COVID-19 update: Ridgway Town Administrator declares disaster

  • COVID-19, courtesy Centers for Disease Control
    COVID-19, courtesy Centers for Disease Control
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Story updated 1:25 p.m. Tuesday

Ridgway Town Manager Preston Neill has signed an order declaring a local disaster within the town, in response to concerns about community spread of coronavirus.

State law allows Neill to sign this order, which is only temporary. The town council will need to consider a more permanent order if this is a measure lasting more than seven days. The council’s next scheduled meeting isn’t until April 8.

Neill said he’ll be working with Mayor John Clark and Town Attorney Bo Nerlin with council members in the coming days to schedule a special meeting on this subject and also to formulate a policy for virtual meetings - something Ouray County and the City of Ouray have decided to do using Zoom. The move is to comply with health authorities’ recommendations to limit gatherings to fewer than ten people at a time, and also to provide space between members of the public to avoid contagion.

The town is also delivering a formal response plan to staff, to guide the town’s response to different stages of the pandemic. The city of Ouray and the county have already decided to close their offices to the public.

Story updated 5:05 p.m. Monday

Gov. Jared Polis this afternoon ordered the closure of all Colorado restaurants and bars to in-person dining in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Polis also ordered the closure of theaters, casinos and gyms.

Meanwhile, state health officials announced that the state’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases has jumped to 160. Colorado has completed test results on 1,200 people since Feb. 28, but there are many still pending. Officials have not yet offered a demographic breakdown of the new cases due to the high volume of testing being processed by the state lab. As of this morning, Ouray County did not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Here in Ouray County, both the Ouray City Council and the Ouray County Board of County Commissioners unanimously declared disaster emergencies this afternoon in moves that grant them broad power. City Administrator Justin Perry ordered the indefinite closure of the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center this morning, as well as the closure of City Hall to the public through at least April 3.

In addition, all county buildings will be closed to the public as well, effective 8 a.m. Wednesday. This closure does not include the courts at this time.

Story updated at 9 p.m. Sunday

With news that the Colorado National Guard will be assisting with COVID-19 testing in Telluride beginning on Tuesday, San Miguel County health officials also issued their own alert that they believe the virus is already there in the community and asked anyone who has visited or lives in San Miguel County to isolate themselves and minimize contact with others.

Story updated at 9 p.m. Sunday

With news that the Colorado National Guard will be assisting with COVID-19 testing in Telluride beginning on Tuesday, San Miguel County health officials also issued their own alert that they believe the virus is already there in the community and asked anyone who has visited or lives in San Miguel County to isolate themselves and minimize contact with others.

This announcement comes after state officials asked anyone who has visited Eagle, Pitkin, Summit or Gunnison counties to do the same thing - to stay away from others in case they have been exposed. These mountain counties have the highest number of positive coronavirus tests in the state, outside the Denver metro area.

San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin cited the similar characteristics of San Miguel County to these other communities, attracting lots of international ski tourism, which have experienced a "disproportionate spike" in cases compared to other areas of the state.

These recommendations include avoiding public spaces, not shaking hands avoiding mass gatherings or gathering in group settings, and practicing social distancing of at least six feet in between people. They also advise staying home if you feel sick and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces frequently, including cell phones, as well as washing hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Ouray County commissioners and City of Ouray officials are also scheduled to meet with Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery on Monday for a briefing on coronavirus here in Ouray County and to discuss next steps. The City Council's meeting is at 1 p.m. at the Massard Room at City Hall and the emergency meeting with the commissioners is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway.

Story updated at 3:15 p.m. Sunday

Ridgway and Ouray school districts will close for two weeks in an effort to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In an email sent to the school community just after 3 p.m. today, Ridgway Superintendent Susan Lacy said both districts were closing with the support of Ouray County Public Health. The districts had originally planned to close on Monday and take the day to evaluate future steps. Lacy, though, said she had a telephone conference with Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery, Ouray School District Lead Supervisor Kenneth Nelson, County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd and County Commissioner Ben Tisdel.

"County officials confirmed that the response to the virus necessitates a shift from a reactive to a proactive model. Things are moving quickly and it is important to reevaluate on a continual basis," Lacy wrote in the email.

That means both districts will be closed through March 27, followed by spring break, which runs from March 28 to April 6. Lacy said officials will re-evaluate the situation during spring break and determine if classes will resume on April 7.

Lacy said the Ridgway School District will create eight days worth of daily learning plans for each week — Tuesday-Friday of this week and Monday-Thursday of the week of March 23 to "provide as much support and a sense of normalcy for our students as possible, during what I know is a difficult moment for all of our families."

Lacy said teachers will roll out class-specific activities that can be done at home to support continued learning and stability for students.

Ouray County commissioners, meanwhile, have called a special meeting at 4 p.m. Monday to receive updates on the coronavirus, discuss next steps and policies and provide direction to staff.

As of Sunday afternoon, there were a total of 131 positive cases of COVID-19 in Colorado but no confirmed cases in Ouray County.

