Flu cases, newest Omicron variant drive Garfield County viral infection rates up
Mind Springs opens new Rifle location, Habitat for Humanity requests county donation for Rifle development
Correction: The Post Independent incorrectly quoted Garfield County Public Health Director Josh Williams in this story. The avian flu is not causing human hospitalizations. Williams was instead referring to discussions among his team members about the county’s “viral load” as well as reports of avian flu in the wild bird population spilling into domestic flocks of other birds.
Public Health Spokesperson Carrie Godes wrote in an email that avian flu viruses usually do not infect people, therefore the risk to the general public is low.
So far in Colorado, there has only been one person to become ill from avian flu and they were not hospitalized, Godes wrote.
Garfield County’s “viral load” is ticking up as COVID-19 Omicron variant No. 5 cases increase alongside a late-blooming influenza and cold season, Public Health Director Joshua Williams said.
During the Garfield County Commissioners regular session Monday, Williams, who took over the director role in January, informed commissioners Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson the county was experiencing higher than average virus transmission rates. Commissioner John Martin was absent.
“We were at Omicron variant No. 1 in January,” Williams said. “Disease severity is low, but transmissibility seems to increase with each variant.”
Colorado’s state modeling predictions forecast a peak in June, with the highest infection rates reaching those of about half the January Omicron peak, he explained.
With increased transmissions, hospitalization increases could create cause for concern later into the summer.
In addition to increasing COVID rates, flu hospitalizations are increasing.
“There are a lot of viruses moving through the community right now,” Williams said. “The flu is a bit out of season. It usually occurs around fall.”
In other business, Mind Springs Health, which has recently faced sustained scrutiny over care and business practices, provided commissioners with an update on expanding its services to Western Garfield County.
Mind Springs spokesperson Hans Lutgring said the organization opened a dedicated office in Rifle, 707 Wapiti Court Suite 202B, adjacent to Grand River Health.
“We feel like this is a significant commitment to growth within the county,” Lutgring said, adding the organization serves 10 counties across Colorado. “It’s going to be a hub of access for that western side of the county.”
The Rifle location provides clients in-person and virtual services, he added. So far during fiscal year 2022, which began in July 2021, the new location served nearly 100 unduplicated clients in comparison to Mind Springs serving about 13 unduplicated Rifle clients in fiscal year 2021.
Responding to Samson’s question about growing need for mental healthcare services in western Garfield County, Lutgring said it was a “safe assumption.”
He also said the company was closing in on appointing a new CEO, following former CEO Sharon Raggio’s January resignation.
Raggio stepped down after the Colorado News Collaborative (COlab) and its news partners statewide published an investigative story outlining how the nonprofit has failed Coloradans.
Additional details about Mind Springs’ shortcomings continue to be reported by COlab, such as former employees admitting superiors required them to fake diagnostics to increase grant funding access.
Addressing the county’s ongoing housing crisis, Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley representatives appeared before the commissioners to request $200,000 for the Wapiti Housing Development in Rifle, which is slated to provide the city with 20 deed-restricted, for-sale residences priced at 80% of the area’s median income for qualified applicants.
The development’s overall cost is about $9 million, but Habitat President Gail Schwartz said the nonprofit organization was asking for contributions to close a philanthropic funding gap of about $1.5 million.
Jankovsky initially said he wouldn’t likely approve a donation above $50,000, but after Schwartz informed the commission that Habitat could set aside a residence per $100,000 of donations for approved applicants from the donating agency or business, Jankovsky said he would like to hear more.
With Martin absent, however, the commissioners voted to table the conversation until their June 13 meeting, when all three commissioners could be present.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.
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