Garfield County itches to reopen from COVID-19 lockdowns
The question on everyone’s mind right now seems to be how soon society can reopen from the coronavirus lockdowns.
According to Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long, public health is still very much in the response phase of the coronavirus outbreak, and the next phase will have to depend on widespread testing and “intensive contact tracing.”
But one essential piece of that puzzle, the testing, is simply not available.
“We all know that that has been the largest point of frustration for everybody dealing with this,” Long told the board of county commissioners Monday.
“All we want is testing. Everybody in our community wants it, we want it, our primary care providers want it, our hospitals want it,” she said.
But the demand for testing isn’t limited to Garfield County, Long said.
“Unfortunately, we came into this as a nation and the testing was not there. The capabilities, the capacity, the testing equipment, the swabs, everything, the (personal protective equipment) — none of it was really there. And we burned through it really quickly,” she said.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said there will likely be protests and rogue business openings if businesses aren’t allowed to open soon.
“We need to reopen this society, our business communities, and let people get back out into society, with standards,” Jankovsky said.
The purpose of the self-isolation was to “flatten the curve,” or reduce the initial spike in cases so as not to overwhelm medical providers, Jankovsky said. That has been successful, he said.
“We haven’t overwhelmed our hospitals here in Garfield County. In fact, we have more capacity; we didn’t get close to overwhelming them,” Jankovsky said.
Garfield County has 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 36 probable cases for a total of 71 cases as of Monday morning, Long said. Of those, a total of 16 required hospitalization.
There have been two deaths in the county officially attributed to the coronavirus.
Unlike Pitkin County and others that implemented stricter rules on businesses than the state, Garfield County follows Gov. Jared Polis’ executive orders.
Polis’ stay-at-home order ends April 27, and during a press conference Monday afternoon, the governor presented a few strategies that would allow the state to begin relaxing certain restrictions.
The stay-at-home order cut social interactions by 75 to 80 percent, Polis said. As the order expires, he wants to maintain about 60 percent fewer interactions than pre-coronavirus times.
Certain businesses will be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks, Polis said, but restaurants and clubs will likely not reopen until mid-May, Polis said.
Some counties may be able to open up sooner than the rest of the state, if they have hospital capacity, testing, and are well prepared, Polis said.
“In a big, diverse state, there should not be one statewide approach,” Polis said.
An increased testing will also have to come with contact tracing, Long said.
Contact tracing isn’t a new process. Public health follows up with confirmed cases of salmonella, tuberculosis, norovirus and other disease outbreaks.
But the coronavirus is already stretching the capability of public health to trace confirmed cases.
“Out of the 71 cases we know about, we’ve probably talked to close to 200 people, so you can see how that expands out greatly, and that’s very time consuming,” Long told the commissioners.
The health department will likely need to hire additional staff to do the “intensive contract tracing” required, Long said.
“From our perspective, we are going to help however we can with that,” Jankovsky said.
Jankovsky said he has heard from people who are planning protests if the county doesn’t begin to open by May 1. He said he’s heard from some tourism and hospitality businesses who are making plans to be open by Memorial Day.
“The community wants to reopen. We should help with that as much as possible,” Jankovsky said.
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