Montrose County will be moved into the state’s “high risk” categorization for COVID-19 starting Tuesday, which among other restrictions will close bars and reduce patron numbers at restaurants and gyms.
The county is being placed in level orange on the state’s risk dial, moving up a notch from level yellow.
Orange is one tier down from red, or severe risk, where Mesa County and several other counties are now placed, and two down from the new level, purple, or extreme risk.
The county is awaiting a formal letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, but met remotely with the agency Friday and has confirmed the level change will go into effect Tuesday.
“Our No. 1 priority is saving lives and saving businesses. Regardless of what color we’re at on this dial, our message is going to be the same,” Montrose County Assistant Public Health Director Allison Howe said.
The message: Stay home if you are sick; consistently use face coverings in public; wash hands frequently and maintain a social distance of 6 feet.
“What gets lost in the message of different colors is that it’s about us, Montrose County, and we want to keep businesses open and schools in-person. We can control that if we do social distancing,” Howe said.
Positivity rates and two-week totals are among the factors that determine where a county is placed on the state’s dial framework for COVID risk.
“Our metrics are continuing to grow. While we maintained hospital capacity, our percent of positivity and two-week totals are increasing,” Montrose County Media Relations Manager Katie Yergensen said.
The two-week percent of positivity rate was 16.1 as of Friday, when there were 14 active cases, with three hospitalized, although hospital census can change by the hour.
Cases increased by 37 between Thursday and Friday, according to county data, which reported 726 confirmed cases and 15 deaths. Total testing stood at 14,376, with 13,053 negative tests.
Montrose County recommends that households develop a plan for what they will do if someone is COVID-positive and must quarantine at home. Part of the plan also involves being prepared before illness strikes, by lining up a doctor if a family doesn’t already have one, and assembling important medical records in a readily accessible location.
Howe also urged employers to continue supporting their employees. “A lot of our spread in the last two weeks has been at work sites or schools, where someone came to work or to school sick,” she said.
Howe acknowledged that businesses can have a tough time getting customers and patrons to wear masks; public health, she said, salutes the efforts businesses have made. She said she has been encouraged by some signs at businesses that spell out options for service those who don’t want to wear a mask can avail themselves of.
“I think customers can absolutely show they spend their money where they feel safe,” Howe said. “Personally, I love it when I go to a business and they have sanitizer for me and I can tell their staff are working hard to keep me safe as a customer.”
More information about COVID in Montrose County, including safety plan details, can be found at montrosecountyjic.com.
“We are asking people to do the right thing and continue to make good choices,” Yergensen said.
“I do not think it is time for alarm,” Howe said. “We still have hospital beds. We are still able to serve the sick in our community.”
Another adjoining county, Delta, announced Friday it has moved up to level yellow on the dial. Delta County Public Health also announced the eighth death there from the virus, a man between 75 and 84.
Delta County has two community test sites: Delta County Health Department, located at 255 W. Sixth St. in Delta. Tests are by appointment only Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Call 970-874-2172. People can also be tested at North Fork EMS, located at 110 E. Hotchkiss Ave. in Hotchkiss. Appointments are Mondays and Wednesdays only, starting at 9 a.m. Call for an appointment at 970-778-7426.
In Montrose, those who have a provider’s order for a test can go to the Montrose County Event Center at 1036 N. Seventh St. (just off the San Juan Bypass).
The continued increase in COVID cases statewide prompted the Colorado State Patrol to activate a call center to help its dispatch and emergency operations centers respond to the public’s requests for information related to the pandemic.
The new call center’s staffers will help triage these questions from a law enforcement perspective. It is not a 911 center, however, and isn’t intended to assist with emergencies.
The call center can be used by public safety dispatch centers, local emergency operations centers, the trucking industry and similar business sectors, as well as the public.
The call center is available 8 a.m. — 5 p.m., Monday — Friday, at 833-598-5553.
Because of the growing number of COVID cases in Montrose and the state, the Montrose Daily Press is closing its office to the public starting Monday. Customer services representatives will still be available by phone at 970-249-3444, and news and advertising staff will also be working.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.