With the one-year mark of SJBPH’s emergency response to COVID-19 at hand, we are looking back over the course of the last 12 months to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on our region. The year has been unparalleled in terms of the challenges faced by our agency and the communities we serve. Repercussions from the COVID-19 virus have been devastating and everyone has experienced some degree of sacrifice, pain, and loss.

The pandemic is not over and there is still much work to do. However, the past year has resulted in silver linings that will serve us all well into the future thanks to every single one of you who have done your part to protect friends, family members, and strangers during this time.

What 2020 showed most of all is what we demonstrated after the Gold King Mine Spill and the 416 Fire – resilience. During each event, the community pull together in response to a public health emergency in ways we could have never imagined. This resilience made our regional response uniquely successful, with the lowest cumulative infection rate and highest vaccination rate in the state, with consistent in-person learning options and strong sales and lodging tax collections even as the rest of the state suffered economically.

COVID-19 revealed another theme of 2020 – responsiveness. In SJBPH’s planning and policy meetings, partners were able to rapidly respond to community needs and implement quick results such as a free test site – the only site early in the pandemic not organized by the state or National Guard- and a partnership to vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff well before the federal program was launched to do so.

Over the course of the past year, SJBPH solidified relationships with traditional partners, like hospitals, for testing and vaccine distribution, and initiated new relationships with less traditional partners such as business organizations like the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association and the Durango Business Improvement District. SJBPH provides public health support, information, and resources to these organizations and, in turn, they work diligently to keep businesses open by following state and local public health orders, ensuring the safety of their employees and customers and keeping our infection rate low despite a thriving tourist economy..

Of course, it is critical to provide equitable services to all individuals in all public health emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic we’ve collaborated with Community Compassion Outreach, Manna Soup Kitchen, Los Compañeros, The Family Center, Southwest Center for Independence, and area Senior Centers to make sure that older adults, unhoused people, Spanish speakers, those lacking transportation or technology, and people with disabilities have access to public health support and information, COVID-19 testing, and vaccine.

We cannot thank our countless local partners and individual community members enough for all they have done to support public health by stepping up to respond to challenges presented by the virus, and to follow public health precautions to protect friends, family, and strangers. Both counties have gone above and beyond to specifically protect those who are more vulnerable and populations who experience challenges to access support and services related to the pandemic.

The challenges we faced and overcame together, and the resilience that demonstrates, matter because our region will continue to see public health emergencies. We have not seen the end of wildfires and pandemics. Because of the bonds formed in this and previous incidents, Southwest Colorado will continue to show its resilience and grit when we are called again to respond to whatever public health emergency we’re faced with in the future.