for COVID-19 testing amid case surge

A surge in demand for coronavirus testing with the uptick in new COVID-19 cases nationwide has prompted the western Colorado counties of Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin to manage testing on a regional basis.

Recent referrals for testing — including for people who may be worried, but not necessarily symptomatic or at higher risk for serious illness — has caused a backlog of late in obtaining test results.

That wait, sometimes up to eight days, minimizes the effectiveness of the testing strategy to contain and slow the spread of the disease, public health directors from the three counties said in a joint statement issued Thursday.

“We cannot test and trace our way out of this pandemic,” Heath Harmon, Director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment, said in the tri-county press release.

Ultimately, he added, “We need greater compliance on prevention measures from all people in our communities, regardless of whether they are locals or visitors.”  

To maximize the testing strategy’s effectiveness, public health departments in the three counties will now coordinate testing efforts to try to achieve great turnaround on test results.

“Testing is a key containment strategy to slow the spread of the disease,” the joint statement reads. “Surges in cases nationwide are stressing the testing components supply chain and the capacity at state and commercial labs cannot keep up with the demand.”

A plan to coordinate testing efforts regionally is being devised by a medical team made up of hospital and public health officials from the three counties.

Details, such as which of the counties would be prioritized for testing depending on rates of infection and other factors are still being worked out.

Ideally, test results need to be turned around within 48 hours to be effective in combatting the spread of the disease, public health officials point out. But the increased demand for testing has overloaded test supplies and stressed the ability for state and commercial labs to keep pace, they said.

To ease that strain, the three counties will employ the following testing strategy until state and commercial laboratory capacity can achieve consistent turnaround times of 48 hours or less:

Testing is recommended for

  • People with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, including fever, cough or shortness of breath 
  • People with symptoms and who are at greater risk for severe disease, including hospitalization and death (65 years of age or older, or who have chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, are immunocompromised, are pregnant, or are otherwise considered at high risk by a licensed healthcare provider)
  • People who are hospitalized with symptoms consistent with COVID-19
  • Those who have had close contacts with a confirmed COVID-19 case, as defined and recommended by a local public health agency
  • People within congregate settings where there may be a broader exposure to COVID-19, as determined by a local public health agency

Testing is not routinely recommended for

  • People who do not have symptoms and no known close contact exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case
  • People who are preparing to travel or recently returned from travel who do not have symptoms
  • Employees who have not had a known close contact exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case
  • People who are worried, but have not had close contact exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case and do not have symptoms
  • People who have been confirmed previously and are being retested for release from isolation.
Latest Garfield County COVID-19 Statistics & Trends

Garfield County stats

Cumulative cases as of 7/9 (all clinics) — 352

New cases reported in past week — 45

Rolling two-week onset of new cases: June 25-July 8 — 44; June 11-24 — 83

Test positivity rate — 4.7%

Deaths — 3

Source: Garfield County Public Health

Valley View COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/9/2020

Specimens collected through Valley View — 3,780 (New since 7/2: 549)

Positive results — 195 (New since 7/2: 54)

Pending results — 52

Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 34 (3 new since 7/2)

Patients discharged (incl. transfers and deceased) — 24

Grand River COVID-19 Cumulative Stats 7/9/2020

Specimens collected through Grand River Health — 1,893 (New since 7/2: 174)

Positive results — 87 (21 new since 7/2)

Pending results — 27

Patients admitted with COVID-19 since outbreak began — 3 (1 new hospitalization since 7/2)

Patients transferred — 2

Source: Hospital statistics released twice weekly

Officials also question the value, from a public health perspective, of people being tested for antibodies to determine if they previously had COVID-19, but who are no longer symptomatic

“If you are currently sick, antibody testing cannot determine if that sickness is COVID-19,” according to the joint statement.

Antibody tests measure whether a person has antibodies from a virus, but only after they have recovered.

“These tests should not be done until the patient has been without symptoms for at least seven days and does not have a fever,” according to the release.

Also, “A positive antibody test does not provide complete assurance at this time that someone will be protected from a future COVID-19 infection, and people should continue to take precautions and adhere to (public health safety precautions).”

“We all wish this pandemic would end … (and) go back to our normal ways of living life,” Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long said in the release. “The answer to keeping our economy is doable if we have everyone’s buy-in, but only doable if we have everyone’s buy-in.”

That includes wearing a mask in public when social distancing is not possible, staying six feet apart, washing hands regularly and staying home when sick.

