Community conversation stresses mask use

Glenwood listening session covers coronavirus and the economy

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Woman made mask self prevention ill made of fabric for dust and germs pm 2.5, virus covid 19

We’re in this together — and we need to wear masks.

That might sum up the first of three Glenwood Springs community conversations Tuesday evening.

The purpose of the meeting, according to event information, was to listen and better understand community questions as the city seeks to balance public health and open the economy.

Or, as facilitator Janesse Brewer put it, to “find the sweet spot of reopening,” though she pointed out that reaching consensus was not the purpose of this meeting.

The discussion rarely strayed from COVID-19 data, with speakers and panelists presenting a united front on the necessity of mask use.

Speaker Dr. David Brooks, Chief Medical Officer for Valley View Hospital, gave a public health update. He said the hospital is keeping a close watch on the uptick in cases locally.

“When we get more than three new hospitalizations in a week we get concerned if we’ll be able to handle those cases. We’re reaching that level again, and we’re getting cautious,” he said.

Much of his presentation focused on the value of wearing face coverings. He gave a mathematical example of how masks can limit the spread of the disease.

He said that the R-naught for COVID-19 is thought to be about 2.4, meaning infected people who take no steps to reduce transmission risk will infect 2.4 people on average.

He then showed a slide of a formula that demonstrates the effectiveness of mask wearing. The formula takes into account how effective the mask is at trapping viral particles and the percentage of the population that wears them. In his example, if masks trap just 50% of particles and half the population wears them, that reduces the R-naught to 1.35. 

What that means is at R-naught 2.4 100 cases will swell to 31,280 in one month, while at R-naught 1.35 cases would grow to just 584 cases, 98% fewer.

The next slide read, in regard to the high cost of medical care, “We estimate that the benefits of each additional cloth mask worn by the public are conservatively in the $3,000-$6,000 range due to their impact in slowing the spread of the virus.”

A panel of business owners and community leaders answered questions from the public either by phone or email submission.

A submitter named John asked about the positivity rate of local coronavirus testing.

Brooks explained, “The positivity rate has been 5% recently. What we’re looking for as we implement more tests is the rate to go down. If the rate stays the same it means we were missing cases in the community.”

Submitter Greg asked if more testing could be done locally.

Sara Brainard, a nurse with Garfield County Public Health, said that all of the tests provide only a piece of the puzzle, “and it’s a 10,000-piece puzzle,” she said. “Testing on a frequent basis doesn’t give us the info we wish it would. Some people test positive, go through isolation, and still test positive. Testing is not the be-all and end-all.”

Submitter Joyce asked to what activities have recent cases been linked.

Brainard responded,” We’re seeing broader community spread. We’re not seeing instances of people who have traveled. Job site and essential workers have been bringing it home to their families.”

Submitter Joyce (it is not clear if she is the same as the previous submitter) asked if there are any medical conditions exacerbated by wearing a mask.

Brooks responded, “There is a slight barrier so you have to breathe a little harder, but there’s no impact on oxygen or CO2 levels. If you have severe pulmonary disease that may warrant not wearing a mask,” he said.

Submitter Paul asked the panel about the objection to face masks expressed by so many in our community.

Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs, said, “We’ve had some mixed emotions. We’ve had employees quit because they think wearing masks is not necessary. Some visitors don’t want to wear them, but most people don’t mind. We’re seeing high percentages of people wearing masks,” he said.

Submitter Christina asked about hostile interactions between visitors and locals in regards to mask wearing.

Treadz owner Erin Zalinski said that sometimes interactions can be uncomfortable, but she has taken steps to deal with that.

“We made additional signs for the front door, and I gave staff a script. It needs not to be punitive, not to make somebody feel uncomfortable,” she said.

In his closing comments, Glenwood Hot Springs COO, CFO and Vice President John Bosco said, “We have to work collectively. Wearing a mask isn’t that much to ask. What would a shutdown bring to our businesses and employees? Maybe someday soon we can move closer to where we were 3 1/2 months ago.”

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