Gov encourages visitors to wear masks

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Second COVID case in a week reported in Ouray County as officials caution virus is 'still here'

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Colorado is rolling out a new ad campaign to encourage visitors to socially distance and wear masks if they decide to vacation here, asking tourists to be responsible.

Gov. Jared Polis debuted the educational videos during a press conference Wednesday, in which he also encouraged Coloradans to keep their Fourth of July celebrations small and avoid large crowds.

"We really don't want the celebration of our nation's birthday to be a setback for our economy, a setback for our health, and something that could jeopardize your life of the life of loved ones," he said. Polis encouraged people to celebrate with their families or maybe one other family and avoid large gatherings.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy highlighted a recent increase in positive cases in Colorado as well as outbreaks in neighboring states, including Arizona and Utah, in cautioning residents to maintain caution in distancing, mask-wearing and other protocols to avoid community spread.

While some states have instituted quarantines for visitors from states with outbreaks, or required testing, Colorado has not implemented the same requirements. The state is taking a public education approach at this time, and Polis asked health officials to work with lodging establishments to make sure the information about mask-wearing and social distancing is available to visitors, especially if they're coming from other states with less-stringent rules.

"When you come to Colorado we want to make sure you're safe," he said. "You're our guest and being our guest includes certain responsibilities."

Polis cautioned if the state experiences an outbreak, it will set back reopening timelines and affect the economy and possibly make tourism less attractive to visitors if Colorado becomes a hot spot for COVID-19.

Last Friday, Ouray County received its second confirmed case of COVID-19 in less than a week, after a staff member of Mountain Medical Center tested positive for the virus. A woman in her 30s is the latest confirmed, active case of the virus in the county, according to the Ouray County Health Department.

The medical center announced a non-clinical staff member was tested as a precaution, after experiencing limited symptoms of the virus. At this time, the woman is believed to have contracted the virus from outside the workplace. She was quarantined at home, according to the clinic. Health officials are conducting contact tracing to notify anyone who may have been exposed or at risk for contracting the virus from this person.

As a precaution, the entire clinic staff was tested last week for COV!D-19 and the medical center announced those tests all came back negative.

The latest case of the virus prompted health officials to reiterate their advice to people to continue social distancing, wear face coverings in public and to be vigilant about washing hands to li mit communi ty spread of the virus. Neighboring San Miguel County reported several new cases last week, including a group of positive tests from teenagers who had gathered together at a party.

"It's still real and it's still here and there are still risks," said Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery.

Continued positive cases in Ouray County could jeopardize the restaurant varia nce the county received for increased capacity of diners indoors, as well as a pending variance requests for pools to have larger capacities of swimmers. The county's restaurant variance allows an indoor seated capacity of 100 people or so percent capacity, versus the statewide ruJe capping dining rooms at so or so percent capacity, whichever is less.

The state health department wrote a provision into the approved variance for restaurants stating that five new cases of the virus in any two-week period would trigger the variance to be automatically rescinded.

The county's pool variance request is still pending. At this time, pools within the county can operate under the statewide rules, which cap pool attendance at so swimmers or so percent capacity, whichever is smaller. Ouray County has asked for up to 200 capacity to be allowed at pools.

If Ouray County reaches five new positive cases in a two-week period, "No pun intended, but it would probably sink our pool vari ance," Kingery said.

At a joint meeting between the City of Ouray, Town of Ridgway and Ouray County leaders Thursday night, officials expressed concerns about lax compliance with requests to wear face coverings in public. Ridgway Mayor John Clark called compliance "iffy at best," in his estimation.

Both the city and town adopted resolutions encouraging people to cover their faces in public, and many businesses in both Ridgway and Ouray have posted signs asking patrons to wear masks to enter their businesses. But officials said they worry poor compliance with the request from visitors may result in community spread of the virus, combined with lack of proper social distancing. The main concern centers on the risks of contracting the virus from others in enclosed spaces or when people are standing closer than six feet apart.

Commissioner Ben Tisdel said at the joint meeting that it's important to keep the goal in mind - to prevent uncontrolled community spread of the virus and continue a gradual reopening. He specifically mentioned the "grand prize of getting schools safely to open in August," during the face-covering discussion.

Health officials have warned of a second spike that is predicted for fall, which could jeopardize in-person lessons.

At the beginning of the pandemic here in the U.S., face coverings were not recommended. But the Center for Disease Control has since changed its recommendations and said face coverings can help slow the spread of the virus. The goal is to limit droplets that can spread the virus to others when speaking and breathing, especially if the person is infected and doesn't have symptoms yet so they're unaware they have the virus.