“We can dramatically reduce spreading the virus,” Long said. “Those very basic actions that we are all getting used to are the ticket to getting back to a new normal.”

jstroud@postindependent.com

Alpine Bank in Carbondale closes lobby after workers test positive for COVID-19

Alpine Bank in Carbondale is temporarily closing its lobby after two employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The lobby closure is voluntary and drive-up services will continue at the Carbondale branch, according to a news release Thursday from Alpine Bank.

“This temporary closing of Carbondale’s lobby does not affect drive-up and walk-up banking services, which are still available at this location during normal operating hours,” Alpine Bank Carbondale President Garrett Jammaron said in the news release.

Alpine Bank branch locations in Glenwood, Basalt and Willits are unaffected and remain open, the release state. Alpine Bank is working with local and state health agencies to determine if any other steps are necessary. Testing is being requested for all branch employees and the Carbondale location will undergo “fogging” and enhanced cleaning.

Haims column: Doing it right — a transformative life experience between generations

In 2000, I was living in Edwards with my friend Joe. I was in my mid-30s, and my personal experiences of generations before me was limited to my grandparents. At a Y2K party Joe and I held, a friend brought me a book she just finished written by Tom Brokaw, “The Greatest Generation.”

It took some time for me to get through the book. But when I did finish, I was left with a sadness more than a sense of inspiration. While the stories in the book were educational, inspirational and provided an insight to a world and time I knew little of, I realized I had lost the ability to learn personal stories as my grandparents had already passed.

My brothers and I were pretty close with both sets of grandparents. On my father’s side, my grandmother was a tough ol’ broad. At barely 5 feet and a few inches, she was a force to reckon with. In my formative childhood years, she would constantly quiz me on vocabulary, demand that I respect and appreciate my elders, and etiquette (Emily Post). God forbid my brothers and I ever reached across the table to grab a serving plate — our hands would be stabbed with a fork quicker than the blink of an eye. Leaving the table without asking permission to be excused never ended well. My father’s father was in the investment business and traveled the world. He’d bring pictures, toys and tell stories of experiences with different cultures and different lifestyles.

My mom’s parents were incredible. They came from very nominal means, helped their parents in providing for their families, received formal schooling, and made it together through the Great Depression. With ending of prohibition in 1933, my grandfather found a career path. After leaving Chicago and moving west to California, he found his way to owning liquor stores. My grandmother was a fabulous cook and took great joy in filling the bellies of my family. Meals at their home was more than mealtime; it was “dining” with feet on the floor, hands in our lap, a fork properly in our right hand and knife in the left. It was family time where we laughed, ideas and aspiration were shared, and stories of our days were discussed.

The connection established between me and my grandparents is most likely why I wound up doing what I do. Work ethics, an appreciation for the value of a dollar, rewards of a hard day’s work, interest in the arts, a love for classical and jazz music (actually all music), and a respect and appreciation for elders were all taught by my grandparents.

Dubbed the Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, this generation of people born prior to 1924, and who lived through the turbulent times of the Great Depression, have much to teach us.

A couple of Sundays ago, while watching CBS Sunday Morning, I learned of two millennials, Ellie Sachs and Matt Starr, who are not only interested in learning from our elders, but are also forging relationships with them and enriching their lives.

If you find the time, it may be worthwhile to check out CBS Sunday Morning to watch the episode. Ellie and Matt have done some extraordinary and inspirational work with our elder population. Based in New York, these two filmmakers embarked upon a project to remake Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s romantic comedy into a short film called “My Annie Hall.” However, they did this with a twist. They did not use Hollywood actors, nor did they use aspiring actors. Rather, they remade the movie with senior citizens from a nearby retirement home.

The project was inspired after Matt watched Casablanca with his grandmother. His grandmother had dementia and conversations with her were challenging. As they watched the movie, Matt found that he and his grandmother were reciting lines and acting out scenes together. Unexpectedly, he realized that he had established a connection with his grandmother that opened new opportunities for communication.

Encouraged from the success of the “My Annie Hall” project, Matt and Ellie have created a movie club for seniors called The Long Distance Movie Club. With so many elders nationwide quarantined, the project could not have been timelier. Twice a week, Matt and Ellie use ZOOM to watch movies with residents of two senior facilities. They have created a special and mutually beneficial relationship with the members of the movie club. They have breached generational differences and have created a forum where different generations listen to, learn from and build respect for each other.

I hope that people in our local communities will be inspired by these two young people and think about how we all can develop meaningful relationships with our local elders. If we can embrace opportunities to learn from each other, we can make great strides in combating isolation, depression, and maybe, even learn a thing or two.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is, www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.

