Please take the time to read and understand this entire message.
Internet links: Before I send out each update, I check the links to make sure they are active. However, links do change from time to time, so the links I sent out today may not be the same tomorrow. You may have to search around a bit.
Hello to all. Working together, the counties of Bent, Crowley, and Otero will be requesting a variance from certain provisions of the Safer At Home Public Health Order (PHO). What this means is that our counties will be requesting that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) allow us to loosen some of the restrictions of the Safer At Home order. It is our hope to have this approved locally by next week, and then to submit it to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for review. After review, CDPHE can approve all, some, or none of the provisions of the request, and they can require changes before approval. The effective date, if approved, will be 6/1/2020, a little over a month after the variance was announced.
Below, I have provided some questions and answers.
Some may ask, why wait a month?
ü We wanted to monitor closely for any negative impacts from loosening restrictions due to the transition between orders (going from Stay At Home to Safer At Home). From a community transmission standpoint, at the time of this writing, I am very pleased to say that I see none evident, even though we are just a bit over 2 weeks out from the announcement of the variance.
ü Time must be allowed to pass in order to allow something to happen, then collect the data on that something, analyze that data, and if the data is supportive, make a compelling case for loosening restrictions. In this case, the “something” was to see if our case counts went up, down, or stayed about the same. We were very interested to see the effect of loosening the state public health order when we moved to Safer At Home.
What is the schedule and what will be happening?
ü We will continue to monitor data to determine if there was any negative impact by moving from the Stay At Home order to the Safer At Home order.
ü If everything goes as planned, then the variance will be effective on 6/1/2020.
ü The Safer At Home order is scheduled to end on 5/27/2020, unless it is extended. If it ends and a less restrictive state PHO is put in place on 5/27/2020, then we can compare our variance plan to the new state PHO, and then decide where we want to go from there.
ü The period from approving the variance (the week of 5/27/2020) to its effective date 6/1/2020) will be critical for us to do outreach and education to the affected businesses. Our businesses need time to adjust and ask questions.
Some may wonder how the outbreak at the Crowley County Correctional Facility (CCCF) factors in this. I consider this an outlier for the following reasons:
ü The prison environment lends itself very well to containment, as the COVID-19 positive inmates will not, obviously, be visiting any of the local communities as they remain incarcerated.
ü The prison is currently under a strict lockdown, with appropriate isolation and quarantine occurring and the close monitoring of inmates and staff.
ü At the time of this writing, we have absolutely no evidence of any transmission outside of the prison linked to this facility outbreak.
Some may ponder, we are not moving fast enough:
ü You are most certainly entitled to that opinion, but I respectfully disagree.
ü The option of a variance became available with the transition to the Safer At Home order, which was effective 4/27/2020.
ü At the time of this writing, just 2 weeks and 2 days have passed.
ü Out of an abundance of caution, I wanted to allow for a minimum of 2 virus incubation periods to pass after the loosening of restrictions under the Safer At Home order. On the long side, an incubation period can last up to 14 days.
What does the data reveal so far?
ü At this point, the data makes a good argument for allowing a variance.
ü Data collected so far reveals a low population-adjusted case rate.
ü Based on the data collected up to this point, I have developed a very basic baseline case rate, and, at the time of this writing, we have not exceeded that baseline.
ü We will continue to monitor this data, even after we submit the plan to CDPHE.
Who will be affected by this plan?
ü Businesses that appear on page 4 of the Safer At Home order will be included in this variance request, and those are restaurants, bars, gyms/dance studios, and movie theaters. In addition, we are including houses of worship, auctions, and motorsports racetracks.
Will this be “business as usual”?
ü No, these businesses will be required to follow the requirements of the local variance, if approved by CDPHE, but those restrictions will be less than the current Safer At Home order.
Can I see the actual order?
ü Absolutely, after it is finalized (right now it is in rough draft form) I will email the variance request to this distribution group and ask you to forward it within your groups and post on websites, social media, etc.
Why weren’t senior graduations included in this.
ü Because of planning and timing. Back in late April, schools were awaiting guidance from us, and I issued that guidance on 4/29/2020 so they could begin planning.
ü We needed this month to collect data to make the case for a variance request, and graduations fell within this period.
ü Additionally, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) issued guidance on graduations just a few days ago. While OCHD does not enforce CDE guidance, I will not recommend that any graduation ceremony not follow CDE guidance.
Do not think we are out of this yet, because we are not. Our data through today looks good, and I want to share with you reasons that might be:
ü Our epidemiology response time is terrific, our team makes control and containment first priority, and they are making their investigations within minutes of being notified of a positive case.
ü Our testing capacity has greatly improved.
ü In general, we have had very good compliance with isolation and quarantine measures.
ü Our public health system is close knit and cooperating very well. I had a doctor text me last Saturday evening, and the issue was quickly resolved. This is not the exception, it is the rule around here. Our public health system includes, but is not limited to, primary medical/dental care providers, mental/behavioral health providers, EMS, hospital, nursing homes/assisted living, kidney care, home health, and the Otero County Health Department. I assure you, we have each other’s mobile phone numbers, and we use them.
ü Compliance with public health orders has been problematic at times, but, in general, we have seen good compliance.
Who has to sign off on the plan locally?
ü The local public health agency, the hospital, and the county commissioners. We are working together on this.
Can a business be more restrictive that the variance?
ü Of course! If a local business wants to continue to follow the Safer At Home order and be more restrictive, than can do so. They cannot, however, be less restrictive than the variance, if it is approved.
I do not agree with loosening local restrictions, what should I do?
ü You are certainly entitled to that opinion, and you are most welcome to act upon it. If you are concerned with the loosening of restrictions, you are free to make personal choices about what businesses you choose not to visit. This is entirely up to you. The data we have collected and analyzed so far suggests a variance is in order, and so we are proceeding with the request. CDPHE may approve all, some, or none of the provisions, or require us to make changes in order for the variance to be approved.
Will you be making other variance requests to loosen restrictions for other organizations?
ü That is a distinct possibility. We will continue to monitor and analyze the data as restrictions are loosened (both local and state), and if the data suggests we can move a bit faster, then we will consider that. We have to be careful about moving too fast, see my comments directly below on why.
And now, a word of caution. We do need to gradually move toward opening things up, but it is the rate of movement that can “make or break us”. Our movements must be calculated and driven by data. Currently, our data suggests we can move quicker that the state order allows. But, if we move too quickly and without measured caution, we can move backwards to a more restrictive state. In fact, the variance application addresses moving to a more restrictive state if things do not go well. I am prepared to do this, if necessary. So, In order to continue positive forward momentum, we all have to read, understand, and comply with current restrictions. This is our civic duty to ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our communities.
Ultimately, for many of us, this comes down to a question of trust. Due to our low local case rates, most of us have not been medically impacted by this virus (i.e., we and/or a family member has not gotten sick; I am not talking about the huge economic/business impact that is felt across this country). When it comes to trust and belief, I choose to trust the information I receive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). I hear the consistent message that this virus is very contagious and dangerous, and these extraordinary measures are necessary to stop its deadly momentum and save lives. You, no doubt, have heard differing opinions. Please be careful about whom you choose to believe, and how you act on that information.
We are all getting tired of this, I want it to end just like you do. If we continue to work together cooperatively I have every confidence that we will get through this sooner than later. Keep on keeping on.
Until next time,
Richard Ritter, Executive Director
Otero County Health Department
13 West 3rd Street, Room 111
La Junta, Colorado 81050