By Emily Kressley
It’s been over three weeks since the student body of Colorado College had to pack their bags and share difficult goodbyes. However, for many, it’s felt much longer than that. News has never been more accessible, but while constant updates help us to stay educated on the issue and make informed decisions, they can also increase feelings of being overwhelmed or anxious. With the entire world turning its attention towards controlling and defeating COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the news fluctuates a great deal and can be hard to keep track of. This article outlines what the state of Colorado has done so far to flatten the curve.
Colorado’s challenges in limiting the spread of the virus echo those of the nation at large: a lack of planning and resources for widespread testing. This has led to a lack of information, making it difficult to contain outbreaks. As reported by the Colorado Sun through interviews with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the state has tried to fill this information gap by looking at statistical models from other states and countries. As of the end of March, there were a total of 3,342 cases in the state and 80 deaths total, with around 300 new cases emerging each day in the past week. Nearly 19,000 people in the state have been tested. The case count only includes those who have officially tested positive, with a small amount of those determined by health experts to have the virus from exhibited symptoms or because they had close contact with someone who tested positive. Of this number, 620 people have been hospitalized from 50 different counties, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Enviromnet. This information changes rapidly, and you can find updated Colorado case totals here.
Though Denver and Arapahoe counties are the two counties with the most cases, El Paso county currently has the highest death toll in the state, with 314 cases and 14 deaths as of April 1. This has provoked Governor Jared Polis to comment on the need for our county to comply better with the stay-at-home order, issued on March 25. The first executive order, issued by Polis, was on March 11, declaring a disaster emergency for the state, which in turn opened up more federal funds and resources to combat COVID-19. The stay-at-home order notes that previous mitigation measures were not enough, and “directs all Coloradans to stay at home, subject to limited exceptions such as obtaining food and other household necessities, going to and from work at critical businesses, seeking medical care, caring for dependents or pets, or caring for a vulnerable person in another location” until April 11 unless rescinded or modified.
In a news conference on Thursday morning, April 2, Gov. Polis pleaded with the federal government to provide the state with more ventilators and protective gear. In a letter written to Vice President Mike Pence, dated March 28, he wrote, “We are facing a crisis-level shortage of these essential supplies to protect our health care workers and first responders. Colorado’s COVID-19 death rate is rising faster than any other state right now; the pandemic is spreading so fast that lags in testing are masking the true conditions experienced by Coloradans across the state.” In general, Front Range cities such as Denver and its suburbs are reporting more cases than more rural areas. While this likely has to do with population density, it also indicates the resource gap rural areas face in gaining access to tests. This same gap is projected to cause nationwide issues with medical care and treatment if the virus does propagate in these areas.
Counties where ski resorts are located have also been hit particularly hard, prompting an executive order by Gov. Polis to close all downhill ski resorts. Many of these areas, especially in mid-March, are frequented by tourists and spring break-goers, a population which the healthcare systems of these mountain towns are not equipped to handle. This has caused people to flock to the backcountry for recreation. While this may seem like a safe solution, backcountry travel is inherently risky, especially with an increased load of users who may not have proper training, resulting in more human triggered avalanches.
Not only does travel to the backcountry include stops at the gas station in potentially more rural places, disasters while recreating require emergency and medical personnel to increase their risk of exposure by helping those in need. Additionally, trailheads for everything from hiking to skiing have become increasingly overloaded: even if someone goes out with every intent to social distance, it may prove difficult. To combat this, some rural Colorado counties have announced partial closures: San Juan County, for instance, is ticketing cars registered out of the county unless they are just driving through to decrease non-essential travel and recreation.
While getting outside and engaging in physical exercise has proven beneficial for mental health and productivity, please think carefully about how you chose to do so. Now is not the time to push boundaries. Instead, it is a time to step back and understand how your actions have unintended consequences for others, such as the frontline doctors, nurses, and first responders, your older family members, those with underlying conditions, and those who may have limited access to healthcare and other resources. So please, comply with government recommendations, because they are helping slow the spread of the coronavirus and helping prevent a total overload of the healthcare system. Keep your head up, and remember that this too shall pass; our actions play a role in just how soon, and how many of us, can earn a return to normalcy.