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A lot has happened this week in the local response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
La Plata County reported its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 on Monday, and a short time later, San Juan Basin Public Health issued a stay-at-home advisory, asking residents to stay put unless it is essential they leave.
The advisory didn’t go as far as other counties, including the state of New Mexico, which ordered people to stay at home, and San Juan County, Colorado, which ordered residents to shelter in place.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Colorado was reporting 912 cases of COVID-19 with 7,701 people tested, and 11 deaths.
Here’s the latest:
First COVID-19 case reported in La Plata CountyLa Plata County announced its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 on Monday.
“San Juan Basin Public Health has been preparing for weeks as a case in our jurisdiction has been expected,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH in a news release.
The case is an adult resident of the county, but the health department said it would not release more details to protect the privacy of the patient.
The adult was tested last week at Southwest Memorial Hospital’s drive-thru clinic in Cortez, said Southwest Health System CEO Tony Sudduth.
The La Plata County resident traveled to Cortez specifically for the test, Sudduth said.
Stay-at-home advisory issued for La Plata, Archuleta countiesA stay-at-home advisory was issued Monday afternoon by San Juan Basin Public Health, just hours after La Plata County’s first confirmed case of coronavirus was announced.
SJBPH is urging residents to stay home unless it is essential they leave the house. In the absence of a vaccine or cure, health officials say limiting human interaction, known as social distancing, is the best tool to slow the virus’ spread.
Durango issued a similar advisory Tuesday.
Jollon said determining what’s an “essential” excursion requires using a bit of common sense in deciding whether to leave the house.
Going to the grocery store, picking up medicine at the pharmacy, walking your dog or showing up at work if an employer still requires it are all good reasons to leave the house, she said.
Making trips to Home Depot to remodel your bathroom, however, or traveling to Walmart to upgrade your stereo system are trips that can wait until the outbreak settles down.
SJBPH’s issuance Monday is an advisory, not an order that is enforceable. Jollon said the possibility of an order isn’t off the table, but the health department would first like to see if the public can follow the stay-at-home advisory without having to take the drastic measure of an order.
“We’re trying to see how much people do voluntarily because you never want to go to a shelter-in-place,” she said. “But if people don’t follow it, we would go to an order.”
Coronavirus testing site to reopen Wednesday in DurangoAnother round of drive-thru testing for the coronavirus on select individuals is scheduled for Wednesday in Durango, according to San Juan Basin Public Health.
SJBPH will run limited testing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the drive-thru site at the La Plata County Fairgrounds.
The facility is not open for all members of the public. Instead, testing will be focused on high-risk individuals, such as those in health care, first responders, seniors who have underlying health issues and those with a doctor’s order. And people must be showing COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. People who meet the criteria are asked to call 385-8700.
San Juan County issues shelter-in-place orderSan Juan County, Colorado, told residents to shelter in place, leaving only for essential errands, such as grocery shopping and to pick up medications, as part of a public health order issued Monday to limit exposure to COVID-19.
The public order, issued by San Juan County Public Health Director Becky Joyce, also directs visitors to San Juan County to return home immediately and calls for all hotels, motels and vacation rentals to cease operation immediately and to take no new check-ins until the expiration of the public health order, which is in place until April 17.
According to the order, San Juan County Public Health has the authority under state law to establish, maintain and enforce isolation and quarantine rules and to exercise physical control over property and the people in its jurisdiction to protect public health and safety.
“Our objective is not to be cruel, rude or inhumane. It’s simply to protect our village and contribute to reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Joyce said.
Durango train to remain closed ‘until further notice’The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad announced Monday it will remain closed “until further notice,” another hit to Southwest Colorado’s tourist-driven economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.
American Heritage Railways General Manager John Harper also said it has furloughed 44 seasonal D&SNG employees and 10 full-time employees from its permanent staff of 86 employees.
The furloughs are essentially temporary layoffs, with the employees expected to rejoin the staff once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the railroad can return to normal operations.
As of Monday, D&SNG had 3,600 cancellations for the season, which typically runs from early May to late October with peak operations seeing three trains going to Silverton.
The Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, owned by D&SNG, is down about 13% in its future reservations, Harper said.
Purgatory Resort says no skiing on front side of mountainAs tempting as it might seem, no, you can’t trek up Purgatory Resort’s ski trails and have the slopes all to yourself.
In a statement issued Saturday by resort officials, Purgatory Resort asks the public to refrain from all uphill access while the ski area is closed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Purgatory leases its land from the U.S. Forest Service through a special-use permit, and as part of the resort’s operating plan, backcountry travel is allowed only on the backside of the mountain, the statement reads.
Officials said Purgatory is not maintaining ski terrain during the closure.
“If folks are skiing in a closed resort area, conditions are more like backcountry skiing,” James Simino, Columbine District ranger for the Forest Service, said in a statement. “The emergency services people are accustomed to when the resort is open are not readily available.”
It’s also a matter of safety, officials say. Purgatory Ski Patrol is not on duty. Mercy Medical Clinic located at the base of the mountain is closed. And rogue skiers create a hazard for resort employees still at work.
Health officials: Stop calling 911 for information about COVID-19La Plata County dispatchers and Colorado health officials are reminding residents not to call 911 for non-emergencies.
With the increased concern about COVID-19, people are calling 911 for reasons other than a medical emergency, including asking for general information about the virus.
The Durango-La Plata Emergency Communications Center is also receiving 911 calls from people experiencing mild symptoms or with general questions about the virus, said Susanne Meyers, operations supervisor at the dispatch center.
“It’s much more than daily,” she said. “I don’t know how frequent it is, but it’s a handful of calls per shift per dispatcher, and that does take up time that they could be utilizing to do other emergency-type of things.”
A lot of the medical calls could be handled by a personal care physician or a call to Mercy Regional Medical Center, she said.
On the other hand, if residents are at a loss about who to call and they need help, they should feel OK with calling the non-emergency dispatch line at 385-2900 or 911, Meyers said.
New Mexico issues stay-at-home orderThe New Mexico governor issued a stay-at-home order Monday afternoon for the state, closing all non-essential businesses, as cases of COVID-19 continue to spread.
The order took effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday and closes all non-essential businesses, requiring all of the state’s non-essential workforce to work from home, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in an announcement.
“The only way for us to stop or slow the spread of this virus is for New Mexicans to stop interacting with each other,” Lujan Grisham said during the news conference. “New Mexicans must be crystal-clear on this point: Right now, every time you leave your house, you are putting yourself, your family and your community at risk. Only by distancing from one another, by remaining home except for essential or emergency travel, can we limit the spread of the virus to the point that it does not overwhelm New Mexico.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the state was reporting 100 COVID-19 cases, including seven in San Juan County, La Plata County’s neighbor to the south.
Local businesses react to $2 trillion coronavirus billThe U.S. Senate on Monday delayed a $2 trillion coronavirus bill after intense arguments about where to direct the funding.
Local business owners say they are hopeful the massive spending package will target workers who have been laid off at no fault of their own.
Rod Barker, owner of the Strater Hotel, said the hotel has been in his family for 94 years and has no debt, but he is struggling with day-to-day operational costs. Barker and his employees are shampooing carpets and polishing brass, “anything I can do to keep people actively employed,” Barker said.
Barker said a majority of the economic relief package in Congress should go to boosting unemployment insurance for individual workers.
“For the people who were working and wanted to work, let’s help those people first,” Barker said in a phone interview Monday.
Kris Oyler, co-founder and CEO of Peak Food & Beverage, was forced to lay off 280 employees.
“Last week was the toughest week in my 30-year restaurant career,” Oyler told the The Durango Herald. He said he’d like to see money from the trillion-dollar package go directly to those workers.
“We’ve seen too many corporate bailouts,” Oyler said. Small businesses like his don’t have lobbying forces in the nation’s capital, and they would prefer stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance and forgiveness loans, he said.
Herald Staff Writers Jonathan Romeo, Patrick Armijo, Liz Weber, Shannon Mullane and Emily Hayes contributed to this report.