Glenwood Springs Community Center closes temporarily after employee tests positive for covid-19

The Glenwood Springs Community Center will be closed Monday after an employee tested positive for covid-19 on Sunday.

City Manager Debra Figueroa said Garfield County Public Health was notified Sunday and is conducting contact tracing to determine who might else have been exposed. The employee who tested positive checks people in for pool laps and had been off for a couple of days, but was tested Sunday at Valley View Hospital after becoming symptomatic. She said she did not believe the employee was symptomatic before taking time off.

“We did have a covid-19 social distance plan in place that we followed,” she said. “I think we have to wait and work with public health tomorrow (to know more).”

In the meantime, other city employees who worked with the individual were being contacted by the city Sunday night. Any city employees in need of testing or time off to self-quarantine will be covered under city policy.

“We have a policy where sick time will be covered for quarantine,” Figueroa said. “We have to work through the process to figure out who needs to be tested.”

This isn’t the first such positive result which required a facility to close or partially close since Glenwood Springs began to reopen in late May. Last week, the Sopris Cafe at Iron Mountain Hot Springs closed temporarily after two employees tested positive. Figueroa said that the potential for similar incidences will likely exist for the near-future — and serve as a reminder of the importance of social distancing, wearing a face covering and generally limiting one’s exposure.

“We can all try to be as safe as we can but we all have to realize that covid-19 is still out in the community and we need to be careful to protect our loved ones,” she said.

Figueroa said more information should be available Monday, but that anyone with questions in the meantime should contact Garfield County Public Health at 970-945-6614.

pbaumann@postindependent.com

Glenwood Council extends mask order following highly attended public listening session

The Glenwood Springs City Council on Thursday extended its mask ordinance to August. 

The extension is a break from the council’s two previous declarations — first making the mask order indefinite June 4, then removing the word “indefinite” June 18 and declaring the face covering order would be put to a vote at each following meeting.

After starting City Council’s regular meeting Thursday with a moment of silence for a man in his 70s who became Garfield County’s third death related to COVID-19 earlier in the day, City Council opened the regular agenda with a discussion about the face covering order.

While several members of the public called into council’s past meetings, speaking against the face mask order, no such opinions were voiced Thursday. 

“After having a community discussion (Tuesday) … and seeing a rise in cases throughout the county, I feel we’re being prudent,” Councilor Paula Stepp said. “I think in the long run it’s much better for our economy. Let’s do all we can to keep all our businesses open.”

Glenwood Springs residents and council members participated in a community listening session Tuesday, during which local medical professionals updated the community about the pandemic situation and provided scientific evidence about the effectiveness of wearing face coverings to slow the virus’ spread.

Briefing council, Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa said about 400 people called in for the listening session, making it one of the council’s most well attended meetings in recent history.

Councilor Rick Voorhees pointed out that Texas and Pennsylvania recently issued statewide mask orders, adding the country could soon see statewide orders as the status quo.

“I don’t think these are decisions states are making willy nilly,” Voorhees said. “We’ve spiked 82 percent in the last two weeks on the national level.”

Keeping the face-covering ordinance in place will help keep locals and visitors safe as a spike of COVID-19 infections grips the nation, Mayor Pro Tem Shelley Kaup said.

“We welcome visitors from all over the country,” Kaup said. “And there are a lot of spikes in cases in different parts of the country.”

Councilor Charlie Willman said some local businesses have been vocal opponents to the face-covering orders.

“Some of the businesses feel like we put them in the middle of this,” Willman said. “And, we need to remind them that the rules that govern businesses come from the Governor, not us.”

He added the council should be aware of the business owners placed in the position of enforcing mask orders indoors when customers refuse to comply.

Mayor Jonathan Godes agreed with Willman’s concerns, adding businesses that decide not to comply with the order make it difficult for compliant businesses by creating an inconsistent precedent for customers.

“I think it would be a lot less frustrating for the other business owners if the order was applied more evenly,” Godes said. “The city of Aspen started to criminalize businesses that didn’t enforce face coverings on their premises. We’re not there yet. But, we do ask businesses to have a baseline of doing the right thing, like not over-serving (alcohol).”

Willman made the motion to extend the mask order until the council’s first meeting in August and Kaup seconded.

The extension was approved unanimously.

Additionally, council directed city staff to draft a letter to Gov. Jared Polis requesting a statewide face-covering order for Colorado.

ifredregill@postindependent.com