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Students, teachers at three Rifle schools latest to be sent to quarantine after positive COVID cases

The Garfield Re-2 School District has transitioned 81 students and nine educators at three Rifle schools to online instruction while in quarantine for 14 days, due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 and individuals experiencing symptoms.

The impacted schools are Rifle High School and Highland and Wamsley Elementary schools, the district said in a late Saturday news release..

“Garfield Re-2 was made aware of two separate situations that led to the quarantines,” according to the release. “The cases are not related.”

The district and building administrators are working with Garfield County Public Health on follow-up investigation and contact tracing. In the meantime:

  • Individuals diagnosed are being kept home from school until they are no longer infectious.
  • Activities when those individuals could have spread COVID-19 have been assessed.
  • The people who were close contacts of the person with COVID-19 have been instructed to stay home from school for 14 days (quarantine) after the exposure.

“Any child that was in at least one class or group as the person diagnosed with COVID-19, must follow quarantine instructions and stay home from school for 14 days from the date of exposure,” the district said in the release.

Impacted students will switch to online instruction beginning Monday, and will not be allowed back to school until their quarantine period completes, according to the release.

“Custodial staff has cleaned and disinfected the schools and they are prepared for the return of non-impacted students and staff.”

What to do if your child shows COVID-19 symptoms

Anyone who develops symptoms consistent with COVID-19 — including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea — should:

  • Isolate until you/your child have had no fever for at least 24 hours (without the use of medicine that reduces fevers) and other symptoms have improved.
  • Wait until at least 10 days have passed since you/your child were tested or your symptoms first appeared. A limited number of persons with severe illness may require an extended duration of isolation up to 20 days after symptoms first appear. (https://covid19.colorado.gov/how-to-isolate)
  • Have your child tested.
  • Continue to keep your child home from school and avoid other activities around other people.
  • Notify the school.
  • Seek medical care and testing for COVID-19, calling your doctor before you show up.

Questions can be directed to Garfield County Public Health 970-945-6614, or in Rifle at 970-625-5200.

Source: Garfield Re-2 School District

Protocols questioned as coronavirus outbreak at Garfield County Community Corrections center in Rifle grows to nine cases

A Garfield County Community Corrections client on Thursday criticized the facility’s handling of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases over the past week, as state health officials were on hand to further assess the situation.

The number of confirmed cases also increased to nine late Wednesday when another staff member tested positive. No new cases were reported Thursday, Garfield County Public Information Officer Renelle Lott said.

To date, the confirmed cases involve six clients and three staff members, she said.

“All three staff have been released to quarantine away from the facility, and all six clients have been either furloughed or transferred to parole for quarantine,” Lott said.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rapid response team was on-site Thursday and completed testing on all remaining staff and current clients. The collected samples will be tested at the state lab, Lott said.

Meanwhile, Aaron Braatz, a client in the Rifle-based criminal justice facility, said the outbreak is not surprising given what he claimed have been weak safety protocols within the residential work-release program.

Last Saturday, Braatz said he was among 10 people on the facility’s transport van in the south Rifle area when he learned that one of the passengers was symptomatic and was being taken to Grand River Health to be tested.

He said he began questioning staff when he returned to the facility why other passengers would be allowed on the van if they knew someone was symptomatic and en route to be tested.

“No one even bothered to make me aware, or give me a choice to take the van, or not,” Braatz said. “I would have walked back to the facility if I’d known.”

Even within the facility on Sunday and Monday, after he said it was known that there was at least one confirmed case, it was business as usual during a community dinner.

Braatz said there was little attempt to prevent people from touching the same food items and utensils in the grab-and-go style community meal. Throughout the facility, he said there was little effort to keep people separated, and that the clients were still responsible for cleaning common areas, rather than a professional cleaning crew being brought in.

Braatz’s first COVID test taken earlier this week came back negative, and that he was tested again when the rapid response team came in Thursday. He said several residents have been sent home to quarantine, or to isolate if they tested positive, but that about a dozen male and female clients remain in the facility.

Garfield County Criminal Justice Services Administrator Rodney Hollandsworth said via an email response from Lott that ample safety precautions were and are being practiced.

“The facility had an established cleaning structure in place before COVID-19 occurred and strengthened it with the risk of COVID-19,” Lott said in the statement to the Post Independent. “Surfaces were and are cleaned and sanitized daily, including with supervision and oversight of these operations.”

Lott noted in an email to the Post Independent that clients of the Garfield County Criminal Justice facility are in the oversight of the courts.

“Upon entry to the community corrections facility they are notified that at any time they may initiate a complaint through the grievance process provided,” she said in response to Braatz’s claims.

The internal grievance process involves at least two levels of review, in which clients are requested to make a complaint verbally to a staff person first.

“If they feel the outcome does not meet their concern, they may initiate a formal written grievance that will be reviewed at the director level. This allows review by more than one staff member,” she said. 

Hollandsworth said Thursday that no such grievance has been filed.

Back in March of this year, when the COVID outbreak first showed up in Colorado, sanitizing at the facility was increased to include making sanitizing wipes available for commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, in restrooms and in common areas.

“As a result of the first positive test over the weekend, all cleaning supplies were provided in the common areas for both the male and female areas inside the living facility,” she said. “Clients had access to supplies 24 hours a day over the weekend and are continuing to have this.”