 

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Ouray County does not have any cases of coronavirus at this time, according to information updated Sunday by the state health department.
The total number of confirmed cases in Colorado at this time is 101. Gunnison County announced its first case last week, and Mesa County announced its first case on Saturday.
Anyone with questions about testing is asked to call their primary care doctor at this time. There is also a statewide call line established for questions about COVID-19, 1-877-462-2911, and an email address, cohelp@rmpdc.org.
Over the past week, Gov. Jared Polis encouraged communities to limit opportunities for germs to spread and slow contraction of the illness. Local events, including concerts and gatherings, have largely been canceled or postponed in response to a request from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment requesting all community events with 250 or more people be canceled or postponed.
Polis also warned older people not to travel to Colorado’s mountain communities, citing concerns about cases identified in Pitkin and Eagle counties with community spread of the illness and the lack of resources to respond to the sickness in more rural areas. The first death attributed to COVID-19 was announced Friday - a woman in her 80s in El Paso County.

After other ski resorts across the state announced they would close due to coronavirus concerns, Telluride Ski Resort announced it would close "effective immediately" for the season. The announcement came Saturday night after Gov. Polis told Colorado Ski Country USA late Saturday afternoon he would be issuing an executive order requiring the state's ski resorts to close for a period of time, according to Telluride Ski Resort's statement. The gondola will continue running to Mountain Village for pedestrian traffic for the time being.
Smaller events here in Ouray County were postponed or canceled in an abundance of caution - including everything from the Ouray Elks Lodge St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and bingo to a Ridgway Town Council candidate forum. Some local churches, including St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ouray, have responded to requests from church leaders to cease in-person services for the time being to limit possible exposure. Local banks announced ramped-up cleaning efforts and encouraged customers to use online banking resources.
Ouray Hot Springs Pool Manager Kentee Pasek said employees are taking extra care to wipe down handrails, door knobs and other high-touch surfaces.
“We are doing everything within our capability of being able to be as safe and clean a facility as possible, but that’s something we’re doing anyway,” she said.
She reminded patrons that the pool adds chlorine to the mineral water at levels recommended by state health officials to keep the water safe.
Pasek said the decision if and when to close the pool would be made by Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery. "That is not something I would do, it is something that Tanner would do and make that call."

However, Kingery said he provides guidance and he's using the same set of public health recommendations from the state for the pool as he's using for similar facilities like schools and childcare centers. It's up to the pool management to make that decision and that they are free to take preemptive measures.
Neighboring school districts have announced extended spring breaks or closures for weeks. On Friday, Ridgway Superintendent Susan Lacy announced the district would be closing on Monday to students for cleaning, and indicated the closure might be longer and is under consideration. Ouray School District issued the same decision on Saturday morning, with Lead Administrator Kenneth Nelson indicating the school is keeping an eye on the situation and will make announcements of longer closures by Monday evening if they are warranted. 
Both school districts have canceled their spring sports and practices until at least early April, in response to a decision made by the Colorado High School Activities Association. CHSAA limited attendance at the state basketball playoffs, in which the Ouray boys’ team participated, citing concerns that a safe distance between attendees (six to eight feet recommended distance) couldn’t be accommodated.
The tournament was canceled after the state announced gatherings of 250 or more people should end and the venue hosting the tournament, the University of Denver, said it could no longer host the games.
Some local businesses have responded to community members who have decided to keep their social distance by advertising delivery or take-out meals. Others in the community have offered to shop for older residents or those with health concerns who don’t want to risk exposure.
At least one Ouray County nonprofit organization has also offered to assist those who need help with supplies - the Ouray County Woman’s Club.
Members of the Woman’s Club who have a medical reason for isolating themselves during this time (or have symptoms of illness) can e-mail womansclubouray@gmail.com for help with errands, groceries, mail, medications and other assistance.
Anyone who is willing to help members with these needs can also email the same address and offer assistance to others in the community.

At least one business in Ouray County has chosen to close entirely. The Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings announced on its website this afternoon it will close through May 1, saying it is "taking the current health threat of the Covid 19 Virus very seriously." Officials there said they will perform previously planned improvements in exterior rooms and spa areas during the closure.

"We apologize for any inconvenience related to this decision, but are confident in your understanding," a message posted on the Wiesbaden's website read.
The Ouray Public Library announced it will waive fines, or deliver books within the city limits for the rest of the month or help patrons with online resources. Anyone can email the library at ouraypl@gmail.com or use the online catalog to look up resources, as well as call the library at 325-4616.
According to state public health officials, 813 people have been tested for the illness in Colorado as of noon on Saturday. Of those 813, 101 tested positive and 712 tested negative.
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or meets the specific criteria for testing is encouraged to contact their primary care provider for next steps. According to information from Kingery last week, tests are transported to the state lab in Denver via courier. State public health officials have said their current turnaround time for those tests is less than 72 hours. If a test is presumptive positive at that time, it is reported by the state health department. Those positive samples are then sent on to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for verification. Negative test samples are returned to providers who authorized the tests, so they may take longer to communicate results to patients.

The CDC has issued several advisories about the illness, including one titled, "Get your household ready for Coronavirus," available here.

Please note the Plaindealer is attempting to keep an updated list of closures, postponements and cancellations. Please email those to plaindealer@ouraynews.com