When crises present themselves, whether through a fire, flood or as in the current COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience of communities is tested.
Just like communities worldwide, Southwest Colorado is experiencing the extreme challenges the pandemic presents, including the crushing burden of local economies shutting down, the harsh consequences of all of us staying at home for months on end and the health impacts of the virus, either real or potential, as friends and family we know get sick, experiencing a range of symptoms from a disease we are still learning about.
We at San Juan Basin Public Health acknowledge how deeply trying these times are physically, emotionally and economically, and we are committed to keeping the communities we serve safe and healthy. In our corner of Colorado, our local communities have been very successful in staying healthy because of the responsible choices made by local residents to keep our communities safe and protected. Because of this hard work, La Plata and Archuleta counties are in the bottom 20% of Colorado counties in cases per capita, despite high growth rates in cases in neighboring counties.
This could not have been achieved without the tireless dedication of community members who put their trust in public health recommendations issued by state and national experts to social-distance, wear face coverings, stay at home as much as possible and practice good hygiene. The results are evident in the data for the two counties that SJBPH serves, with low case counts and no deaths yet from COVID-19.
Additionally, we have seen our local communities come together and quickly adapt to the needs presented by COVID-19. School districts are providing meals to children who were reliant on them while school was in session; countless volunteers sewed thousands of face coverings for health care workers and the general public alike; a variety of local restaurants are providing meals to front-line workers; and health care providers have adapted their practices to include telehealth options so they can continue to serve patients who need care.
SJBPH also appreciates the difficult steps local businesses have taken to follow public health guidance issued by the governor and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment even when it meant shutting down to protect the spread of the disease. SJBPH staff members have collaborated with local chambers, tourism offices and economic development organizations to ensure that they have accurate information and the state’s guidance to share with their members.
It is clear the majority of businesses in La Plata and Archuleta counties are firmly committed to protecting the health and safety of their employees and customers. More than 900 business self-certifications have been filed with SJBPH, demonstrating compliance with the important precautions required by state public health guidance for safe reopening. SJBPH fully supports our local communities in continuing to protect the health of local residents while taking steps to carefully reopen businesses and get economies jump-started as we approach the summer season. A resilient community is one that acknowledges the importance of public health to its economic stability. The guidance SJBPH provides is based on the best science and expertise that is available at the time, but we do expect that information will change as we all learn more about COVID-19.
It is crucially important to continue the hard work that we are currently all doing. If we let our guard down, we will be putting our communities at risk. The recent phase of community reopenings will only be successful if we all continue to keep each other safe, whether we’re a business owner, an employee or a customer.
The hard work of everyone has been worth the effort; we have been successful in limiting the spread of the disease in our communities. Now more than ever, it’s time for us all to make responsible decisions to keep our communities safe and resilient for the long run:
Practice healthy behaviors: frequent hand-washing, social distancing, wearing face coverings in public and at local businesses, and staying home when you are sick. Practice healthy business behaviors: continuing to self-certify your businesses (including newly reopened restaurants and day camps) and to consider workplace testing for employees.We at SJBPH cannot overstate our appreciation of everyone who is contributing to keeping our local communities safe and healthy and our agency remains committed to keeping residents informed about the success of state and local public health orders as we all endure these difficult times together.
Claire Ninde is director of communications at San Juan Basin Public Health.Ninde