San Juan Basin Public Health and Durango city officials plan to re-examine restrictions at the end of April, but they warn that fewer restrictions do not mean an immediate return to pre-pandemic “normal.”
Last week, Colorado extended its statewide stay-at-home order until April 26, adding 15 more days of social distancing for an increasingly weary public. As Durango inches toward the end of the stay-at-home order – and a return to normalcy – officials in a community update video urged them to prepare for a long haul.
“We get through the day thinking this is going to end someday and get back to normal,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH, which is leading the area’s emergency response. “That’s great that that gets us through the day, but we’re all going to be learning together: Normal might be a little bit different.”
Prepared for a medical surge?Jollon said local public health and emergency operators have been running exercises to prepare for different scenarios and assess potential gaps in response since February.
“I just want to assure people that public health is running in the background all the time to consider what would happen if we ever had an event that exceeded the capacity of health care in our community,” Jollon said.
She did not give more specific information about whether the county is prepared, instead shifting to remind people that social distancing is the best way to avoid a surge. She also did not provide information about medical capacity, like ventilator supplies, hospital beds or personal protective equipment.
In an interview last week, Jollon said health care providers in Archuleta and La Plata counties have the capacity for about 200 beds. She also said the region has fewer than 20 ventilators but that could increase to around 45 ventilators in an emergency situation. Health officials have said there is enough personal protective equipment at the current moment.
Is social distancing working?Social distancing is working, but emergency operators have no way to measure by how much.
State reports, based on a University of Colorado study, urge communities to achieve at least 60% social distancing to affect the severity of the outbreak. But Jollon said there are no mathematical models to measure the community’s level of achievement.
“The virus is new,” she said. “None of us know how to do this.”
The goal, Jollon said, is to respond to fewer cases over a longer period of time to help the medical community respond to the virus without being overwhelmed. Without social distancing, one person with the coronavirus would spread it to 400 people within one month, Jollon said.
“In Colorado, we can now expect our surge to hit in May, rather than in April,” she said. “It looks like what we’re doing is working.”
Testing at Cedar DiagnosticsCedar Diagnostics can now offer widespread community testing thanks to a partnership with SJBPH, Animas Surgical Hospital and Pagosa Medical Group.
The nasal swab tests are most effective for people who are actively symptomatic, and it will tell individuals if they are currently infectious.
Cedar Diagnostics can do 40 tests a day. Patients should call their primary care provider for a referral to the company.
The tests are covered by insurance. Without insurance, they cost $75 each, and SJBPH can connect people with funding resources if the price is too high.
Parks and trailsDean Brookie, Durango mayor pro tem, urged people to practice social distancing in parks, saying it was a critical element in the city’s defense against the coronavirus.
The city has received increasing numbers of complaints about people congregating on trails. Other places have had to close beaches and trails, he said.
“Please do not make the city of Durango do the same,” Brookie said.
Amber Blake, interim city manager, emphasized City Council isn’t threatening to close trails, rather to warn and educate the community.
“The trails are critical to our mental health and maintaining sanity,” Blake said. “I think it was more intended as a ‘Please listen to these rules about social distancing.’”
Impact on educationThe virus’ impact on higher education is going to be “monumental,” said Tom Stritikus, Fort Lewis College president.
Estimates predict that higher education programs have lost more than $50 billion. FLC has lost $3.6 million and counting, Stritikus told college trustees Tuesday in a meeting on Zoom.
But the college community has rallied, he said. In five days, faculty moved 700 courses online. The FLC Foundation awarded $110,000 in emergency grants to students for short-term crisis needs. The college used $200,000 from its reserve fund to increase student access to broadband hot spots and other needed resources.
He also reminded the public that the campus is closed to visitors, not students. While police are not ticketing, “we are socially enforcing,” he said.
Shane Voss, head of Mountain Middle School, emphasized the social-emotional element of remote learning.
“It’s not just the academic subjects that we’re focusing on. It’s the mental health that we’re focusing on each and every day,” he said.