As for the transport vehicles, “sanitizing is done for both of the vehicles and surfaces in which people have routine contact.”

County corrections officials were notified Tuesday of four positive COVID cases at the facility. Notifications of positive test results for three additional cases were received later Tuesday and another on Wednesday, according to a Wednesday news release.

A quarantine remains in place for all individuals who were in the facility and may have been exposed.

The community corrections program is designed as a transitional program to prepare clients convicted of crimes to live independently after incarceration. Many of the clients work outside of the facility and are closely supervised when they return.

Personal responsibility is a big part of that arrangement, the county’s news release went on to state.

“Frequent and routine cleaning is a part of the requirements of clients to meet the standards of preparing to live on their own after their release,” the release stated.

Facility staff has also increased cleaning protocols to include cleaning after every single use of the restrooms, and after any use of the common areas, according to the release.

Staff also regularly wear protective masks, and clients are “encouraged” to do so, the release states.

Lott said Garfield County Public Health staff began working on contact investigations in the correctional facility over the weekend. However, the matter did not come up during the weekly Public Health update to county commissioners on Monday.

“The department was awaiting test results early this week to identify and determine whether or not there was a COVID outbreak in the facility,” Lott said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

In Garfield County’s season of the pandemic, crowds — not witches — seen as spooky

At first, some of the neighbors of Old Town in River Valley Ranch wondered what they could do to keep Halloween safe instead of turning off the porch lights. Maybe they could toss candy at the kids? Maybe set out bowls? Maybe even have a slide in the front yard where they could send candy down the chute? They exchanged ideas and thoughts, sometimes coated with emotion, like chocolate over a peanut bar, on a Facebook page. 

Halloween is a big deal anyway, but in the Carbondale neighborhood, it’s a Super Bowl-sized event, with more than 2,000 kids swooping through their streets. Even in our season of the pandemic, it seemed crazy to shut down trick-or-treating.

“There was a lot of back and forth,” said Sarah-Jane Johnson, a homeowner in the neighborhood. 

But then neighbors became spooked about a rising number of cases, to the point where health officials are calling it a nationwide second wave, and worried about ruining the chances of their schools reopening in the next couple of weeks. Upon hearing the news that Aspen’s most popular neighborhood will close on Halloween, the consensus was River Valley should probably do it as well. The porch lights, as it turns out, will go off. Neighbors even released an official statement:

“Our neighborhood, which has a tradition of being the happening place for enjoying Trick or Treating and Halloween festivities in Carbondale each year, instead asks the community to respect our space by not coming into Old Town in River Valley Ranch,” the statement read in part. 

Carbondale, like many Colorado towns across Garfield County (and really all over the state) are discouraging trick or treating this year while attempting to offer fun alternatives. Johnson calls it “the right thing to do,” as she’s part of the Carbondale Emergency Task Force, a volunteer organization led by residents to help the town figure out all the tricky dilemmas caused by COVID-19 this year. The task force also recommended parents to do something other than trick-or-treat. Carbondale’s mayor, Dan Richardson, agrees, saying parents should take “a different approach to Halloween this year.”

“Naturally, children are likely to have a hard time remembering to wash their hands, keep their masks on, and practice social distancing when they are excited about Halloween candy,” Richardson said, “so we strongly urge parents and the community to consider doing it differently.”

Perhaps as a carrot — or maybe a chocolate bar — the Carbondale Police Department will act as a de facto candy distributor. Officers usually hand out glow sticks to kids on Halloween. This year it’s goodie bags. The first 2,000 kids 13 and younger who request one either by social media or calling the police department during business hours (970-963-2662) will get a bag.

The Garfield County Library Carbondale branch will also offer a chance to carve a pumpkin on the back patio from Oct. 27-29. Between 5-7 p.m. on Oct. 30, you can vote for the best pumpkin at the library (patrons can take their pumpkin home if they don’t want to be famous), with the top three getting a prize. 

Glenwood Springs and Rifle are taking a similar approach, although the public health department isn’t forbidding trick-or-treating, just offering ways to enjoy it and remain safe, if that’s possible. 

Halloween isn’t canceled. It’s just quieter this year, as Amy Kimberly, executive director of Carbondale Arts, put it.

Carbondale

There may not be a more stark example of the way COVID-19 has stripped away our fun more than Carbondale’s Dia de los Muertos. 

The Day of the Dead on Nov. 1 is actually a lively celebration that honors loved ones who have passed on with dancing, music and a whole lot of fun. Carbondale developed a reputation as the place to be for the Dia in the last decade, even more than Halloween. When you ask Amy Kimberly about it this year, she just sighs. She is the Carbondale Arts executive director, and she was in charge of coordinating everything. This year, that was an easier, albeit more painful, task. She couldn’t put together a procession of more than 200 dancers, singers and costumed community members. She can’t even allow people to gather at the altar to shout the names of their loved ones and have those names be echoed by the crowd because, well, there’s a crowd. 

She did try. She reached out to a ballet folklore dancing troupe but was turned down. 

“I get it,” said Kimberly, with the tone of a kid who’s been turned down by a busy parent too many times for a game of catch. “Nobody can take risks right now.

“It’s just difficult these days. We’re very sad. It was such a cross-cultural event for us.”

