San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) marks one year of COVID-19 emergency operations on March 2nd by highlighting the response, resilience, and collaboration that have protected the health and safety of our communities.
Like the rest of the world, residents of Archuleta and La Plata counties have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the impacts of the virus, communities in Southwest Colorado remain strong economically, educationally, and epidemiologically.
- The southwest region has the lowest cumulative infection rate in the state, according to the Colorado School of Public Health, despite sharing a workforce and healthcare providers with northwest New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, which tragically had some of the highest infection rates in the United States. SJBPH kept infection rates low by making testing widely available, performing 100% contact tracing and 100% outbreak investigations, and providing consistent recommendations to businesses and events.
- Both counties and the municipalities of Durango and Pagosa Springs have had stronger economic performance and tax receipts than most Colorado counties. Durango had the highest lodging occupancy in the state in summer 2020, and Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County lodging tax saw its highest ever year-over-year increase in 2020.
- While most schools in Colorado went and stayed remote in March 2020, La Plata and Archuleta County schools and colleges had options for in-person learning available to students and families for much of the pandemic thus far.
“While COVID-19 has shaken us to our core and broken the hearts of families and individuals across our nation, in this time of profound loss we have learned to lean on strong collaborations with local partners in every sector of our community,” said SJBPH Executive Director, Liane Jollon. “Together we have demonstrated true resilience in the face of monumental challenges. SJBPH is extremely grateful for everyone’s deep sacrifices and hard work throughout this crisis. Our hearts ache for the lives we’ve lost and the loved ones still ailing, and we know we must keep working together for better days ahead,” Jollon added.
“The Archuleta School District is grateful for the collaboration between SJBPH and regional school districts over the course of this pandemic,” said Dr. Kym Leblanc-Esparza, superintendent of Archuleta School District. “By working together as a community and following the guidance of our local public health authority, we have been able to keep our families, our staff, and our students healthy, resulting in more in-person learning than in other areas of the state,” said Superintendent LeBlanc-Esparza.
“Every aspect of the La Plata County community has been impacted by COVID-19 and Fort Lewis College is no exception,” said Tom Stritikus, FLC president. “From the start, FLC and SJBPH have partnered not only to protect our students and staff, but also to provide help to the community as a targeted testing site. La Plata County has pulled together to fight this virus and FLC is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with SJBPH in this effort,” President Stritikus said.
“La Plata County has worked closely with SJBPH over the past year in the emergency response to COVID-19,” said La Plata County Manager, Chuck Stevens. “In particular, the county has supported the emergency response, committing and securing additional state and local resources to bolster our community efforts. We have appreciated the subject matter expertise delivered by SJBPH and their ability to pull together numerous community partners to ensure the health and safety of all community members,” added Stevens.
For the last year SJBPH quickly pivoted to meet changing needs while maintaining vital public health services for the community. SJBPH’s pandemic response includes performing testing, disease investigation and control, mitigation, vaccine distribution and administration, crisis communications, and enacting policy to protect the communities it serves.
- COVID-19 Testing – over 52,224 diagnostic tests were performed in La Plata County, and over 10,036 diagnostic tests were performed in Archuleta County during a one-year period. Through its strong community partnerships, SJBPH is the only Local Public Health Agency (LPHA) in Colorado to stand up a community testing site without support from the state or National Guard. SJBPH continues to coordinate numerous testing options for the community, including community testing sites, serial asymptomatic testing for essential workers and first responders, and targeted testing for underserved populations.
- Disease Investigation and Control – SJBPH has performed over 4,000 individual case investigations and over 71 outbreak investigations. SJBPH has maintained 100% contact tracing throughout the pandemic and continues to investigate outbreaks, including ones not defined as ‘priority’ or reportable to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). These actions have been vital to maintaining low transmission in La Plata and Archuleta counties. According to the Colorado School of Public Health, 10.9 percent of Southwest Colorado has been infected to date, the lowest percentage in the state.
- Mitigation and Infection Prevention – SJBPH’s strong relationships with businesses in the community have been critical to its pandemic response. SJBPH created a self-certification program to reduce transmission at businesses and events, in addition to a complaint portal to aid in public health order violation investigations for both counties. To date, over 1,527 self-certifications have been completed by businesses and events in La Plata and Archuleta counties. SJBPH worked very closely with large-scale, tourist-oriented businesses to reduce the introduction of infection into the community from places hit harder by the pandemic.
- Vaccination – Southwest Colorado leads the state in vaccine distribution. To date, over 20% of the population in Archuleta and La Plata Counties have received a first dose, including over 70% of the age 70+ population. Through community partnerships, both counties were able to get 75% of educators their first shot within one week, well ahead of benchmarks established by the state, and both counties are in the top one-third of counties in Colorado for total doses per capita. SJBPH continues to lead the coordination of vaccine distribution in both counties, working alongside vaccine providers to ensure a successful and equitable distribution of vaccine.
- Health Equity – The pandemic has shined a light on pre-existing health equity issues in our communities. Communities with access to fewer resources and information, whether due to economic circumstances, language barriers, access to technology or transportation, have endured a disproportionate number of cases and hospitalizations throughout Colorado. SJBPH has provided targeted testing and vaccination events for those who struggle to access healthcare resources and provided housing, food, medicine and supplies to people who would otherwise have found it difficult to quarantine or isolate themselves in response to a positive test. SJBPH and partners are now beginning a community conversation on the equity issues in our region to make us more resilient for the next emergency.
- Communications – SJBPH distributed 105 media releases related to the pandemic, and its COVID-19 webpage has had over 423,764 pageviews. SJBPH has responded to thousands of inquiries from community members, while providing information through social media, radio, print, email, video, and community presentations. SJBPH continues to host weekly stakeholder calls to coordinate and collaborate with law enforcement, medical providers, human service agencies, school districts, infrastructure partners, and the business sector and to share the latest COVID-19 information.
- Local and State Policy – Throughout the pandemic, SJBPH has been the conduit between local communities, CDPHE, and the Governor’s office. SJBPH continues to hold policy calls to keep local policymakers apprised of the latest in COVID-response twice weekly. Early in the pandemic, SJBPH issued a public health order for La Plata County to require restaurants and special events complete an infection prevention checklist and self-certify their compliance with state public health orders to SJBPH.
Visit SJBPH’s website: https://sjbpublichealth.org/coronavirus/ for up-to-date information about COVID-19.