Rio Grande County hosts work session, discusses COVID-19 cases

This electronic sign, posted by the Colorado Department of Transportation on the Rio Grande and Saguache county border in Center, reminds Center residents and visitors that the virus is rampant and to stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak in Center. (Photo courtesy of Teresa Benns).

DEL NORTE — Rio Grande County Commissioners hosted a public work session Monday, June 1, to discuss the current COVID outbreak in Center and to hear from Rio Grande Emergency Manager Art Wittner.

A c c o r d i n g t o R i o Grande Commissioner Chairman John Noffsker, the county is reporting between 11 and 15 active COVID cases as a result of the outbreak that occurred in Center. Noffsker explained that the current numbers are difficult to determine due to the time it takes for test results to be reported to the appropriate entities who gather information and release it to the public.

“It is very frustrating, and you would think we would have a system in place that would report real-time data. We have, as of June 1, 11 to 15 active cases and are awaiting results from two to three possible additional cases,” stated Noffsker. During the work session, Wittner explained that Saguache Emergency Manager Robert Woelz is working closely with Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Coordinator Sadie Martinez and Social Services Director Amy Williams to reach out to the community and gain their trust to help contain the spread of the virus throughout both counties.

“We are in a unique situation here because of where the county line is in the town limits of Center. We are working with the state and local agencies to reach out to the community with the help of Isaac Gordy-Patinkin to slow the spread of the virus. Community outreach is our top priority right now. We are speaking with the public to gain trust from migrant workers in the area and have someone who speaks fluent Spanish, true Spanish with a Mayan Dialect that is only spoken and not written. It is taught through speech only.

Noffsker continued to explain that though the cases in the county are rising, it has not reached their trigger point for the variance yet and they hope to have a better understanding of the numbers in the coming days.

“The numbers could potentially drop because some are in complete isolation. The part of the variance that triggers a shutdown is vague and the orders to go to more restrictive measures will come from the CDPHE, not from us.” Commissioners are considering a second variance request but due to the changes occurring at state levels, they are only at the beginning of the discussion and have no idea what the second variance will look like.

“We really want to hear from the businesses throughout the county and get an understanding of what they need next. We can’t sit here at the county level and guess, so we are reaching out to business owners to gain perspective on our next move.”

Noffsker also stated that the county’s Public Health Department is beginning to implement some of the changes that were put in place last week and that the department now has the ability to handle more than 10 active cases in the county.

“We were only recently made aware of a list of registered nurses that have signed up to help with contact tracing and checkups for people with active symptoms of the virus. This has made it easier for us to handle our caseload. Realistically, we can handle more than 10 at this time due to the changes that were made in the department.”

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