Saturday, May 23, 2020
Life in Boulder County is returning to something resembling normalcy. Stores are welcoming shoppers once again; restaurants are expected to reopen soon; city council this week cancelled its regular health briefings. But the message from health officials remains the same: COVID-19 is still among us.
“We know more people are getting out,” said Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health director, in a Friday video message. “We’ve all sacrificed a lot to get here. The last thing we want to do is get in a position where we start to spread this virus again.”
For now, things are looking good. The average daily rate of new cases has continued to decline since May 5. Not consistently, but it’s still trending downward from a high of 28 to 11, as of Saturday afternoon.
“That’s excellent,” said Boulder County Public Health Spokeswoman Chana Goussetis. (The rate was below 10 before the weekend, when Goussetis spoke with the Beat, but rose slightly overnight.)
A sustained decline in new cases was one of the criteria for being able to move safely away from stay-at-home orders. That target hasn’t quite been hit — it’s not a sustained drop — just as we’re still falling short on testing. The goal is 500 daily; between 150 and 200 are being administered in Boulder County each day, Goussetis said.
One of the most important things to have is enough medical workers to conduct investigations into how coronavirus is spreading. That’s one place we are well prepared, Goussetis said. Five epidemiologists are leading teams trained in contact tracing, and the state has promised to bring in Americorps volunteers if needed.
Health officials have said before that if a COVID resurgence surpasses staff’s ability to perform investigations, more restrictive measures may return.
Hospitalizations are all being watched closely, to spare local health from being overwhelmed. As of Saturday, all but two of the indicators were positive.
The number of available intensive care beds in Boulder County — 45 — is considered not great but not dangerously low, according to the color-coded system developed by health officials. Medical/surgical bed availability is considered less-than-ideal: 120, county-wide.
Those can be freed up more readily than ICU beds in the event of a surge, as elective or non-emergent surgeries and procedures are postponed. No hospitals are reporting a shortage of either bed type.
To date, 156 residents have been hospitalized due to COVID, out of 903 total cases. A further 348 have recovered, and 59 have died.
News from hospitals and health officials the past few weeks has been the same: Things are heading in the right direction. The lack of new or urgent information was cited as a reason for Boulder’s city council to scale back updates from weekly to once a month.
“It was feeling a bit repetitive,” Mayor Sam Weaver said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think we’re feeling relatively good about that at the moment.” If that changes, “we can easily start these back up again.”
Not all members agreed. Council members Junie Joseph and Mark Wallach wished to continue receiving weekly reports from Zayach and Boulder Community Health CEO Dr. Robert Vissers.
“I don’t think we’re in a position where even a brief or briefer COVID presentation is irrelevant,” said Wallach. “I’d like to stay current on where we are.”
Added Joseph: “These updates are not just for city council. (They are) for the public.”
Source: Boulder County Public Health
If community members want to know how things are going, there’s one number they should watch, Goussetis said: The five-day average number of new cases.
“If they see that trend going up and up and up,” she said, “they should probably think to themselves, ‘I’m going to stay home a little bit more than I have been.'”
In the meantime, keep following the rules, Zayach in his video: Practice “good personal hygiene,” social distancing and “please, please, please wear a mask.”
Boulder County this week extended its order requiring facial coverings through June 30. Compliance is high, Zayach noted in a news release announcing the extension, even in situations where social distancing was not observed. “High volumes of shoppers” at stores throughout the county have in some cases made distancing impossible, according to the county.
Council on Tuesday will discuss increased enforcement around continued large gatherings. A section of Boulder Creek was this week shut down after college students crowded onto its banks near Eben G. Fine Park.
That type of situation is “exactly what we don’t want to do,” Zayach said. “That is not taking personal responsibility. I can’t stress enough that this responsibility is yours, mine and everybody’s” to prevent COVID from spreading.
“Please take it seriously.”
The best way to do that, Goussetis said, is for people to be selective about who they spend time in close contact with. Residents need to understand what it really means to add someone to their “circle” during a pandemic.
“Let’s say you go to the workplace and see two people,” she said. “You’re expanding your circle by two people but also to all the people in those two peoples’ circle … people (you) don’t know and all the people they don’t know.”
Goussetis recommended talking with your loved ones and/or roommates — anyone who gets within 6 feet of you on a regular basis — about your level of exposure so they can make informed decisions about their own health. Be selective, she said.
That doesn’t mean not seeing anyone, ever, she said, or staying in lockdown mode at home: The mental health impacts of COVID — social isolation, loneliness, anxiety, etc. — can be serious and must be considered in balance with everything else.
“Be intentional about who it’s important for you to spend time with,” she said. “Instead of speeding around in our lives like we normally do, slow down and say, ‘I’m going to make a conscience decision.'”
— Shay Castle, firstname.lastname@example.org, @shayshinecastle
Want more stories like this, delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for a weekly newsletter from Boulder Beat.