County opening emergency ops to help with COVID-19 calls

Chart compares flu and COVID-19 symptoms.

Montrose County plans to open up its Emergency Operations Center, in order to help the health department deal with call volume associated with coronavirus-19.

As of Friday, there were no reported cases of the virus, also called COVID-19, in Montrose County, although more cases were being detected throughout the state and one patient death was reported.

“We thought it would be a good to do that (open the center). We have not had any confirmed cases in Montrose County, but Gunnison has had a couple,” said Sheriff Gene Lillard, who was putting his posse on standby to help out at the ops center if needed.

The EOC is being opened, likely on Monday, to have more phone lines available for those seeking information. It is not being opened to test or treat people.

“Right now, we’ve got nurses answering the calls so they can do a clearing on the calls,” Montrose County Commissioner Keith Caddy said Friday. The calls are being forwarded to the state as needed.

The county health department had fielded about 100 calls as of Friday afternoon and is also working with medical providers.

“We’re all working very closely together to address the need for when, or if, we get affected by COVID-19 here in Montrose County,” Caddy said.

“It’s very fluid right now. Things can change in a matter of hours. We have no confirmed cases that we know of in Montrose right now. We’re trying to get everything prepared and address the situation sooner than later.”

Montrose County Public Health has the ability to test with equipment that meets state specifications. It has ordered test kits and about 50 were on their way as of Friday. According to the county, three tests had been administered via existing means as of that morning.

About 80 presumptive positive tests for the virus, which causes respiratory illness, had been recorded in Colorado Friday, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. A presumptive positive is one the CDPHE lab has confirmed, but which is awaiting further confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first COVID-19 death in Colorado was reported Friday, that of an El Paso County woman in her 80s, with underlying health problems.

People who suspect they may have COVID-19 — a key symptom of which is shortness of breath — should first call their primary care provider and proceed from there based on advice and referrals.

Do not go into your provider’s office without first calling and do not go to the emergency room, unless suffering acute illness.

Starting at 8 a.m. Monday, the county will have the Emergency Operations Center staffed for calls, increasing the availability of information. Staffing there will be adjusted as needed and staffers will pay attention to the types of questions being asked, so that messages can be better tailored to community needs, Erika Story of Montrose County Media Relations said.

“The county is very well prepared,” Montrose County Manager Ken Norris said.

“We’ve been working now for a couple weeks, being sure we will be sustainable in the future. We’ve worked with each of our departments and set up our computers with virtual private networks so if need be, our staff can work from home. We are prepared, if the situation were to deteriorate, to close down county buildings and continue to provide all of the necessary services.”

But, he added: “We’re optimistic. We don’t think we’ll need to do this, but nevertheless, we are prepared so that county services are sustainable in the long term.”

Montrose County wants to keep people informed, while also keeping perspective, Caddy said. It is taking its cues from the state and federal government’s information, which is coming in at a steady clip.

“We look at those. If anything changes at a state level, we’re notified immediately. We’re listening to what our state leaders (say). We’re playing it by the minute, trying to keep as close an eye on it as we can,” Caddy said.

“Use some common sense with this stuff. If you don’t need to go to events where there are several people, don’t go. Keep yourself and your family safe.”

Several events locally have been postponed and organizations have also announced closures of their facilities.

On Friday, the Montrose County School District announced all schools in the district will be closed until April 12, at which time, the situation is to be reevaluated. The district is expected to release more information about its next steps on Tuesday.

The Welcome Home Alliance for Veterans’ Warrior Resource Center is closed until April 6, along with all activities scheduled for the building. Questions concerning veteran benefits can be directed to Sheldon Smith, 970-249-2115.

The Montrose Senior Center at the Pavilion is closed, with its weekday lunches on hold and AARP tax preparation assistance on hiatus.

As of Friday, Montrose County public buildings remained open, although anyone who is not feeling well is asked to practice “social distancing” — maintaining a space bubble of at least 6 feet.

People conducting business with the clerk and recorder’s office have several online options.

For election results or voter registration, visit govotecolorado.org; call 970-252-3360, extension 3, or email elections@montrosecounty.net.

For public records searches, visit http://landmarkweb.montrosecounty.net.

For marriage licenses, obtain an application at http://landmarkweb.montrosecounty.net/marriagekiosk.

The phone number for the recording office is 970-252-3362, ext. 2, or email recording@montrosecounty.net.

Many transactions relating to motor vehicle licensing and registration can be accomplished at mydmv.colorado.gov.

Other processes can be done over the phone by calling a technician at 970-252-3362, ext. 1.

For more information about COVID-19, visit montrosepress.com/news/coronavirus/ and check out the “CONTACT INFORMATION” box on the right side, which lists official websites, a link to the CDC, frequently asked questions, and the state hotline, 1-877-462-2911. There are also links to more localized information from Montrose County, the City of Montrose and the school district.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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