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Garfield County to use state COVID grant to develop promotoras program

County commissioners award a second $100K grant for LIFT-UP food distributions

In this April photo, LIFT-UP employee Rhonda Derhamner packs a bag with breakfast foods including cereal as LIFT-UP prepares emergency food bags for distribustion.
Kyle Mills/Post Independent

A $50,000 planning grant awarded to Garfield County to help Colorado communities move into the Protect Our Neighbors phase of the state’s COVID-19 response is being used, in part, to promote better outreach in the Latino community.

Yvonne Long, public health director for the county, announced the grant last week, saying it will help the county in its effort to continue to flatten the curve in new COVID-19 cases after a sharp spike earlier this summer.

“It doesn’t mean we are moving into Protect Our Neighbors,” Long said, adding the county remains under the state’s Safer at Home and in the Vast Great Outdoors phase, with some variances for businesses to reopen more broadly.

Garfield County has been working with neighboring Pitkin and Eagle counties on ways to reduce the risk of disease spread in the tri-county area.

After the county saw a major spike in new cases and in its test positivity rate during late June and July, it submitted a required mitigation plan to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and was accepted, Long said.

“In no way is our variance at stake at this time,” she said of the state variance granted May 23 that allowed Garfield County certain provisions in terms of restaurant and other business capacity.

One area of concern for Garfield County, though, has been the increased spread of COVID-19 within the county’s Latino community.

To date, as of Monday, the ethnic breakdown among the 797 confirmed or presumed cases in the county was 69% Hispanic/Latino and 31% non-Hispanic (including Anglos and other ethnicities). That split was closer to 50/50 in late May.

Public health officials have noted that the increase in cases among Latinos corresponded with businesses reopening in May and June, especially in the service sector such as restaurants and hotels, as well as involving construction, maintenance and landscaping workplaces.

That prompted the three counties to step up their efforts at outreach and education about ways to prevent disease spread, such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing practices and avoiding such things at carpooling where close contact is hard to avoid.

Long said Garfield County continues to develop its promotores program, hiring and training public health workers, including nurse epidemiologists, to work directly with the Spanish-speaking community.

She said it’s a model well-recognized and accepted throughout the state that involves adapting and collating information in Spanish to disseminate in the community. The county’s regional collaboration with Pitkin and Eagle counties gets that information out more broadly, she said.

Of late, Garfield County’s COVID-19 statistics have been trending in the state’s medium-risk range for virus spread, based on the two-week rolling total of new onset cases (27), case rate per 100,000 people (44.3) and test positivity rate (5.8%).

LIFT-UP granted another $100K

Also recently, Garfield County commissioners allocated another $100,000 to the poverty assistance agency LIFT-UP for its ongoing drive-through food distribution program.

“We are seeing increasing demand again for this program,” LIFT-UP Executive Director Angela Mills said during the Aug. 10 request of the commissioners.

LIFT-UP altered its food pantry program during the COVID-19 response from a walk-up pantry operation to a weekly — sometimes twice weekly depending on need — drive-through distribution at locations from Carbondale to Parachute.

Last year, from March through June, LIFT-UP paid $14,213 for food to use in its pantry program. This year, with the pandemic-related layoffs and other impacts, it spent $124,533 during that same time, Mills said.

LIFT-UP also had to close both of its thrift stores, which it relies on for funding, to comply with public health guidelines. That has resulted in a $120,054 loss in revenues since March, Mills said.

The county contributed an initial $100,000 to the program in April, and unanimously approved the second grant in the same amount.

Mills said the current plan is to reopen the thrift stores on Aug. 20, but with strict public health guidelines in place.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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