Kimberly does have a couple of ways to celebrate, even as she knows they’re muted in comparison to years past. The first is a community altar hosted by the Valley Settlement Project that will be created on Nov. 2 and run to Nov. 6 at The Launchpad, 76 South Fourth St. Those who celebrate build altars to honor their loved ones with symbols of their favorite foods, pastimes or clothing as well as pictures and the more traditional symbols such as flowers and sugar skulls. 

Kimberly hopes Carbondale residents create their own altars in their yards and let the Arts organization know, so maybe she can create a map for people to go around to see all of them, in the same way communities create maps of cool Christmas decorations. 

The second way to celebrate, scheduled for Nov. 6, will be a virtual First Friday and will feature the customs of the day, including instructions on how to paint your face in the calavera style and a look at how other communities are celebrating. That stream will be on the Thunder River Theatre Company’s website. 

“You will still get that feeling, I think,” she said. “But it will be a little quieter.”

Quieter is right, as other parties and events were canceled, many at the last minute, much like River Valley Ranch’s decision to shut down. KDNK Community Radio usually hosted what it called “an adult party,” with live music, costumes and goodies. This year the station considered offering a family-friendly, socially distanced event, maybe something like pumpkin carving, but after Garfield County’s public health department released guidelines on staying away from trick or treating, the station decided to cancel everything. 

“We decided it would be best to not even do a daytime event,” said Greg Albrecht, development director at the station, “both for safety in general as well as public perception. There’s no reason to push that.”

Rifle and New Castle

Rifle may be quiet this year, as City Manager Scott Hahn said he hadn’t heard of anything going on. But one place is attempting to pick up the slack. 

Columbine Ford will host a Trunk or Treat for the first time this year. This is a strange time to try to host a public event when you’ve never done one before, but that’s part of the point, said Bethany Duggan, business development manager for the car dealership. In fact, it will be the first in a series of holiday events the dealership will host through December. 

“We know everyone is struggling right now,” Duggan said, “and we just want to be there for them.”

The dealership has the space to do it, she said, with a giant parking lot to help everyone stay spread out. The event, from 4-6 p.m. Oct. 30, will allow kids to enter through the north, one way, and exit with candy and surprises at a few different stations. 

“I know people aren’t feeling safe about going door-to-door,” Duggan said, “and I know we have the ability to put in precautions with that giant parking lot. We want you to come and bring your kids down, have a good time and enjoy the holidays the best that we can.”

The New Castle branch of the Garfield libraries will offer Halloween fun at 1 p.m. on Halloween Day at the Town Hall/Library plaza. Costumes are encouraged.

Glenwood Springs

The phones were ringing at Garfield County Public Health this year even two months before Halloween. But since the health department released a detailed list of guidelines, they’ve been quieter, just like the holiday. 

“There are so many details, laws and regulations now that sometimes it’s confusing,” said Carrie Godes, the public information officer for the public health department. 

Those guidelines include strict adherences to trick-or-treating, including limiting the time at doorways, parents policing social distancing for their excited kids and wearing a mask, even under or over a costume, just as you sometimes have to wear a winter coat over it as well, Godes said. The recommendations also include avoiding crowds, and that one makes Godes cringe a bit. 

“We think we can do some trick-or-treating as long as we stick to those precautions we’ve been preaching for so long,” Godes said. “But we are concerned about people clogging up those doors. I know this personally: Even the most cautious kids forget about social distancing when they’re around a bowl of candy.”

Residents who have health concerns, or those spooked by the virus, shouldn’t feel bad about turning off their porch light, Godes said. This is the year to do that. Maybe they can hand out salted caramel apples or something special next year to make up for it. 

As a way to help families who don’t feel safe trick-or-treating, Glenwood Springs’ recreation department will offer a scavenger hunt, which are usually socially distanced anyway, and a Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin patch and a few haunted houses in the parking lot. All of these replace the big haunted house the recreation center usually puts on. The event will be scaled down from past years, said Pat Miller, recreation manager for Glenwood Springs, but it may feel larger, as the offerings will be spread out more. The event takes place from 1-5 p.m. on Halloween day. Register in advance for $5.

Miller and the city will also drop off pumpkins and 250 pieces of candy to downtown businesses that sign up for a week-long Halloween event that starts Oct. 26. Businesses can carve the pumpkin and hide it in their store, and patrons can take a photo of the pumpkin and tag it “#glenwoodrec for a chance at prizes.

Both events are designed to remove the sting of forgoing trick-or-treating if they have to this year. 

“The kids are still feeling like they are interacting and going around and getting candy, but obviously in a socially distanced way,” Miller said. “If we can help them feel back to normal even for a bit, we will consider that a win.”

Safer frights are available. The Glenwood Springs Historical Society will offer a virtual ghost walk this year as an alternative to the in-person fundraiser it offers every year, the society’s largest. That takes place at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 at www.glenwoodhistory.com/ghost-walk, and for a donation, you can watch ghosts walk the cemetery and talk about their connections with their underground neighbors. 

“It’ll be just like going, only you’ll get a neat experience with some special effects,” said Lisa Langer, the director of tourism promotion for Visit Glenwood Springs. Langer herself portrays Big Nose Kate, the common-law wife of Doc Holliday. She will stand in front of Holliday’s grave and talk about their relationship. Versatile Productions and the True Media Foundation put together the presentation.

Maybe she was just searching for any way to enjoy the holiday, but Langer noticed that a lot of people did decorate their homes this year. 

“I decorated mine too,” she said.

