March 6, 2022

There are significant changes underway for our response to COVID-19. For two years we have worked tirelessly to protect the lives and livelihoods of Chaffee County residents and visitors alike.  While we assumed that the development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and accompanying vaccination program would result in the end of the pandemic, we did not foresee some of the additional hurdles that would arise before the finish. While the conclusion of the pandemic continues to recede ahead of us, we are nevertheless embarking upon a more hopeful and optimistic chapter in this pandemic’s history without orders, restrictions, requirements, and mandates. 

On February 25th, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released its “Colorado’s Next Chapter: Our Roadmap to Moving Forward.” This policy publication acknowledges the milestones achieved as state and local public health, along with healthcare stakeholders, have navigated this dynamic, challenging, and continuing incident. It also identifies greater capacity and resources needed to rebuild the public health and healthcare workforce and to prepare our systems for future disruptions.  Simultaneously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its plan to transition from a transmission-based response to one which emphasizes hospitalizations and disease burden on the healthcare system.  Local public health professionals have been advocating for this shift as the more transmissible, but generally milder, Omicron variant has become the dominant strain of COVID-19. Currently, Chaffee County is considered a “low level” county for disease burden. This means that most of us can and should be living our lives as close to normal as possible.  For those eligible but unvaccinated, or who are immunosuppressed and/or high-risk for severe illness, it is essential to have a medically approved plan for testing and treatment if becoming symptomatic or a close contact to someone who has tested positive to COVID-19.  Isolation and quarantine protocols still exist and should be followed.  The CDC no longer recommends universal masking in indoor settings for “low or medium level” communities, except in high-risk and congregate settings. So, while you may have grown comfortable with masking, this is the moment when most of us can take a break. Please respect the wishes of individuals and businesses that continue to wear or require masks.  Masking is still recommended for the healthcare sector per the CDC.

Another crucial and welcome change made by the CDC is to no longer recommend universal contact tracing and case investigations. High-risk environments and associated outbreaks, such as in long-term care facilities and prisons, will still be investigated to mitigate transmission. Limiting our follow-up in this way will reduce the quantity and quality of our local data. Our county data dashboard will continue to report on deaths and hospitalizations for now and will point the public to the state and federal dashboards for a more detailed picture. 

These changes in the way we respond to COVID-19 may be stressful. After all, we have approached the pandemic with an emergency stance for the last two years. Future surges of the virus, the spread of new variants, or other public health threats may result in a future response that is quite different from what we have lived with thus far. That is OK. And be assured, Chaffee County Public Health and the Chaffee County Board of Health will continue to work closely, sharing information, reviewing metrics and data, and convening when or if appropriate to make policy recommendations and decisions.  In addition, the county’s Leadership Roundtable will continue to be a vital sounding board for all developments and response.

Historically, major societal tragedies have been followed by periods of enlightenment. At this moment, we believe we are entering a more normalized chapter of living with COVID-19 through a routine disease control mindset.  COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and treatment are becoming integrated into our traditional healthcare systems. Clearly, the last two years have seen the full spectrum of individual approaches to the pandemic in our community. At times, this has led to tension and division. We think it’s time to acknowledge that and move on. Now is the time to heal and unify our county, to reinforce our sense of community with kindness, celebration, and compassion, and to prepare for whatever the future holds. We truly remain in this together. Thank you for your support, patience, and grace over the past two years, Chaffee County, and we wish everyone a safe, healthy, and “normal” spring and summer season.

By Greg Felt, Chairman of the Chaffee County Board of County Commissioners and Board of Health and Andrea Carlstrom, Director of Chaffee County Public Health and COVID-19 Incident Commander

 

 

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