Ouray County declares state of emergency due to COVID-19

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Commissioners plan to offer public meeting participation remotely, health department director agrees to daily public updates

  • Courtesy Centers for Disease Control
    Courtesy Centers for Disease Control
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Ouray County commissioners unanimously declared a state of emergency due to the threat of COVID-19 coronavirus in an emergency meeting Monday.

During a tense, 2 1/2 hour meeting with almost 40 attendees sitting in chairs spaced across the 4-H Center’s main room, the commissioners heard from Health Department Director Tanner Kingery and Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd before making the decision. The resolution allows the county to have expanded powers, and allows Kingery to make unilateral decisions related to preserving public safety during this epidemic.

The county cited recent decisions by neighboring communities, including San Miguel County and Gunnison County, to close facilities and limit public interactions to try to limit spread of the illness. County Emergency Manager Glenn Boyd said it’s especially concerning because individuals can be infected with the illness and not show symptoms, but can spread the germs to others. There are still questions about how long the virus can live on certain surfaces, but Boyd said the information he has indicates it can remain airborne for three hours and on surfaces for days.

Though there have not been any positive tests confirmed in Ouray County by the state health department, that doesn’t mean it’s not already circulating here, officials said. The closest testing facilities are in Delta and Telluride, according to Kingery, and both require the patient to meet strict criteria and be preapproved by a medical provider.

Commissioners discussed the powers they have in an emergency like this, and specifically the authority Kingery has as health department director. This includes issuing orders limiting the size of public gatherings and shutting down access to limit contagion.

During the commissioners’ meeting, Gov. Jared Polis’ office announced he was issuing an order to close all bars and restaurants except for take-out orders. The order also applies to coffee shops, gyms and movie theaters.

Comments from the audience indicated some have concerns about Kingery’s ability to lead, about the health department’s lack of regular information updates to the public at-large, and about the lack of testing available here and visitors continuing to come to the area.

In response to the frustrations expressed about the lack of regular information updates, Commission Chairman Don Batchelder asked Kingery if he would be willing to guarantee regular updates on the county’s website daily.

Kingery agreed to provide those updates by noon every day.

Because of recommendations to limit in-person interactions and provide a safe distance of at least six feet between people to limit community spread of the disease, commissioners instructed staff to find a way to broadcast public meetings and allow for remote participation. Those details are still being worked out by information technology staff. County Attorney Carol Viner is presenting a resolution to commissioners today to allow for remote meetings, in accordance with state open meetings laws.

County commissioners also decided to close county buildings to the public beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday. They instructed County Administrator Connie Hunt to plan with individual departments to determine how work could continue, either in closed offices or remotely, and how to assure employees can maintain a safe distance from others as they work or if they can continue to work from home.

The City of Ouray decided to close the Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center on Monday morning, and turned away some visitors who had come from out of the area who were surprised to find it closed after calling ahead the previous day. Despite hourly cleaning regimens, the city cited concerns about community spread of the virus and closed the facility for the time being.

After the decision to close the pool, city councilors met and unanimously declared a state of emergency within Ouray.

* Please note coronavirus-related stories are being updated continuously. Please follow us to make sure you receive updates as we are able to provide them and look for a more in-depth story in this week’s edition of the Plaindealer.