Meet the lead reporter for western Garfield County

Ray Erku might be new to Rifle, but he’s very familiar with the rural west. Originally from Minnesota, Erku comes to Rifle after working as the editor of the Rawlins Times in Rawlins, Wyoming. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter for the Reporter & Farmer in South Dakota and is a graduate of the Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Erku’s focus won’t be limited to Rifle — he’s the lead reporter for all of Western Garfield County and looks forward to writing the stories of Parachute, Battlement Mesa, Silt and our rural community.

Erku spoke with Citizen Telegram Editor Peter Baumann about journalism, what he’s enjoying about living in Rifle so far and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

You moved to Rifle about two weeks ago now — how are you liking it so far? How does it compare to your earlier experience in other rural communities?

Cosmetically speaking, Rifle’s an incredible place. I almost have to pinch myself every morning when I step out onto my deck, sip my coffee and gaze at the rugged beauty of Roan Plateau. For some reason I keep thinking that gorgeous thing’s somehow going to grow a pair of legs and run away from me and I’ll have nothing fascinating to look at!

Meanwhile, when I look around town it’s easy to say this place takes care of its people. There’s a curvaceous concrete skatepark. The municipal pool is impressive. Pedestrian paths, parks and awesome trails seem countless. Not to mention, people seem nice here and the food is exquisite.

Honestly, not to slander my former hometowns, but Rifle’s quality of life is pretty much incomparable.

Being a journalist in a small town offers a lot of blessings, in my opinion, compared to working in a larger metro market. What do you enjoy about community journalism?

It’s all about accessibility. Working small-town journalism gives a person such a greater opportunity for interaction; you’re able to become a lot more intimate, let’s say, with the people and their stories. And amid such a weird, almost unprecedented time for journalists, small-town journalism truly allows reporters to break whatever misinterpretations and stigmas the public may have about the media.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s almost every reporter’s dream to have a byline in the Washington Post or New York Times. But when was the last time anyone’s ever met a reporter from larger publications like those? Most times, it feels, a lot of those reporters have no faces, while in smaller markets it’s not really a surprise if the locals know what size shoe you wear. We’re more “in the flesh,” ya know?

How did you decide to go into journalism? How do you think it’s changed since you first began in college?

When I was growing up I wasn’t the greatest student. When teachers tried to teach me algebra or isosceles triangles, my mind was in the clouds as I scribbled poetry all over my poor, tortured textbooks. So, in a way, it’s almost the other way around: The craft of writing sort of decided to pick me.

Consciously, however, I finally decided to pursue journalism when I was a senior in college, after things turned a bit sour in my personal life. Originally I was a marketing major, but I always in the back of my head knew ultimately that it just wasn’t for me. And it was right before walking into another business class I was struck by a major epiphany. My father, a mechanical engineer who would work eight hours, come home, eat a good meal, drink a cold beer and go straight back to our home computer to create more blueprints or whatever he was doing, had just passed away from pancreatic cancer. Thing was, he died loving what he did for a living. 

So I skipped that class and walked straight to the college newsroom and asked for an application. Quite an expensive decision, but, you only live once.

What are you most excited about over the coming year?

It’s quite a thrill knowing I’ll be working with some great, experienced reporters, editors and publishers. Back in Wyoming I was almost entirely on my own, so to gain that camaraderie and mentorship typically found in a newsroom with actual people inside of it is priceless in itself.

Most importantly, I’m excited to document the lives and stories of the people of Rifle and Garfield County. Sometimes we can forget just how much of a difference journalism makes, and to be an agent manifesting that difference for this community is both a privilege and honor.

Coming from Wyoming, what do you see as some similarities between there and where you are now on the Western Slope?

Green chili. Like Wyoming I’m quite certain people smother the delectable sauce not just over their burrito but their breakfast cereal, their muffins, their chocolate bars. Perhaps they even brush their teeth with green chili; maybe even bathe in it, who knows?

On a more serious note, especially when it comes to western Garfield County, the energy industry here is almost an economic facsimile of southern Wyoming, where things like oil and alternative energy production reign supreme. It’s been profoundly interesting to witness major projects backed by people like Philip Anschutz and Warren Buffett come to fruition and materialize. I look forward to reporting further on these topics here in Garfield County.

What are some ways you enjoy being involved in the community in which you live and what are three fun things you’re most likely doing if not working?

In any way shape or form, involving myself in some sort of recreational sports league has helped me throughout my entire career. I grew up in my home state of Minnesota playing hockey, basketball, football and soccer, and through these experiences I found out quite quickly that the concept of sport brings people together. Doesn’t matter what aisle you sit on, doesn’t matter what god you worship, doesn’t matter if you prefer dogs over cats. A good ol’ pick up game of some puck or basketball shatters differing opinions with an iron fist.

On that note, here are three fun (and not so fun) activities I love (and hate) doing in my spare time:

1) Screaming at the television set when the Minnesota Vikings choke yet again on NFL Sunday.

2) Reading Rolling Stone magazine while drinking a Scotch.

3) Listening to the Lakme’s “Flower Duet” while I pretend to give a performance at Palais Garnier.

Is there anything else you’d like the community to know? If a reader wants to reach out, what’s the best way to get a hold of you?

No matter how much I claim to play guitar, I’m truly terrible at it. And call my cell phone. I usually answer — that is, if I’m not busy verbally damning the Vikes on NFL Sunday. Readers can call me at 612-423-5273 or email me at rerku@citizentelegram.com.

