Spreading Pandemic Prompts Disaster Declaration, Health Orders

In an historic move perhaps not witnessed in Lake City since the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1920, restaurants, bars, church services, the movie theater, meetings, and a variety of public events have been temporarily shuttered as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, which is rapidly advancing in the United States and throughout Colorado. In Lake City, per Governor Jared Polis’ State of Emergency declaration, food service businesses remain open, although purely in a take-out capacity with no more than five individuals in the business for ordering purposes; other businesses are under strict guidelines in terms of crowd size — fewer than 10, and the new social norm — “social distancing,” a mandatory distance of at least 6’ between people — is being perfected. The coronavirus situation is extremely fast-paced, the reported numbers of those infected and, worse, fatalities, changing on an hourly basis. As of Wednesday morning, the number of cases worldwide exceeds 201,000, with an estimated 8,000 deaths on a global basis, while in the U.S. the estimated positive cases/fatalities statistics went from 5,500/103 at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, to 5,700/105 at 6:30 p.m., and as of Wednesday morning, March 18, stood at 6,100 infected in all 50 states and 112 virus-related deaths. By Wednesday evening and with increased testing, positive tests for COVID-19 in the U.S. had increased to 8,736 and 149 fatalities. In Colorado and Hinsdale County, the numbers and edicts are also changing on a near-hourly basis. Colorado Dept. Public Health & Environment is reporting 216 individuals in the state who have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday morning this week; an El Paso County woman in her 80s died on March 13 and a second coronavirus-related death, a man in his 70s from Weld County, was reported on March 18. As of Wednesday this week, not a single positive case of COVID-19 is confirmed in Hinsdale County, although the area of concern is the county’s immediate neighbor and principal shopping destination, Gunnison County to the north, where multiple cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and a Local Disaster Emergency has been in place since last Thursday, March 12. Gunnison County Health & Human Services began a weather-dependant COVID-19 screening center outside its North Spruce Street headquarters in Gunnison last Friday, March 13, during which 55 individuals were screened by physicians and 10 of those receiving he test deemed adviseable for a swab; an additional 30 to 35 individuals indicated positive clinical symptoms but were deemed not high risk and were advised to self-isolate at home. Gunnison Human Services reported 288 individuals self-reporting symptoms as of 5:10 p.m. March 18 and,at its 11 a.m. report on Wednesday cited cumulative totals of two individuals who had been sent to hospital, nine negative test results, 39 pending, and 13 positive test results, although they caution that positive results “do not reflect the incident in the community.” As of last Sunday, March 15, Colorado Dept. Public Health & Environment reports “extensive outbreaks” of COVID-19 in mountain resort communities in the state, specifically enumerating six positive cases in Gunnison County, 18 in Eagle County, three at Summit County, and 13 positive diagnosis in Pitkin County. In a telephone interview with Dr. Gina Carr of Lake City Area Medical Center on Monday morning, Dr. Carr states that the local medical center received four test kits for coronavirus through Gunnison Valley Hospital and one of those tests was completed on a clinic patient over the weekend, results expected later this week. Dr. Carr’s full interview is included on this page. Faced with an increasing number of confirmed coronavirus cases in neighboring Gunnison County, Silver Thread Public Health Dept., Hinsdale County Commissioners, and Town of Lake City have taken decisive action aimed at slowing the spread of the virus in the event a positive case is diagnosed in Hinsdale County. With a new ‘social distancing’ norm now firmly in place, both Town of Lake City Trustees and Hinsdale County Commissioners conducted “virtual” online meetings instead of their usual public meetings this week, the town utilizing the internet portal zoom.us/meeting to connect trustees in disparate locations and allowing safe public interaction, while Hinsdale Commissioners convened online via the portal joinme.com, each of the commissioners connected online while physically being situated in discrete, isolated locations. Both town and county virtual meetings, as well as cancellation of all church services for the foreseeable future, are unprecedented in the history of both the town or county and speak to the gravity of the present situation. Interim County Administrator Sandy Hines signed a Hinsdale County Emergency Declaration at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, March 14, which states Silver Thread Public Health District “anticipates, due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, Hinsdale County is likely to see cases of COVID-19 within the community.” The emergency declaration — which in part serves as an administrative function allowing for state and federal assistance — goes on to state that the virus “may result in serious illness or death for certain at-risk members of the community” — those age 60 and above, especially over age 80, and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung, kidney disease, diabetes, compromised immune sufficiency, and diabetes — “and may also have the effect of interrupting the normal daily functioning of the community in terms of closures for workplaces, schools, and the like.” Referencing the possible financial ramifications of a localized response to COVID-19, the county declaration states, the “expense and magnitude of responding and recovering from a significant COVID-19 outbreak in Hinsdale County is in excess of the County’s available resources.” When signed by Interim Administrator Hines on Saturday evening, the Hinsdale County Emergency Declaration was of a temporary nature, although it is expected that Hinsdale County Commissioners at their virtual meeting Wednesday morning, March 18, would ratify and extend the declaration. This week’s emergency declaration marks the third emergency declaration which Hinsdale County has entered into in the past year, following on the heels of an emergency declaration extending from March 12 to April 3, 2019, in the wake of massive, debris-laden avalanches which impacted the