Upper Pine Fire Protection District, its board and its neighboring communities are in the process of creating the first ever Eastern La Plata Incident Management Team to aid in the COVID-19 response.
The EL-IMT, led by the Upper Pine board of directors, serves as a resource platform to help communities mobilize in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases. The group formed as a way to help eastern communities if emergency operations agencies have “diminished” abilities to respond to their basic human needs during a potentially severe outbreak.
“It’s always been the case that during our nation’s worst times, neighbors taking care of neighbors have been the solution,” said Jeff Dyar, Upper Pine board president. “They will also be the solution to this crisis.”
Government, emergency response and other officials expect to see a peak in COVID-19 cases in late April. During a Vallecito community meeting in March, Upper Pine Fire Chief Bruce Evans projected a possible peak date of April 20. A more recent model from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation said April 17.
On the peak date, IHME projects that Colorado will not have enough hospital beds or ventilators to care for the number of patients who need care. This model, one of many, is based on constantly changing data and is updated daily.
Emergency responders emphasize that community members shouldn’t panic – rather, take a moment to think through potential challenges and prepare for different scenarios.
“Those are easier to do over coffee than in the middle of a crisis,” the website said.
The EL-IMT will not seek to provide any services normally provided by emergency responders or other health and safety professionals. Its goal is to facilitate communication and resource access.
The first project is a Neighbor-to-Neighbor program, a network of community volunteers who can take the lead when necessary.
Volunteers can help their neighbors with basic needs, such as medicine, food, safety, water, shelter, pet care or other special needs. By using community resources first, the need for already limited emergency services will be reduced, Dyar said.
The team already met with communities in Forest Lakes, one of the largest subdivisions in La Plata County located north of Bayfield, and next to Vallecito Reservoir, northeast of Durango. The organizers plan to include Bayfield and ambassadors from the Wildfire Adapted Partnership, formerly Firewise, to help spread the word.
“We live in a rural environment that gives us all some protection from the highly populated areas that are having high COVID-19 infection rates,” the mission statement says. “Still the predictions of an extended and highly infected population are a reality.”
Mobilizing community resources is a textbook response strategy during pandemics, said Dyar, who teaches a class about surge capacity for hospitals and pandemic preparation at Texas A&M University.
The group is also working with community members to identify skills and resources they can use in the event of an emergency. For example, RVs can become quarantine beds for patients, Dyar said.
He also emphasized that San Juan Basin Public Health is the lead agency for the county’s COVID-19 response.
“The EL-IMT is not working for or endorsed by San Juan Health,” Dyar said. “We are working to support their mission and guidance to the eastern side of La Plata County.”