COVID cases increase in outbreak at Garfield County community corrections facility in Rifle

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased to eight at the Garfield County Criminal Justice facility in Rifle.

Six clients of the county’s residential community corrections program and two staff members have now tested positive for COVID, according to a Wednesday evening press release from Garfield County.

On Thursday, a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) rapid response team is scheduled to test all clients and staff, including those who have been tested previously, according to the news release.

Officials were notified Tuesday of four COVID positive cases at the facility, and notifications of positive test results for three additional cases were received later Tuesday and another on Wednesday.

A quarantine of all individuals who were in the facility and may have been exposed remains in place.

Some clients of the facility commented on the Post Independent’s initial story Tuesday that health-safety protocols to prevent spread of COVID-19 were lax. County corrections officials said that is not the case.

“The community corrections facility had an established cleaning structure in place before the first case of COVID-19 presented over the weekend,” according to the release, as well as a statement sent in response to questions posed by the Post Independent.

“Cleaning protocols were strengthened when the first case presented,” according to the statement. “In March of this year, sanitizing was increased to include provision of sanitizing wipes for commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, in restrooms and in common areas.”

When the first positive test was confirmed over the weekend, all cleaning supplies were provided in the common areas for both the male and female living spaces 24 hours a day. Vehicles used for client transportation and surfaces where people have routine contact are also regularly sanitized, corrections officials said.

The community corrections program is designed as a transitional program to prepare clients who have been convicted of crimes to live independently after incarceration.

Many of the clients work outside of the facility, and are supervised in caring for their own needs inside the facility. Personal responsibility is a big part of that, the county’s release went on to state.

“Frequent and routine cleaning is a part of the requirements of clients to meet the standards of preparing to live on their own after their release. Staff has increased cleaning protocols to include cleaning after every single use of the restrooms, and as always after any use of the common areas.”

In addition, the use of protective masks is required of staff and encouraged for clients, the release states.

Garfield County Public Health staff began working on contact investigations in the correctional facility over the weekend, but the matter did not come up during the weekly Public Health update to county commissioners on Monday.

“The department was awaiting test results early this week to identify and determine whether or not there was a COVID outbreak in the facility,” the release went on to say.

An outbreak is defined by public health officials as two or more cases traced to a single location.

“Public Health is working with the facility to conduct contact tracing, and has brought in CDPHE to do everything possible to protect the clients and staff of the facility,” the release states.

Each of the people testing positive is in isolation, and anyone else who may have been exposed is on quarantine.

Daily monitoring of temperatures has been done for months, and some clients have reached out to their own health care providers to request testing, according to the release. Community corrections staff has worked to facilitate those accommodations, officials said.

There have been no transfers of clients to other facilities during this time, so the risk of spread to the county jail or other units is minimal, the release also stated.

Community corrections clients are still able to receive mail or care packages under the usual security protocols. However, they are not able to receive visitors, and their places of employment have been notified they will not be working while on quarantine. Clients are also not being charged rent for the program during the quarantine period.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Lots of smiles in Rifle: 25 people sign pledge to be kind, wave and smile during ‘Hello Rodeo’

Amid honks, waves, smiles and neighbors, Kate Andreatta found herself overwhelmed by a simple joy Friday.

“The one thing I miss the most, that’s actually being able to get a hug from someone,” the retired substitute teacher and widow said. “I have no family. I just want us to get back so we can hug each other.”

With her service dog Sam sporting a small COVID-19 mask over his snout by her side, Andreatta said she was grateful for the Hello Rodeo – especially when it compelled her to leave her residence at a nearby assisted living home for a couple hours.

“With the turmoil the country’s in right now, it’s good to see people saying, ‘Be kind, be nice,’” Andreatta said. “Even if one person gets the message and thinks twice the next time they’re going to rip somebody apart, we’ve succeeded.”

One of the main goals of the event, organized by the Rifle Humanity Restoration Crew, was to connect people through  a pledge to wave, smile and be kind whenever the moment’s opportune. 

After an hour of people waving to traffic from the sidewalks near Rifle Middle School, about 25 visitors signed their names and made the pledge. And in return, they were presented with a “swag bag,” full with goodies like T-shirts, buttons and other merchandise.

Standing among the small crowd of sign holders, Kimber Burner, a member of Greater Rifle Improvement Team, agreed that while uncertainties over COVID-19 continue, events like the Hello Rodeo are important.

New Castle resident Summer Duclo, 12, foreground, smiles as her sister Tatum Duclo, 9, holds up a “smile, wave, greet” sign during the Hello Rodeo event held Friday afternoon in Rifle.
Ray K. Erku / Citizen Telegram

“We’re going to be doing a lot more of these kinds of things,” she said. “The weather, as it gets colder, it’ll make it harder. But we’re still going to do more things and there’s a lot more ideas coming down the pipe.”

Some motorists rolled their windows down to wave back and cheer on an assortment of city workers, various volunteers and even children, who held signs that donned smiley faces and a note saying, “Reconnecting people one wave at a time.”

“We’re spreading smiles,” Taveon Burrill, an 8-year-old Rifle resident, said.

Annick Pruett, taking an hour-long break from her post of community relations director at Grand River Health to help elicit honks and smiles, said the event not only helps get people together but it helps ease the mind, especially during a worldwide pandemic.

