CDPHE wants to move RG county to level “orange” status

Tuesday, Nov. 17, Alamosa, Conejos, and Costilla counties made firm decisions and moved to a ‘Level Orange Safer at Home High Risk’ status. Rio Grande and Saguache counties are meeting with CDPHE again later this week to continue the conversation about their possible status change

RIO GRANDE COUNTY- Like other San Luis Valley communities, and out of precaution, Rio Grande County Public Health announced Tuesday, Nov. 17 that the state wants to move the county to a “Level Orange Safer at Home High Risk” status on the Colorado State’s COVID tracking dial. County officials are meeting with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Friday, Nov. 20, to discuss the possible status change.

Tuesday, Nov. 17, Linda Smith with San Luis Valley Public Health Partnership stated that, “Alamosa, Conejos, Rio Grande and Costilla counties made firm decisions about moving to a ‘Level Orange Safer at Home High Risk’ status. Rio Grande County is meeting with CDPHE again later this week to continue the conversation about their status, as is Saguache County.”

In an interview, new Rio Grande Public Health Director Dr. Bankole stated that the county is in danger of being shut down and the county is urging everyone, businesses, restaurants and general public to all do their part. “If we do this together and everyone works with us, we will get there and won’t have to close down. This is the key to beating this virus in our community.”

According to Dr. Bankole, the county has seen an exponential rise in positive test results over the last two weeks which has caused case numbers to nearly double. The county was around a 2.3% positivity rate for some time but that number has now risen to 4.3%.

If the county moves to an “Orange” status this means that many businesses, places of worship and restaurants may be asked to go down from 50% capacity to 25% capacity which generally amounts to about 50 people per room.

In addition to that, public and private gatherings of families as the holidays draw near will be restricted to 10 or less people and no more than two households may gather at any indoor location. “There is no particular point of outbreak for the increase in cases. We do not live in a bubble. They come from outside our location and appear to be increasing in the general public who have been out shopping or just doing daily tasks. It’s now more important than ever to practice social distancing, only go out if needed and to continue wearing face coverings and masks. Wash your hands and practice good hygiene,” said Dr. Bankole.

“Our main message to the public is that the county is going to try to stay as open as possible while remaining as safe as possible. We are going to push back against the state as much as we can to ensure we stay open,” said Rio Grande Commissioner Chairman John Noffsker.

As for the Rio Grande County offices, Rio Grande County Commissioners are looking at all options including going back to how the county operated earlier this year with remote work options for employees and mitigating how many people are in the County buildings at a time. According to Noffsker, the board in partnership with Dr. Bankole and CDPHE, will be requesting a variance from the state and have submitted a mitigation plan in order to avoid a total shut down.

“We do not want to have to shut everything down, so we need everyone to cooperate. This is not a political statement; it is how we deal with this deadly virus. It is real, it is killing people and it is one the rise. Please wear masks, wash your hands and together we can get this done,” finished Dr. Bankole.
Dr. Bankole stated that the county will be increasing testing and has order 400 tests that will arriving soon. “We will be getting more but for now this is what we need.”

As of the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 17, Rio Grande County had 48 active positive COVID-19 cases and four hospitalizations.

Mitigation Strategies:
IF RIO GRANDE COUNTY IS MOVED TO  FROM (“Yellow” Safer at Home – Concern) to Level 3 (“Orange” Level Safer at Home High Risk).

General guidelines for Level Orange are summarized below (and with specific additional guidelines for specific sectors).

Public and private gatherings are limited to no more than 10 individuals from no more than 2 households

Face Coverings. Face coverings are required for all individuals in public indoor settings unless the individual is 2 years of age or younger, or cannot medically tolerate a face covering.

Capacity. Most businesses, offices, and places of worship that have been operating at 50% capacity will shift down to 25% of capacity, or 50 persons per room, whichever is less and while maintaining proper distancing

Specific Areas to be impacted by this Mitigation Plan:
Capacity Restriction County-wide Parameters: To address Level Orange – Safer at Home High Risk

Personal Gathering Size: Up to 10 from no more than 2 households

P-12 Schools: In-person, hybrid or remote as appropriate

Higher Education: Remote or hybrid suggested, limited in person as appropriate, and other major strategies to increase social distancing

Places of worship and Life Rites:
Indoors Unseated Functions: 25% capacity or 50 (whichever is less)

Indoor seated Functions: 25%, 50 person capacity (whichever is less)

Outdoors: 6ft between parties  outdoors, per local zoning

Indoors: 25% capacity, 50 people (whichever is less)

Outdoors: 6 feet between parties  outdoors, per local zoning

Non-Critical Manufacturing: 25% capacity or 50 people (whichever is less)

Offices: 25% capacity (Here, remote work is highly encouraged)

Bars: Closed

Gyms/Fitness: 25% capacity, 25 indoors, or outdoors in groups less than 10

Group sports and Camps: Virtual, or outdoors in groups less than 10

Retail: 25% capacity

Personal services: 25% capacity or 25 people (whichever is less)

Limited Health Care Settings: 25% capacity or 25 people (whichever is less)

Indoor Unseated: 25%, 50 person capacity (whichever is less)

Indoor Seated: 25%, 50 person capacity (6ft distancing between parties)

Outdoor Unseated: 25%, 75 person capacity (whichever is less)

Outdoor Seated: 25%, 75 person capacity (6ft distancing between parties)

Outdoor Guided Services 25% capacity or 10 people

General Education: Providing County employees and community with education on COVID-19 is critical to the health and safety of all county employees and community members. The RGC COVID-19 Lead staff and public health shall connect with restaurants, businesses, and stores on the above capacity restriction and general expectations for compliance. The COVID-19 Lead staff (Public Health Department/Human Resources Department) shall ensure that all existing, new and returning employees are educated on the new COVID-19 job site requirements. This can be done as a site safety meeting as long as the employees are able to distance during the meeting or conduct a series with each county departments. The site COVID-19 lead shall ensure that:

On-site employees are educated on COVID-19 to include:
General information about COVID-19.

How COVID-19 is contracted and transmitted to other people.

How to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Hygiene procedures specific to COVID-19.

Company policies, procedures and protocols developed in response to COVID- 19.

Customer requirements regarding COVID-19.

Reporting procedures if the employee feels they are sick, have been exposed or tests positive.
Education and policy documents shall be available and displayed, when able, on the RG County website to include:

Site Safety Plan
Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan

COVID-19 Supervisors Kit and Binder

Hand-washing practices established by the CDC, DOH or WHO.

Fact sheets regarding COVID-19.

Signs and Symptom fact sheet regarding COVID-19.

Recordkeeping shall be completed by the supervisor. Attendance shall be communicated verbally and the supervisor shall document attendance on the roster


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