county last spring. A second Hinsdale County Emergency Declaration was in effect from May 2 to July 10, 2019, as planning and mitigation took place in response to the threat of flooding resulting from high runoff combined with debris brought down earlier in the spring by avalanches on both the upper Lake Fork and Henson Creek. This week’s emergency declaration regarding the spread and potential impacts to the county from COVID-19 was made in tandem, and after extensive consultation, including Colorado Dept. of Public Health & Environment at the state level and, locally, Silver Thread Public Health District. Silver Thread Public Health, which represents and coordinates public health departments in both Hinsdale and Mineral counties, issued “Public Health Orders” at noon on Monday, March 16, which were in turn superceded by more stringent health orders which were announced at 6 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, March 17. Public health’s orders state that “age, condition, and health of a significant portion of Hinsdale County places it as risk of serious health complications, including death, from COVID-19.” In the earlier public health orders, it was stated the document’s intent is to “reduce the likelihood that many individuals will be exposed to COVID-19 at a single event and will therefore slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.” In its preliminaries, Hinsdale Public Health Order cites Colorado Governor Polis’’ declaration of a State of Emergency on March 10. The local Public Health order also references “community transmission” of the coronavirus in neighboring Gunnison County prompting a Gunnison County Local Disaster Emergency which was issued on March 12; spread of the virus in Gunnison County has implications, according to Public Health, based on Hinsdale County residents’ “regular and constant contacts” with their counterparts in Gunnison County. Public Health Orders also reference President Trump’s declaration of a National Emergency from COVID-19 on March 13 and, finally, Hinsdale County’s Local Disaster Emergency on March 14 and, the same day, implementation of a virtual Emergency Operations Center by Hinsdale County Emergency Manager Phil Graham. The principal focus of public health’s updated March 17 Public Health Order is predicated on slowing the spread of the virus by limiting public interaction and decreasing the risk of transmission to people age 60 and over and those with chronic health conditions. “The age, condition, and health of a significant portion of the population of Hinsdale County places it at a risk for serious health complications, including death, from COVID-19. Although most individuals who contract COVID-19 do not become seriously ill, persons with mild symptoms and asymptomatic persons with COVID-19 may place other vulnerable members of the public at significant risk. A large surge in the number of persons with serious infections can compromise the ability of the healthcare system, particularly in small counties such as Hinsdale County and high-country counties currently affected by community transmission, to deliver necessary healthcare to the public. It is necessary to take proactive measures to protect the public.” The amended order “strongly advises” visitors to Hinsdale County to return home immediately and those considering visiting the county “should remain home.” Non-resident homeowners, while not considered visitors, are “strongly encouraged to leave Hinsdale County and return to their primary place of residence.” According to the March 17 Silver Thread Public Health Order, event attendance is restricted to 10 or fewer individuals, including employees, who must follow proper hygiene and sanitation, follow environmental cleaning guidelines as proscribed by Center for Disease Control, and observe social distancing guidelines of no contact within 6’ of one another for 10 minutes or longer. The 10-person gathering limit specifically excludes essential services such as electric, internet and water and sewer service providers, grocery and hardware stores, gas stations, schools, medical service providers, and retail stores. The Amended Public Health Order for Hinsdale County is in effect until midnight April 8, 2020 and is subject to continuing review. Failure to comply with the Order is subject to criminal penalties with the caveat that Silver Thread Public Health District “is committed to assisting persons to comply with this Order through education and providing guidance.” Mirroring the severity of the present virus spread, on March 16, Gunnison Public Health issued stringent new regulations within a Second Amended “Standing Public Health Order” eliminating all non-essential services and sale of goods. The order affects both unincorporated and incorporated areas of Gunnison County, including the communities of Gunnison, Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, Marble, and Pitkin, and takes the unprecedented step of ordering all “visitors to return home immediately by fastest and safest available means.” The Public Health Order precludes all events of 10 or more people, closes day care centers, private schools, community recreation centers, ice rinks, and libraries, and ceases all operations at bars, taverns and restaurants with the exception of take-out delivery of food. With the exception of grocery stores, gas stations, discount department stores and medical dispensaries such as medical clinics, hospitals and pharmacies, which are allowed to remain open, events at retail establishments are prohibited with the exception of taking orders online or by phone, and delivery of merchandise by mail or personal delivery. Short-term lodging in Gunnison County — motels, hotels, bed & breakfasts, lodges and retreats — were ordered closed and emptied. Both residential and commercial construction is allowed to continue if in compliance with the Public Health Order. Public transportation such as busing has likewise been curtailed in Gunnison County, the exception being commercial air travel which continues. All gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and severe restrictions have been placed on even smaller gatherings. Individuals age 60 and over and those with underlying health issues are especially cited in he Order and are allowed to enter medical service providers’ offices and facilities, hardware and grocery stores, and discount department stores “for the purpose of obtaining medical care, food, clothing or other necessary items if such location is likewise in compliance with this Order. However, at-risk persons are discouraged from engaging in such activities whenever possible.”