A car passenger passing through Railroad Avenue on Friday afternoon waves in response to a wave first engaged by Annick Pruett, left, during the Hello Rodeo event held Friday afternoon.
Ray K. Erku / Citizen Telegram

“I think people need to make a connection with other people,” she said. “That’s something with the masks and everything we’ve been going through, we’ve kind of lost that connection. I think that it’s really important and good for our mental health.”

“Any time you can smile and laugh and make somebody’s day, of course we need more of it,” she added.

If events like this continue, it’s safe to say people like Andreatta will continue to benefit.

“Yes it does,” Andreatta said when asked if the Hello Rodeo helps. “Because I haven’t been around anyone, especially with the COVID.”

rerku@citizentelegram.com

‘Hello rodeo’ at Rifle’s Heinz Park on Friday

The Rifle Humanity Restoration crew is hosting a “hello rodeo” from noon to 1:30 p.m. Friday at Heinz Park and across the street from Rifle Middle School.

“It’s a rally-type event where people can come to connect with others by waving, holding signs with positive messages and just being friendly,” a news release from the city of Rifle states.

The first 20 people who show up and pledge to “smile, wave and be kind” can get a goodie bag with t-shirt, buttons and other times. There is a limit of one bag per family. 

“Bilingual yard signs will also be available for Rifle citizens to put up in front of their homes or businesses,” the release states.

Since the event is outside, social distancing should be able to be maintained, but “please bring a mask for times when you might be close to others.”

Visit rifleco.org, the city of Rifle’s Facebook page and Twitter feed for more information about the humanity committee or the city of Rifle.

West GarCo schools adapt to in-person schooling during COVID

Garfield Re-2 Schools’ first “let’s go” moment in implementing its COVID-19 response plan came early in the school year over Labor Day weekend when Coal Ridge High School had a positive case.

About 100 students and nine teachers were informed they would need to stay home and quarantine for up to 14 days, but continue with their coursework and instruction online using the district’s distance learning platform.

“We learned a lot that day,” Re-2 Superintendent Heather Grumley said.

Even with the best-laid plans after weeks of preparation over the summer, there were still a few things they hadn’t thought of, she said.

Like making sure students who had to remain home had their school-issued Chromebooks with them to actually be able to get online and follow their lesson plans.

Students now are instructed to keep their computers with them at all times heading to and from school — just in case.

The response plan itself involved tracking the class list of the person who tested positive, their movement through the school building, identifying those who might have been exposed and then making the phone calls.

“We had no real protocol at that point,” Grumley said. “But once it actually happened, it helped us to solidify those plans.

“Still, it’s not an easy thing to have to make that phone call to the parents and say your student has to be home,” she said.

The district hasn’t had a situation quite like that first one, and most of the instances requiring temporary quarantine since have been far less-involved.

Each time, though, district and school administrators, teachers, staff, and even parents and students, learn a little bit more about how to deal with it.

“We have gotten a lot of support from parents in all of this,” Grumley said. “The resounding message we keep hearing is that kids want to be in school, and they know that if they adhere to the protocols we’re all working to try to keep each other out of quarantine.

“That’s our mission at hand.”

Student yo-yo

Since that first case at Coal Ridge, the district responded to another positive case at Riverside Middle School in New Castle, where 66 students and five teachers went on quarantine; plus:

•A case that involved five different elementary, middle and high schools and was traced to two school bus routes, sending another 100 or so students to quarantine;

•A much smaller group of students, teachers and part of the front office at Wamsley Elementary in Rifle; and,

•Just this Tuesday, another case at Riverside Middle involving 56 students and five staff members.

In each of the prior cases, the groups of students and teachers have returned to their schools following quarantine; with full understanding that it could happen again.

That “yo-yo” routine, as Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein referred to it during a recent school board meeting — sending students home and reeling them back in when safe — is something that schools providing the option of in-person learning will be getting more and more used to as the COVID pandemic continues through at least this school year, if not longer.

Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt are preparing to pivot from distance learning to in-person classes starting next week, and have been watching closely and learning from the west-end districts and others around the state regarding best practices. 

It’s all about adapting, oftentimes on the fly, said Grumley and Garfield District 16 Superintendent Brad Ray.

The D16 schools in Parachute/Battlement Mesa returned to the classroom the Tuesday after Labor Day, Sept. 8.

“We had some pretty proactive planning over the summer, and adopted a strong cohorting approach, as recommended by public health,” Ray said of the practice of maintaining set groups of students who stay together day in and day out and have very minimal contact with other groups, also referred to as cohorting.

D16 had its first quarantine response of the year on Wednesday, when a positive case prompted 27 students and one teacher to be put on quarantine, Ray said.

Earlier in the fall, D16 schools also responded and sent students home or closed for the day when several students appeared to be showing symptoms.

“We talked through that with public health, and worked the best scenario for that situation,” Ray said. “This time of year we always have stuff going around, so we have those protocols and procedures in place.”

With each of its COVID-response incidents, Re-2 has learned something new, Grumley said. But each situation is different, she said.

“There are many variables that go into evaluating and contact tracing a quarantining situation — grade level, cohorting, bus riding activity, athletics, siblings …

“Probably the biggest thing that we have learned thus far is that, like in so many things in this world, the quality of the response is tied strongly to the quality of your data,” she said. “If you have good data to begin with, the precision, timeliness and quality of the response will be significantly better.” 

Thus far, Grumley added, “we can say that it is absolutely worth it to do all of the work on the backside to keep as many Garfield Re-2 students in in-person learning as possible.

“It is the right thing to do for students and families.”

Some online, some in class

While the vast majority of Re-2’s 4,600 students are going to school in person, about 735 opted to enroll in the district’s distance learning program for at least the first quarter.

The reasons varied.

Sometimes, a student or family member was at higher risk should they contract COVID-19. Or, they might just be playing it safe to start the school year.

The first quarter ends this week, and students/families will be given the option to switch one way or the other for the remainder of the semester.

“We asked families at the beginning of the school year to settle into one model or another for the first quarter, because we didn’t want students going back and forth,” Grumley said. “We worked with each of them as needed to make sure they had the support they needed.”

Likewise, District 16 has about 25% of its roughly 1,100 students opting for distance learning, Ray said. 

Those numbers have been dwindling, though, as students have been allowed to return to in-person instruction as they felt comfortable, he said.

“If that’s what they wanted, and if they felt they could be more successful that way, then that’s great,” Ray said.

Both districts have also worked with teachers who wanted to teach strictly online, often for health reasons, both superintendents said.

District 16 has its own online platform, but is also partnering with Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services for some online instruction.

In Re-2, at the elementary level, the district has seven teachers dedicated to online instruction, one for each grade level, and eight at the middle school level, two for each academic subject.

“Many of our high school teachers are doing both synchronous (real time) and asynchronous (within a certain time frame) for their students,” Grumley said.

That has been challenging for high school teachers in particular, she said. “I’m not sure if we will adopt that model again” for high school teachers, she admitted.

Other high school challenges

The use of cohorts — typically set groups of about 25 students each, or less — works well at the elementary and middle school levels.

But it’s more difficult in the high schools where students have numerous course options, and take classes with different groups of students on different days.

Grand Valley High School has given it a try, with some success, Ray said.

“We were able to come up with a pretty good plan that seems to be working,” he said, acknowledging that the smaller school size of 310 students makes that easier to accomplish.

Most of the test-positive situations involving elementary classrooms have been limited to a small number of students and a small number of staff, Grumley added.

“At the middle school level, our cohorts are as tight as they can be, and any direct classroom exposure will likely lead to more than a handful of students being quarantined,” she said.

It gets harder to control student interaction and behavior at the high school level, she said.

“Sending 100 kids home out of about 400 was really a little better than we expected for the first exposure,” Grumley said of the Coal Ridge case. “The biggest adjustment that we made at Coal Ridge was to re-emphasize the use of seating charts. That small measure paid off in a big way when the state changed their quarantining requirements for larger cohorts.”

The high school students who have chosen in-person learning tend to be more social by nature, and they want to be in school with their friends and to see their teachers in person. “Sometimes, we have challenges with enforcing the physical distancing, and the wearing of the facial coverings, Grumley said.

“Our principals also spent many pain-staking hours with their leadership teams to find traffic patterns that meet student needs with the highest regard for student and staff safety.

“It was no small feat to design traffic flows, including one-way hallways, lunchrooms and common areas to return to in-person learning.” 

Overall, though, there have been very few problems with students at all grade levels not following the rules, she said.

Bottom line, Grumley said, “that’s because they want to be in school, they want to be with their teachers and they want to be with their friends.”

As the weather gets colder and more students move indoors between classes and during breaks, the challenges of maintaining social distancing and keeping gatherings outside of cohorts will also increase, school district leaders acknowledged.

And, with the online platforms in place to fall back on, there will be no snow days off this winter. Instead, buses won’t run and students won’t come to school on bad weather days, but online classes will proceed and attendance will be expected, they emphasized.  

jstroud@postindependent.com

Riverside Middle School transitions some students, staff to distance-learning

Roughly 56 students and five staff members are transitioning to distance-learning after a positive case of COVID-19 at Riverside Middle School.

Garfield Re-2 School District said in a news release that they were notified on Monday and then requested those who had direct exposure to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Students and staff that were directly impacted have transitioned to distance learning, and instruction is being provided remotely,” the district states.

Garfield County Public Health is leading the investigation, which means:

  • All persons diagnosed are being kept home from school until they are no longer infectious.
  • These person’s activities, when they could have spread COVID-19, have been assessed.
  • The people who were close contacts of the person(s) with COVID-19 are being instructed to stay home and not attend school or other public activities for 14 days after the exposure. This is called quarantine.

Community Profile: Keeping busy by helping others

Those who know Mary Lee Mohrlang recognize two things about her. She’s involved in her community, and with her at all times is her yellow legal pad filled page after page of lists noting everything she is scheduled to do for that day.

Whether she’s volunteering at Grand River Hospital in Rifle or recording Community Connections at the KSUN radio studio in Battlement Mesa; she is always doing something.

“I have always been a little busybody; that’s why I got in trouble in school all the time,” Mohrlang said. “I was kicked out of kindergarten because I could not sit still…. the final blow was the day I crawled under my teacher’s desk and ate her lunch.”

Her busy-bee mentality hasn’t changed much since kindergarten; it is something that is just ingrained in her — thanks in part to her grandfather.

With tears in her eyes, Mohrlang credits her grandfather, Dr. Oscar Clagett, for instilling in her the importance of showing compassion for others.

Because her parents were often away or busy working throughout her childhood, she considers her grandfather her mentor and one who played an instrumental role in her upbringing.

“My grandfather would have been so proud because at a very early age when I was with him he taught me to always be caring, sharing and compassionate and I have always made that my motto,” she said.

Volunteering

Mohrlang retired from working as a Realtor this year, but she knew she would never technically retire. She is actively involved in nearly a dozen different activities and organizations ranging from serving on the volunteer Board of Directors at Grand River Hospital to co-hosting a short informative health segment on KSUN.

Being part of other people’s lives is just real important to me,” Mohrlang said. “It’s my goal to get up everyday and do that.”

Mohrlang played an instrumental role in establishing the Care Cart Program at Grand River Hospital in 2018. This free service provides patients with non-physical activities to help occupy their time while they are recovering in the hospital.

Mary Lee Mohrlang walks out of Grand River Health in Rifle where she frequently volunteers.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“People are very appreciative that somebody takes the time to bring something in to help occupy their minds while they’re healing,” she said.

Upbringing

Mohrlang was born and raised in Denver until she reached junior high and her family began moving frequently for her father’s work.

“I didn’t really have anywhere that I could call home at the point,” she said. “But I got very good at making friends.”

She spent her summer breaks in the Western Slope, which she considered her second home.

“I didn’t like babysitters, so I came over here and stayed with relatives,” Mohrlang said, namely her grandparents.

“I used to go to the clinic and on medical calls with (Dr. Clagett) a lot as I got older,” Mohrlang said.

Clagett ran his own clinic in downtown Rifle and was later honored with the naming of the Clagett Memorial Hospital in Rifle until it was replaced by Grand River Hospital, and the old building demolished in order to build the E. Dene Moore Care Center.

“He would let me go with him (on calls). He did his own lab work, he did everything. He was a real country doctor,” Mohrlang said. “He taught me how to read different cells under the microscope, taught me how to cast a broken arm.”

Businesses

In college, Mohrlang received dual majors in history, physical education and education after having a hard time deciding what it was she wanted to do in life.

“When I was a senior in college, the dean called me — who I worked for as a student aid — and he told me, ‘It’s time that you declared something that you think you want to do when you graduate,’” Mohrlang said.

She later started teaching before meeting her husband, Jerry, also a teacher, in Basalt.

Mohrlang later decided to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity with the help of an aunt.

“My aunt gave me the opportunity to open a fabric store with her in Carbondale, and it was time for me to find something else after teaching,” she said.

After partnering with friends in Carbondale, Mohrlang at one point owned five separate businesses between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Two fabric stores called the Calico Cat 1 and 2, a kitchen and restaurant, and a catering businesses.

Black Sunday

Unfortunately, not long after opening the shops, the economy took a dramatic downturn as a result of Exxon abruptly shutting down operations on the Western Slope.  What would later be known as “Black Sunday” occurred when Exxon laid off over 2,000 oil shale workers who were working on the Colony Project near Parachute, as well as thousands more who were support workers.

“The whole Western Slope world fell apart with the Exxon debacle….we lost everything we had,” she said. “It pretty well devastated all of Colorado. The population left because the oil and gas industry collapsed. It was like a bustling little community on Sunday and on Monday it was mass exodus.”

Residents in the area began moving left and right, leaving the Mohrlangs with only one option: begin closing down all five businesses.

“We still had all our businesses in Carbondale. It took about a year to affect the Carbondale and beyond area,” Mohrlang said. “We had to close our Glenwood store and then shut one store after another down until there was nothing left. We were lucky to sell our house and leave.”

They packed up and moved to Atlanta, Georgia for a new beginning.

“We needed a new start to lick our wounds,” Mohrlang said.

She spent a few years working as a flight attendant for Eastern Air Lines before it also collapsed. Later, Mohrlang received her Realtor’s license and did that for a while before moving back to Battlement Mesa, where she and her husband built their house from the ground up and continue to live 20 years later.

Talk of the Town Award

Each year, the Garfield County Human Services Commission honors four locals with awards recognizing the commitment they show toward their communities. Each award title is tailored to the type of person receiving the honor.

This year, Mohrlang was awarded the Talk of the Town Award. She was nominated and selected because of how well known she is in the area for the volunteer work she does on a daily basis.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson is a longtime friend of Mohrlang after she stepped up to help when a close friend of Samson’s became ill.

“I know how much time and effort and care she has exhibited and given to many people,” Samson said. “I know personally because she helped a lady that was like my mother to me; she was very kind and helpful and gracious to her. She touched my life because of her reaching out and helping in such a way.”

“One of the traits that I admire in her the most is she’s a mover and a shaker,” he said.  “She does not let the grass grow under her feet.”

While presenting at the awards ceremony, Samson began speaking of a woman who had helped another while volunteering at Grand River Hospital. Mohrlang, who truly did not know or believe she had won, was shocked when she realized the woman Samson spoke of was herself.

“When he (Samson) was introducing (the winner) I realized it was myself and I just started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I love to volunteer and I love to help people but not in comparison of the other three finalists,” Mohrlang said. “I was honored to be part of them… I have never been that shocked in my life. I’m very honored.”

To this day, Mohrlang credits her influential grandfather for making her the kind, caring and compassionate person she strives to be.

“In my eyes, Dr. Claggett should receive the kudos for instilling in me the importance of these traits,” she said, “because they were deeply embedded into my soul.”

cself@postindependent.com